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Types of coffee: arabica vs robusta

When researching coffee, one of the first things that you will discover is that there are different types of coffee. Coffee is primarily grown in high altitude climates that are in close proximity to the equator. You may hear the words Java or Sumatra when shopping for coffee. These are islands in Indonesia, which boast ideal climates for coffee to thrive. However, a specific region does not denote what type of coffee it is. Instead, the first thing to consider is the plant species.

What part of the plant goes into your drink?

Before we discuss different types of coffee, it’s important to highlight the part of the plant that makes coffee. In coffee, the source of your beverage is from the seed, or bean, located within the cherry fruit. This is different than tea, where the source of your beverage is from plant leaves.

Most common types of coffee

There are two main types of coffee. The most popular is arabica coffee. Arabica coffee is generally associated with higher quality coffee. The second most popular type of coffee is robusta. Robusta is more frequently associated with gas station, or cheap diner coffee.

This article only scratches the surface on understanding the different types of coffees. Identifying your coffee as arabica is like describing your wine as red versus white. It’s a good start. But if you really want to get into the down and dirty, you should dig deeper to learn about coffee’s many varietals.

Arabica coffee

Arabica coffee is the most popular type of coffee. This coffee is more delicate and more difficult to grow. The arabica cherry typically is 10 to 15 millimeters in diameter — roughly the size of a dime. Arabica coffee grows at higher altitudes ranging from 1,300 to 1,500 meters.

In the wild, these plants grow up to 12 meters (39 feet) tall. However to promote consistent harvesting, cultivators typically limit height to 2 to 5 meters. It is best to limit light exposure for these plants. Light shade is the optimal growing environment.

Robusta coffee

Robusta coffee’s scientific name is Coffea canephora. Among the various types of coffee, this is less expensive and has a reputation for being inferior in taste. However, robusta coffee is lower in fat and contains more caffeine. This may lead to a wider acceptance of robusta coffee in the future.

Additionally, robusta coffee can be grown at lower altitudes, raging from 500 meters to 1,500 meters. Robusta coffee takes 9 to 11 months to ripen, about two months longer than arabica. In the wild, the robusta plant grows up to 10 meters tall. In contrast to arabica, robusta is grown in the sun.

Finally, it’s important to note that bad tasting coffee is attributed to more than just species. Factors that contribute to flavor include quality of brewing equipment, water quality and age of beans.

Types of coffee in Vietnam

Vietnam has a high prevalence of robusta coffee. This leads people to write off Vietnam as a quality source of coffee. However, flavor is dictated by more than plant species. Coffee from Vietnamese origin still has high potential in today’s highly developed coffee industry. It is possible to buy specialty grade arabica coffee from Vietnam. Check out our blog post for greater detail on coffee from Vietnam.

General notes on coffee

  • Despite being from the same region, bean flavor will still vary because difference in taste occur during the roasting phase.
  • Store your coffee at room temperature in an opaque, airtight container
  • To learn more on the process of growing coffee, check out this great article from Wandering Goat Coffee