Want to see a little robusta vs arabica action? Well, in this post we dive into robusta coffee, what it is, and how it differs from arabica.
Robusta coffee is the second most popular coffee in the world, so if you're a coffee lover – it makes sense that you'd want to know all about it.
What is Robusta Coffee?
Given that there are over a hundred species of coffee, robusta has done well to become the second most popular coffee on the world market.
So let's take a look at what it is, and where it comes from.
Robusta originated in central and western sub-Saharan Africa. It is the second most popular coffee in the world, making up 40% of the worlds coffee production.
It comes second only to arabica (from the Coffea arabica plant) which makes up the remaining 60% (or more) of coffee production worldwide.
Learn more about arabica coffee.
Where does robusta coffee come from?
Robusta coffee is largely grown in the Eastern Hemisphere, mainly in Africa and Indonesia. The largest producer is Vietnam.
Coffea robusta has become a synonym of Coffea canephora which has two main varieties, C. c. robusta, and C. c. nganda. These varieties are commonly referred to as robusta coffee.
What does robusta coffee taste like?
Robusta coffee tastes earthy and is often said to have a bitter, rubbery/grain-like flavor, with a peanutty aftertaste.
Doesn't sound appealing, does it? But these flavors are not always present and if they are, may not always be unpleasant.
It could depend a lot on the quality of the beans and the way they are roasted. For example, I tried some Cannonball Coffee robusta, and while the beans smelled earthy, kind of like raw potatoes – I didn't notice it carried over in the flavor of the brewed coffee. Once brewed it smalled more like molasses. It did have a bitter flavor, but bitter is not always a bad thing, especially if you're a fan of bitter dark chocolate which is what I tasted in this coffee.
Robusta coffee beans contain more caffeine and less sugar than arabica beans, and therefore taste stronger and harsher than arabica.
Keep reading: The Strongest Coffee in the World
Is robusta coffee good?
At this point you may be wondering if robusta tastes good – well, high-quality robusta is said to add depth of flavor to an arabica/robusta blend, and a nice crema to espresso blends. But inferior robusta is often described as tasting kinda like burnt rubber.
In espresso land (yes – I mean Italy) high-quality robusta is desired because of the crema and flavor it adds to the espresso.
So if you like harsher, more earthy flavor notes, you may like a little robusta in your blend. Or, if you're after a nice thick crema on your espresso, then a high-quality robusta might just do the trick.
All About the Robusta Coffee Plant
The robusta coffee plant is a resilient little plant. It can withstand hot temperatures (30°C and over) and full sun. It likes to stay hydrated and requires a lot of water to be happy & healthy.
It grows at low altitudes – sea level to 600 meters, and is resistant to insects and disease.
In the wild, it grows to around ten meters tall, but when grown for commercial use is pruned to a height which makes harvesting easier, around five meters.
The flowers are white and smell sweet like jasmine.
The fruit of the robusta coffee plant turns deep red as it ripens, and takes around 6 to 8 months to do so. The fruit does not all ripen at the same time, much like blueberries – there can be ripe and unripe fruit on the same branch.
There are usually two coffee beans (seeds) inside each “cherry”, or ripe berry.
Need a gift for a coffee lover? Check out these gifts for coffee snobs – you're sure to find something they'll love.
How much more caffeine is in robusta?
If you've heard that there's more caffeine in robusta than arabica, you've heard right. There's around twice as much caffeine in robusta.
That higher caffeine content is one of the things that makes the robusta coffee plant less susceptible to pests and disease. The pests don't like the bitter flavor, and the disease doesn't like its antimicrobial properties.
The higher caffeine in robusta also lends to a bitter flavor in brewed coffee. A cup of brewed robusta contains around twice as much caffeine as a cup of arabica.
Where is robusta coffee grown?
As mentioned above the majority of robusta is grown in the Eastern Hemisphere, but some also comes from South and Central America.
Top 13 Producers of Robusta Coffee
The following list is made up of some of the largest producers of robusta coffee:
- Viet Nam
- Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
If you see the above countries listed as the source of beans on a bag of coffee (especially countries in Africa and Asia) there may be some robusta in the mix (unless it says that it's 100% arabica coffee) especially if it has a bitter/smoky flavor going on.
Robusta beans are sometimes added to bags of arabica as a filler (to save $$) or to achieve the flavor notes it carries with it.
Like this bag (pictured below) from the Congo. I was pretty sure by the way the beans look, and taste – that it was a blend of robusta and arabica. But when I contacted the roaster/importer, they confirmed that it is not a blend – but 100% arabica. You'll notice the different shapes in the beans – suggesting different varieties – but it turns out that they are actually just different quality arabica beans.
Robusta vs. Arabica: 12 Differences
There are a number of notable differences between these two main coffee contenders. Let's take a closer look by means of a robusta vs. arabica comparison.
- Needs to be cross-pollinated. This means that robusta blossoms need to be pollinated with some pollen from a plant with a different genetic composition. Arabica is self-pollinating.
- Matures faster. Robusta produces fruit in around 2 years. Arabica takes around 4 years.
- Contains more caffeine. Robusta has twice as much (or more) caffeine as arabica.
- Tastes different. Robusta tastes more bitter than arabica. This bitter flavor is in part due to the higher caffeine content. It's also higher in chlorogenic acid (CGA) which has a bitter flavor, it contains around 7-10% CGA, where Arabica has around 5.5-8%. CGA. There is also about half the sugar content in robusta. Overall robusta is described as tasting earthy, harsh, grainy, with hints of burnt wood/rubber, and an aftertaste of peanuts.
- Is more resilient. The robusta plant is more resilient, it can withstand higher temperatures, and does better in direct sun. Because of the higher caffeine and chlorogenic acid content – robusta is also more pest and disease resistant than arabica.
- Produces more. The robusta plant produces more coffee per hectare than arabica.
- Costs less. Robusta is more resilient, matures faster, and produces more than arabica – these factors make it less costly to grow. Those things, along with the less sought after flavor also mean it costs less to buy, so some brands will use robusta as a filler, mixing it in among the arabica beans.
- Beans are different in size and color. Robusta beans are usually smaller, thicker and rounder than arabica beans. They are also a little darker when raw.
- Is younger. Robusta was “discovered” around 100 years after arabica, making it younger on the world market.
- Leaves are larger. The leaves of the robusta coffee plant are larger than those of the arabica plant.
- Is grown in the eastern hemisphere. Robusta is grown mainly in the eastern hemisphere, whereas arabica is mainly grown in South America.
- Has fewer chromosomes. Robusta has 22 chromosomes, arabica has 44.
Robusta Coffee Brands
Would you like to try some robusta? It can be fun and interesting to experiment with coffee brands and flavors to see what the differences are – and to determine what your taste buds prefer.
To do that you need to know some brands of robusta coffee.
For a flavor comparison of arabica coffee brands, check out this post all about arabica coffee. You'll find a section just like this, but with suggestions for arabica coffee brands.
6 Brands of robusta coffee to try:
- Death Wish Coffee: Among the brands of robusta coffee this is one of the most popular. It's a blend of robusta and arabica beans sourced from India and Peru. It's both organic and fair trade. This is known as the world's strongest coffee, both in flavor and caffeine content. A cup of Death Wish has as much caffeine as two cups of regular coffee. According to the company they have sourced out some of the best robusta beans to make this blend bold and delicious – with flavor notes of dark chocolate, dark cherry and roasted almond.
- Cannonball Coffee: Here is a great choice for robusta beans. I received a sample bag of the Maximum Charge (a single-origin Rwandan robusta) and I enjoyed it. It had flavor notes of bitter dark chocolate and dark roasted almonds, none of those burnt rubber flavors I feared. I brewed it in my stovetop espresso maker (Moka pot) and noticed it tasted more like espresso than the Arabica beans I usually use.
- Valhalla Java: This is another among the top brands of robusta coffee, it's also mixed with arabica. It's by the Death With Coffee Company and is an organic, and fair trade coffee. The beans are sourced from India, Honduras, Sumatra, Guatemala and Peru. This is not as strong as Death Wish Coffee, and has flavor notes of walnut and toast. Strong coffee lovers say they prefer Death Wish to get them up and buzzing, and Valhalla Java as a bit of a more mellow (but still strong) choice.
- Bach Vietnamese Coffee, Whole Bean Robusta: This brand of robusta coffee is not a blend, it's 100% robusta. Traditional Vietnamese coffee is roasted with sugar, salt and oil to add a signature flavor, but this is not. It's just the beans, no other ingredients. The volcanic soil these beans grow in is said to impart flavor notes of chocolate. It's great for espresso, and perhaps experimenting with your own blending techniques. Why not add some Bach Vietnamese with your favorite arabica next time you turn on your burr grinder?
- Anni Coffee: This is another Vietnamese coffee, but this one is a blend of robusta and arabica. It's a dark roast with no additives or chemicals added. As with other robusta blends, it works great as an espresso or cold brew coffee.
- Urja is a medium roast gourmet Indian robusta/arabica blend. It's described as having a smooth velvety finish, with nutty undertones. It's best served as an espresso, americano, cappuccino, latte, or cold brew.
There you have it: 6 brands of robusta coffee. As you noticed, most of them are robusta/arabica blends, which goes to show that the harsh flavor of robusta is best paired with the flavor notes of arabica.
These brands would be great for brewing up some really strong coffee. But unless you're a die-hard black-coffee fan, you'll probably want to drink these blends with some milk and sugar, and maybe make a fancy little treat for yourself – like a cappuccino or a latte.
Please let us know what your favorite robusta coffee brand is by joining us in the comments on this post.
More reading: How long does coffee last? Does coffee go bad?
Robusta Coffee and You
So, what do you think about robusta, do you think you'll give it a try? Who knows – maybe you'll like the earthy, smoky flavor it adds to your daily java. Or, like wine, you may find that it pairs better with certain foods (like bread and cheese) than arabica does.
I want to try some of that Vietnamese coffee I read about while researching this post. It sounds delicious.
We would love to hear about your coffee adventures, please share with us – and all who EnjoyJava by commenting on this post.
Dena Haines is a co-founder and blogger on EnjoyJava! – and is working to make it the best coffee blog in the world. She also blogs about travel at Storyteller.Travel and photography at Click Like This. Dena is partner at Storyteller Media, a publishing company she started with her husband, Bryan.