Let's do some clarity: is arabica better than robusta?

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"The best coffee is 100% arabica", "give me an arabica espresso please", or even "I drink coffee at the bar only if it has at least 70% arabica" and finally "we only make quality blends with at least 80% arabica". 

These statements are not entirely false, but, isolated and out of context, they do not mean much.

Let's find out why ...

The real thing is that in general, arabica quality coffee is considered more valuable than robusta quality coffee.

Having said that I underline the term "in general", because there are also very bad arabica coffees and incredible and aromatic robusta coffee.

The difference between arabica and robusta

There are 3 substantial differences between arabica and robusta:

  1. SHAPE: the arabica bean is usually more elongated and thick, with the most sinuous central cut; the robusta bean is smaller and rounder, with the central rectilinear furrow;
  2. GROWTH ALTITUDE: the robusta grows from 0 m a.s.l. up to about 800 m; while arabica grows higher, i.e. from 600 m to 2400 m. This makes arabica more difficult to grow. Furthermore, the higher altitudes tend to make the coffee more acidic;
  3. INTRINSIC CHARACTERISTICS: arabica has about half the caffeine compared to robusta, but has twice as many chromosomes, making it a more complex coffee on an aromatic level. On the contrary, the robusta presents about double the caffeine and half of the chromosomes.

What do these differences mean in the cup?

In general, Arabica gives your coffee cup aromas, delicacy, sweetness, a pleasant acidity and a velvety and compact cream.

The robusta beans instead attributes a greater body.

Keeping in mind that in most cases in Italy we consume espresso coffee, we look for a short, full-bodied and creamy coffee. Generally speaking, the optimal solution is therefore to create a mixture of robusta and arabica. In this way the qualities can be obtained from both plants.

In fact, the arabica part will give us delicious and inviting aromas and aromatic notes, while the robusta part allows us to extract a coffee with an enveloping body and a velvety cream.

A roaster who writes on his label 100% arabica coffee is selling quality coffee?

The Roaster has perhaps one of the most difficult tasks compared to all the roles needed to get the coffee you taste in your trusted bar.

In fact, it can obtain a truly excellent coffee, such as completely ruining the raw material, with just a few more seconds of roasting the beans.

The qualities of the roaster are multiple and reside in selecting the raw material of high quality and free from defects, treating and roasting it in a workmanlike manner and finally creating the perfect recipe to create an intense and balanced cup of coffee.

Having said that, let's make some examples: if a coffee roaster makes a blend of 100% arabica coffee or even a 100% arabica single origin coffee, but at the base has purchased beans with defects, such as unpleasant smells, the coffee will not be classified as quality.

Or even, if a coffee roaster has selected an excellent raw material, but then wents on to hyper-roast it, he has completely ruined the raw beans. In fact, in this way he hid every natural aroma present in the beans, covering it with a strong bitterness and an almost burnt hint. The coffee in the cup will therefore be unpleasant on the palate, even if it is 100% arabica.

And so on…

Can personal tastes affect quality?

The quality of a coffee is established on an objective level with internationally valid tests, which result in certificates, a sort of coffee quality sheet.

The most used and widespread test is "cupping", carried out with the ground coffee left to infuse.

But "higher quality coffee" does not necessarily want it to be the most suitable for you as a taste.

In fact, arabica usually has more acidic notes, compared to robusta. If the acidity in the coffee bothers you, a 100% arabica is not for you.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for a creamy coffee with a more bitter note, you will have to opt for a blend with a higher percentage of robusta.

And finally, if you want a velvety, sweet, delicate and aromatic coffee, you will have to opt for a blend with a greater percentage of arabica.

But always being careful of the roasting. In fact, to be sure that the coffees have the characteristics described above, you must read the "medium roasting" label.

So how can I understand if a blend is of quality or not if it is not enough to look at the percentage of arabica?

The best action would be to ask the professionals you need for information.

In fact, we at Ernani have a trained and professional team at our Torrefazione, who will be able to advise you and guide you towards the blend most similar to your personal tastes and what you want to taste in your cup of coffee.

And not only that, we also offer the same service online, just contact us and we will help you find the perfect blend or single origin for you.

Finally, the best advice I can give you is to try ...

experiment, taste new coffees and always different tastes and slowly you will find out what's right for you.

Moreover, if you try to taste your espresso without sugar you will be able to better grasp every aromatic nuance and it will be even easier to immediately distinguish a quality coffee from one that is not good and pleasant on the palate.

Paolo Sangalli

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