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Arabica - The King of Coffee Beans

Arabica or "Coffea Arabica" is a species of coffee indigenous to Ethiopia and Sudan, specifically it is acceptted the Limu forest region. Coffea Arabica is believed to be the first species of coffee to be cultivated, being grown in southwest Arabia for well over 1,000 years. It is considered to produce better coffee than the other major commercially grown coffee species, Coffea canephora (Robusta) and the lesser known or used Coffea Liberica (Liberica). Arabica contains less caffeine than any other commercially cultivated species of coffee. Wild plants grow to between 7-12 m tall, and have an open branching system; the leaves are opposite, simple elliptic-ovate to oblong, 6-12 cm long and 4-8 cm broad, glossy dark green. The blossoms (flowers) are produced in auxillary clusters, each flower white, and 1-1.5 cm in diameter. The fruit is a berry 10-15 mm long, maturing bright red to purple (in most varieties, and also found in yellow and orange),containing two seeds (the coffee 'bean').

Arabica is considered better taste, but more expensive than Robusta. The Arabica trees grow in semi-tropical climates near the equator, both in the western and eastern hemispheres, at high altitudes. Because ripe pure Arabica cherries (unroasted beans) fall to the ground and spoil, they must be carefully monitored and picked at intervals, which increases production costs.

Word Coffee Growing Regions showing Robusta and Arabica areas
World Coffee Growing Regions showing Robusta and Arabica areas (source wiki)

Man-made Derivatives

With coffee being so popular and Robusta being so bitter, there was a demand for an Arabica that could be easily cultivated, easily grown and would be more robust. Arabica beans were used as a source for this and Robusta qualities added. This resulted in a bean that was easier to cultivate, however it also had significantly higher amounts of caffiene. This was good for chasing away the insects in the areas the tree was cultivated (initially Brazil), however since caffeine is bitter, it affected the taste so these modified Arabica derivates (click here for details) are beter-tasting than Robusta and can be produced under simpler conditions than pure Arabica, but it tastes nowhere near as great.

Unfortunately most of the world's acclaimed coffee brands rely on this man-made sister to the Arabica bean. Brazil is by far the most prolific producer of this hybrid.

Less Caffeine

Published findings in the journal Nature by Paulo Mazzafera, a researcher of Universidade Estadual de Campinas, found that Ethiopian coffea Arabica naturally contains very little caffeine, While beans of normal coffea Arabica plants contain 12 milligrams of caffeine per gram of dry mass, these newly-found mutants contain only 0.76 milligrams of caffeine per gram with all the taste of normal coffee.

It should be noted that the varieties of Arabica that are closer in relation to the Robusta it has been cross-polinated with, or the over mixed varities have a higher amount of caffeine in their beans then the pure typica. So the man-made derivatives are therefore higher in caffeine.

Essentially this means that since Arabica is recognized as the king of coffee beans then Arabica from Ethiopia is the king of kings of coffee beans.

Arabica vs Robusta: No Contest

Robusta is also a variety of coffee bean. This bean owes its popularity to the following:

  • It is able to produce twice as much fruit per plant (also about at least twice as much caffeine)
  • Robusta is easier to grow, cultivate and is more robust (pun is obvious) than Arabica
  • Robusta bean has no real flavour unless it is dark roasted, thus making the roasting process easier, as this is essentially a cook until burnt philosophy
  • Because of the above, in an effort to reap more profits from the consumers, the big four coffee producers rely heavily on Robusta when claming that a coffee is 100% coffee - it can be 100% robusta, although typically it is 30%
  • Note: there are some coffee drinkers that claim Robusta is required in a coffee blend, and there are even those that claim there are Robusta's that are better than Arabicas. We at Quaffee are yet to be convinced.


Some differences between Arabica and Robusta coffee

Item Arabica Robusta
Date species described 1753 1895
Chromosomes (2n) 44 22
Time from flower to ripe cherry 9 months 10-11 months
Flowering after rain irregular
Ripe cherries fall stay
Yield (kg beans/ha) 1500-3000 2300-4000
Root system deep shallow
Optimum temperature (yearly average) 15-24° C 24-30° C
Optimal rainfall 1500-2000 mm 2000-3000 mm
Growth optimum 1000-2000 m 0-700 m
Hemileia vastatrix susceptible resistant
Koleroga susceptible tolerant
Nematodes susceptible resistant
Tracheomycosis resistant susceptible
Coffee berry disease susceptible resistant
Caffeine content of beans 0.4*-1.4% 1.7-4.0%
Shape of bean flat oval
Typical brew characteristics acidity bitterness, full
body average 1.2% average 2.0%
*The lowest amounts are Arabica typica

Major Varieties

Arabica Coffee - coffea Arabica

Coffea Arabica was first described by Linnaeus in 1753. The bestknown varieties are "Typica" and "Bourbon" but from these many different strains and cultivars have been developed, such as caturra (Brazil, Colombia), Mundo Novo (Brazil), Tico (Central America), the dwarf San Ramon and the Jamaican Blue Mountain. The average Arabica plant is a large bush with dark-green oval leaves. It is genetically different from other coffee species, having four sets of chromosomes rather than two. The fruits are oval and mature in 7 to 9 months; they usually contain two flat seeds (the coffee beans) - when only one bean develops it is called a peaberry. Arabica coffee is often susceptible to attack by pests and diseases (especially typica, being lower in caffeine), therefore resistance is a major goal of plant breeding programmes. Arabica coffee is grown in Central and East Africa, throughout Latin America, in India and to some extent in Indonesia. Quaffee only uses Arabica in their coffee since we prefer the taste.

Robusta coffee - coffea canephora

The term "Robusta" is actually the name of a widely-grown variety of this species. It is a robust shrub or small tree growing up to 10 metres in height, but with a shallow root system. The fruits are rounded and take up to 11 months to mature (rather than 5 years as with Arabica); the seeds are oval in shape and smaller than those of coffea Arabica. Robusta coffee is grown in West and Central Africa, throughout South-East Asia and to some extent in Brazil, where it is known as Conillon.

Liberica Coffee - coffea liberica

Liberica coffee grows as a large strong tree, up to 18 metres in height, with large leathery leaves. The fruits and seeds (beans) are also large. Liberica coffee is grown in Malaysia and in West Africa, but only very small quantities are traded as demand for its flavour characteristics is low.

Has been cross polenated with Arabica to produce variants

The coffee family tree

There are believed to be over 7,000 varieties of coffee. Cafe Imports has put together a family tree of the most common coffees that are used in coffees that are roasted and drunk. We have posted this documents for you, and it can be read here: Café Import's Coffee Family Tree 2013 07 23


The sources of the material above can be found at the following websites:

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