Coffee is a popular drink, served throughout the world in a variety of different ways. But did you know that though your coffee, despite having a single, generic name, has many varieties, each coming from different coffee plants? Without delving into imitations or additives to coffee, such as chicory, there are still several different kinds of coffee plants. But for most cups of coffee, chances are you’ll be drinking a brew made from two coffee plants: arabica coffee or robusta coffee. Knowing the difference from the two can actually make a difference in the coffee you drink.
Arabica is the coffee plant that originally popularized the drink, with its origins in Ethiopia. Arabica coffee is made from the seeds of a white-flowered tree. The fruit of this tree itself is edible and slightly sweet, but is far more prized for what’s inside the fruit. The seeds of this coffee plant, when roasted properly, create a flavorful coffee, and this is what makes arabica the most popular variety among coffee connoisseurs. Its name, as one might guess, is taken from the ports where coffee first was exported.
The drawback to Arabica coffee plants is that they require particular growing conditions and even then, are susceptible to disease. It is grown primarily in East Africa where it originated, in Latin and South America, such as in Brazil, or in South Asia, such as on the Indonesian island of Java. Even then, it is still tough to grow; in Brazil, it can only be harvested in the winter, and though it can be harvested year round in Java, disease has at least once nearly wiped out all the coffee plants.
In contrast, robusta coffee comes from a much hardier plant, able to be grown in a variety of different climates. Because this coffee plant can grow in more areas than Arabica, Robusta is much cheaper to make. However, there is a tradeoff, since the drink made using beans of the robusta coffee plant has what is considered to be an inferior taste, though it has greater caffeine content.
Still, the Robusta coffee plant is popular because it costs less to make, and is the favored variety among mass-produced coffee makers. If you buy your coffee loose, you will know to buy Arabica for flavor and Robusta if you want high caffeine content. In fact, dark roasts of Robusta are the preferred choice for espresso makers, who seem to value the ability it has to create the crema, the foam that is on top of the espresso.
Armed with your information about the two major coffee plants and the sorts of drinks you make, should you go shopping around for your own beans, you will know the best choice to make for your taste. Whether you choose Arabica, Robusta, or some mix of the two, you’ll be sharing in a love for one of the world’s most popular beverages.