What does Arabica coffee mean? – Everything you need to know

I maestri della tostatura media
Copertina dell'articolo "Descrizione e significato del caffè arabica" con rappresentati dei chicchi interi a tostatura media, di un bel marrone caldo, su un piano di legno ed un cucchiaio che raccoglie i chicchi nel centro.
I often hear the expressions “Arabic blend” or “100% Arabica coffee” as a manifesto of the absolute and unexceptionable undeniable quality of that coffee.

But what do these words mean? Are they useful to indicate a higher quality?

Let’s find out together in this new ABCoffee article!

On the subject I often see a great general confusion both on the part of operators in the sector and of consumers.

In fact, the words “Arabic blend” or “100% Arabica coffee” used with no additional explanation, like a motto… really don’t tell us anything!

The only information they give us is: the coffee in question is an Arabica.
  • But is it a blend or a single origin?
  • Where does the coffee come from? At what altitude was it grown? What variety is it?
  • By what method was it collected and then processed?
  • At what level was it toasted?
  • Is it a Specialty coffee?

To make a simple comparison, saying “Arabica” without giving all the other information is a bit like saying “red wine” in general, but which red wine? Coming from which area, of which botanical variety, of which aromatic profile, of which year?

So, to truly understand the coffee, its quality and possible gustatory profile, we necessarily need other information.

What do we expect from an arabica coffee?

Surely we expect great quality, and in part it is true.

They are in fact considered more valuable than Robusta beans, thanks to the aromatic complexity and finesse they can give us.

Consequently we expect a very pleasant coffee, very fragrant and intense.

But is it really so?

Depends!

  • Arabica coffees can offer broad aromatic spectrum that surprise with every sip. However, they tend to have a good acidity and sweetness, versus less bitterness. Therefore, if what you were looking for a low-acid and more bitter coffee, a single origin or a 100% Arabica blend are not for you!

You can learn more about the differences between Arabica and Robusta here:

  • Arabica coffees, as already mentioned, are generally very fragrant, BUT only if they are selected and roasted correctly by the roaster!

Let’s try a further comparison with the world of wine: there is no one and only type of wine, cellar and method of preparation. Luckily we have an almost infinite choice, perfect to satisfy every palate, expectation and also wallet.

The exact same thing goes for coffee.

If a roaster wants to focus on quantity, the quality will certainly be very low, and vice versa.

Furthermore, the level of adopted roasting must also be considered, as it indelibly influences the aromatic profile. In fact, we can choose the finest coffee in the world, but if we roast it at a dark level, burning it, in the cup we will never find the incredible aromatic notes we have talked about, but only a strong bitterness and empyreumatic (burnt) scents.

If you want to know more about the differences between light, medium and dark roasts, click below:

  • Intense… also this term depends a lot on the coffee in question, therefore its origin, variety and level of roasting.

Find out what the term intensity means below:

We have therefore understood that there are too many factors to be able to limit ourselves to the term “Arabica” to describe a coffee. And above all, we also understood that whoever limits himself to describe a coffee using only this term and does not know other characteristic… maybe he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he doesn’t even know the product sold.

Definition of Arabica coffee

Let’s start by saying that Arabica is, together with Canephora (Robusta), one of the most traded coffee species in the world.

Again to make the comparison with wine, when we talk about the differences between Arabica and Robusta it is as if we were talking about the differences between white wine and red wine: two opposite worlds!

Today we define Arabica:
  • The plant prefers subtropical and tropical climates, with temperatures between 15°C and 24°C.
  • Again due to its sensitivity to excessively high temperatures, the plant grows at high altitudes: starting from700 m above sea level, to even exceed 2200/2400 m in height.
  • Furthermore, the Arabica plant has 44 chromosomes, double the 22 of Robusta. This makes it autogamous, i.e. self-pollinating, so it is not dependent on insects or weather conditions for reproduction.
  • It can grow up to 6 meters, but is pruned around 2 m to facilitate the work of the binders.
  • The flowering and the subsequent ripening of the fruits occurs once a year and lasts about 6-9 months.
  • The bean is elongated (8-12 mm), flat and oval, with a sinuous central furrow.
  • They are not very bitter because they contain half the caffeine of Robusta, approximately between 0.8% and 1.6%.
  • They are very fragrant thanks to the fact that they grow at high altitudes: with the temperature range between day and night, typical of the mountains, the plant develops a greater density, which can be translated into a higher concentration of sugars and oils, which precisely allow the development of a broader and finer aromatic profile.
  • The aromatic descriptors mainly used are: fruity, floral,chocolate, nuts and citrus.
  • Finally, if extracted in espresso, it has a cream with a fine texture, a compact, persistent, shiny and silky texture.
Due chicchi di arabica e Robusta a confronto nel dettaglio. Chicchi tostati, uno più grande e allungato, quello arabica e l'altro, il robusta, più piccolo e rotondo.

A left Roasted Arabica bean, on the right roasted Robusta bean.

The different results in the cup

We have already said it, but it bears repeating: Arabica coffees are not all the same!

In addition to leaving you a table below describing the general tastes of the coffees linked to the country of origin, we also quickly see the processing methods.

Tabella 1 dove mostro gli stati produttori di caffè, tra cui: Brasile, Colombia, Venezuela, Perù, Guatemala e Giamaica ed i gusti generale che si possono trovare del caffè.
Tabella 2 dove mostro gli stati produttori di caffè, tra cui: Hawaii, Etiopia, Kenya, India e Costa Rica ed i gusti generale che si possono trovare del caffè.

Remember that this is a general differentiation. It is not said that all Colombian coffees have hints of almond, only that most Colombian coffees have this characteristic, but they can also deviate from the description hereabove reported.

Also there are also different methods of processing the green coffee. The two main methods are washed and natural.

The first offers the coffee, thanks to the fermentation phase, a broader aromatic profile combined with a marked acidity.

The second one, however, the natural one, offers a more creamy, full-bodied and sweet final cup, thus balancing the soft acidity with a good sweetness and roundness.

To learn more about the raw coffee processing methods, click below:

In a nutshell you now know that…

  1. Arabica coffees are usually the best coffees if are:
  • free from defects;
  • highly selected;
  • medium or light roasted.

That the word “Arabica” without all the context does not tell us much neither on quality nor on coffee flavor profile.

That Arabica is generally sweet, acidic and very aromatic, unlike Robusta which is more bitter, full-bodied and caffeine-based.

That it can be more or less sweet, acidic or full-bodied based on the washed or natural processing method.

That it features several aromatics profiles on the basis of its variety and origin.

Also beware of…

Last week we were curious about a coffee from another roaster.

The label said “Blend of 100% fine Arabica”, we already knew the brand, but we had never tasted this specific blend, so we bought, analyzed and tested it.

What we found was really disappointing…

It really was not a 100% arabica as very law quality robusta coffees also were part of the blend. No more than 50% was composed of arabica coffees and the beans were all very low quality.

The tasting then confirmed everything we had thought and we also found additional roasting defects.

In short, the gist is: writing 100% Arabica is quick and does not require any effort from the producer, even if he is very often fooling consumers.

It is therefore you who must go further, in three simple ways:
  1. Be wary of supermarkets, in 99% of cases they don’t have quality coffee;
  2. Check on the label if the origins of the different coffees that make up the blend are indicated, the level of roasting and any other useful information, such as the description of the aromatic profile, the altitude and processing methods of the green coffees or any reference to a site for further information on the same;
  3. Ask who you are dealing with! If you’re in a bar or roastery don’t be afraid, ask questions! Trust me that those who do this job with knowledge and passion will be only happy to finally have someone interested in listening to him, someone to tell the beautiful story of the coffee he serves, which he created with so much effort and study. If, on the contrary, they already hesitate at the first question, they don’t even know what they’re selling basically what is that coffee.

Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager
Coffee Lover

Author

Martina Mazzoleni

Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager Coffee Lover

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sono Martina, come ti possiamo aiutare?
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