Arabica vs Robusta

Arabica vs. Robusta: Understanding the Differences

Coffee—the rich, dark liquid that’s become a staple of our everyday lives is available in several types, making it a bit overwhelming to choose the right brew for your tastebuds. 

Arabica however accounts for roughly 60 percent of the world’s coffee production globally, with robusta slotting in the #2 position. 

But what makes Arabica a more preferred choice than robusta? And why is robusta the go-to bean for some coffee connoisseurs? 

Here are 8 differences between Arabica and robusta to ease your decision the next time you’re in the coffee aisle or coffee shop. 

TasteChocolate and sugar notes, smooth, and sweet with hints of fruits or berriesBitter, sour taste, often described as burnt tires or rubbery
Lipid and Sugar ContentHigher sugar (twice as robusta) and lipid content (15-17%)Lower sugar and lipid content (10-11.5%)
ColorLighter in color, usually light green before roasting due to high chlorogenic acid contentDarker in color
ShapeOval, large with a wavy grooveRound, smaller with a straight groove
Coffee Tree Height10-15 feet tallUp to 32 feet tall
Caffeine Content1.5% caffeine content2.2% or higher caffeine content, double that of Arabica
CultivationHarder to grow, only at high altitudes, hand-picked due to farm topographyGrows at low elevations (6,00 to 2,400 feet), can handle higher temperatures
PriceMore expensive (10 USD to 15 USD/kg) due to high cultivation resources and effortLess expensive (4.5 – 7.5 USD/kg)

Differences Between Arabica and Robusta 

1. Taste 

Arabica coffee beans tend to have flavor notes of chocolate and sugar, hence a smoother and sweeter taste. 

Adding to this, Arabica beans also have hints of fruits or berries owing to the high altitude at which they are grown. 

When it comes to the taste of robusta coffee beans, it’s definitely a far cry from Arabica beans. Robusta beans have a bitter, sour taste, which is often described as burnt tires or rubbery.

2.  Lipid and Sugar Content

Coffee beans surprisingly come with their subtle sweetness naturally. You probably already know that many fruits, nuts, and vegetables contain sugar, and coffee beans being the seed of the coffee cherry (fruit) does produce natural sugar as they mature. 

The natural sugar in coffee does two things—plays a role in its color and gives coffee a distinct flavor. 

Arabica contains almost twice the concentration of sugar than robusta, which is one of the biggest reasons why it’s sweeter than the latter. 

Coffee beans contain a certain amount of lipids—a class of organic that are fatty acids like many natural oils, waxes, and steroids. 

Lipids are present in the waxy portion covering coffee beans and in terms of numbers that’s 15-17% and 10-11.5% for Arabica and robusta respectively. 

Even though these numbers aren’t a big reason for concern, coffee can affect cholesterol levels. 

3. Color 

Arabica beans are typically lighter in color than robusta coffee beans. These beans are usually light green in color (before roasting) owing to their high chlorogenic acid content. 

4. Shape 

Not all coffee beans are created equal and this certainly applies to Arabica and robusta beans. An easy way to tell the difference between Arabica and robusta coffee beans is by looking at their shapes. 

Arabica coffee beans are oval and large whereas robusta is round and smaller than Arabica coffee beans. 

Both types of commercially available coffee beans feature a distinct groove in the middle, but the groove in Arabica is kind of wave and straight in robusta beans. 

5. Coffee Tree Height 

Arabica coffee trees grow to 10-15′ tall and robusta up to 32 feet in height as a shrub or tree. 

6. Caffeine Content 

The main reason for the bad/bitter taste of robusta beans is the high caffeine content in robusta compared to Arabica beans. 

In terms of numbers, robusta beans have a 2.2 or higher percent caffeine, which is double the 1.5% of arabica beans. 

For example, if you drink two cups of regular coffee made with equal amounts of each type of coffee bean, Arabica will be smoother in taste and robusta will have a harsher and more bitter taste. 

7. Cultivation 

Arabica coffee beans are harder to grow than robusta beans because they only grow at high altitudes. 

Plus, these beans are generally selectively hand-picked because mechanized harvesting isn’t an option in many areas due to farm topography. 

Hand-picking is highly recommended by specialty coffee buyers because mechanized picking tends to also harvest under-ripe and over-ripe cherries, resulting in low to medium-grade coffee. 

Robusta on the other hand grows in low elevations between 6,00 and 2,400 feet and can handle higher temperatures. 

8. Price 

Arabica coffee isn’t easy to produce, which is why it is more expensive than robusta coffee beans. Adding to the high costs is the more energy and resources needed to grow the Arabica coffee plant. 

You can expect to pay between 10 USD to 15 USD/kg for Arabica coffee beans and 4.5 – 7.5 USD/kg for robusta coffee beans. 

In a Nutshell

There are myriad differences between Arabica and robusta coffee beans. If you prefer high caffeine content and don’t mind the bitter taste, robusta is a great choice. 

But if you like a get a mild, smooth taste and don’t mind paying top dollar, Arabica coffee is hard to beat. 

Don Pablo coffee is a premium Arabica coffee blend and is available in several different varieties. Biohazard Ground Coffee is billed as the world’s strongest coffee and is made from 100 percent robusta beans. 

About the Author Greg Haver

Hey there, my name is Greg and I'm the creator and editor of Coffee or Bust. I've been in the coffee business for over a decade, and my goal is to help you make the best cup of coffee with recommended tips, tools, and tricks!