Get to Know Arabica Coffee: Is Arabica the Highest Quality Coffee?


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Arabica is the highest quality coffee because the bean is valued for its sweet, smooth, and superior flavor. Indeed, many consumers love this coffee because it’s a more prominent cup to enjoy than Robusta. 

Coffee is a universal thing, and we enjoy our favorite cups of java every morning. In fact, coffee maintains its position as the second most globally traded commodity after oil for over a century. There are four different types of coffee beans widely produced and sold in the market, but Arabica is the only considered bean as “Specialty Coffee.

In this post, we’re going to talk more about Arabica. We’ll try to understand what makes this bean the world’s most popular type of coffee. 

What is Arabica Coffee?

Coffea Arabica, or simply called Arabica, is one of the many coffee plant species classified under the genus Coffea, a flowering plant that belongs to the botanical family Rubiaceae.

It has a shrub with evergreen leaves and can be grown to over 20 feet, depending on how you will take it to care. Sometimes, this type of coffee plant is pruned to a height of six feet once it reaches optimum height to harvest it with ease.

But with all the types of coffee beans available, Arabica is the most superior in terms of volume, value, and flavor. It’s also the most sold coffee in the market, more expensive coffee, most consumed by people, and the most popular coffee type in the world. Arabica accounts for about 70% of coffee production worldwide.

A Brief History of Arabica Coffee

Nowadays, if someone asked you to identify the type of a particular “coffee,” “coffee bean,” or “coffee tree,” the first thing that pops out in your mind is Arabica, right? But what makes Arabica the face of those coffee beans available?

It’s simple. It’s history!

Arabica was originated in the southwestern part of Ethiopia. Dated back to 1000 BC, the Oromo tribe also consume coffee beans to act as a stimulant. But the beans are crushed and mixed with fat to be able to be consumed easily.

Have you ever heard of the legend that says a young goat herder named Kaldi discovered the coffee? He noticed that his goats have an unusual behavior after eating some of the fruits that came from the tree. But during that time, the coffee wasn’t yet classified as Arabica (Although the type of coffee is really Arabica in today’s context).

The Coffea species got its name from Arabia when the bean crossed the Red Sea from Ethiopia to Yemen and lower Arabia. Since then, at the beginning of the 17th century, the term “arabica.” was considered the first botanical term to describe a coffee tree.

Arab scholars were the first known to try coffee made from roasted coffee beans. They have written that using roasted beans was useful in prolonging their working hours (maybe to stay awake and alert).

Since then, Yemen’s Arab innovation was the first written record of making a brew from roasted beans. This experience was spread first among the Egyptians and Turks and eventually reached the other parts of the world.

To this day, Arabica coffee is now a universal thing known as the most popular coffee beans in the world.

Varieties of Arabica Coffee

varieties of arabica coffee

The Arabica coffee produces several varieties, but it’s not always clear what they are. Honestly, I didn’t even know at first that there are many sub-varieties of coffee.

But some of these varieties are commonly grown for specialty markets (which sells at higher prices), and others are produced for a commodity or commercial use.

Here’s a summary of some of the many varieties of Arabica:

1. TYPICA – Typica is one of the most common and iconic varieties of Arabica coffee. Although it is believed this variety in itself has originated and been discovered in Ethiopia, you’ll still find Typica all over the world, mostly in every major coffee-growing country.

A Typica plant can grow at around 5 meters (16.5 feet) tall. Compared to Bourbon, which has a rounded shape and yellow or orange fruits, Typica has a frequently elongated shape and deep-red cherries.

Additionally, you can quickly identify this variety by its tall size, large and extended leaves (mostly green, but there are bronze leaves), and thin trunk and branches contributing to its physical properties.

2. BOURBON – On the other hand, Bourbon is Arabica’s second most cultivated variety worldwide. It can be also be grown into a large tree, but generally rounder and shrubbier than Typica. 

Bourbon has rounded shape cherries. I also noticed that the fruit is juicier than a Typica cherry. The color can be orange, yellow, or even pink. And when it comes to its physical property, the leaves are usually broader than Typica (usually green, but sometimes there is bronze). 

3. CATURRA– Caturra is a natural hybrid of Bourbon that flourishes in the higher altitudes. It’s much shorter and denser than the other varietals. 

The coffee cherry is also round in shape like the Bourbon. But in this case, the fruits ripen to red or yellow. When it comes to physical appearance, it has similar characteristics to Bourbon. It has many secondary branches and large leaves that are border and greener, which makes the plant bushier than Typica or Bourbon.

4. CATUAI – Catuai is a cross-breed of Caturra and Mundo Novo (Caturra is a mutation of Bourbon as well as Mundo Novo as Typica). So basically, Catuai is a Bourbon/Typica hybrid that can see some aspects of both Typica and Bourbon.  

The fruits are almost round in shape and average in size. The cherries are usually red or yellow when fully ripened. The plant is shorter and more of an umbrella shape than Typica and Bourbon. That is because of the rare growth of enough secondary branches.

Hence, it has many lateral branches with wavy and greener leaves, contributing to a high-yielding variety. The Catuai variety is said as widely grown in Brazil.

5. PACAMARA – Pacamara is a descendant of the Pacas (another mutation of Bourbon) and Maragogipe (also a modification of Typica) varieties that grow well in El Salvador.

Pacamara was produced by the Salvadoran Institute for Coffee Research in 1958. And to this day, it is now grown not just in El Salvador but also in different Central American countries.

The plant is more of a conical shape like Typica and Bourbon because it’s also a bushy plant. The trunks are thicker than most other varieties, and the branches are also larger, making them less flexible. Pacamara has pointy tipped leaves that are greener and are known to have extensive fruits because of the Maragogype’s colossal bean.

These are the distinctive characteristics of the Pacamara variety that contribute to its physical appearance. 

5. GEISHA/GESHA – Geisha is another variety from Gesha, Ethiopia, planted in Panama. This variety has quickly rinsed in the coffee industry and increased its popularity.

Ever since, it’s now well recognized and considered one of the world’s most expensive coffee varieties. Nowadays, Geisha comes particularly from Hacienda la Esmeralda, located in Boquete, Panama.

You can easily describe a Geisha plant having a thin trunk and branches, very close to Typica. The only difference is that Geisa is a little smaller with an umbrella shape than the Typica plant. Besides, the 45 to 50° angle of the branches to the trunk makes it identifiable. Additionally, it has elongated, greener (with bronze tips), and smoother leaves. The cherries are also elongated and deep-red when ripened, but a little bit smaller than Typica fruits.

Arabica Vs Robusta Coffee

Arabica and Robusta are the two species that dominate the entire coffee production. They are the most commercial coffee varieties produced and traded worldwide, and almost what people consume nowadays.

But the thing is they have a lot of differences, and almost they are opposite to each other, especially when it comes to taste profile and growing condition. Arabica coffee is a prominent cup to enjoy and loved by many consumers than Robusta. This coffee targets the specialty coffee status, whereas it may sell at higher prices. 

While on the other hand, Robusta coffee is mainly used in lower-quality blends or instant coffee because it is cheaper. They’re also more comfortable to grow and mass-produce at similarly low prices than Arabica.

Several Things to Expect in Arabica Coffee:

  • Arabica is more commercially produced than Robusta. It accounts for about 70-75% of global coffee production.
  • Arabica is autogamous, which means it’s capable of self-pollinating.
  • It can’t grow in a harsher and hotter climate.
  • Arabica is harder to cultivate. It must be raised with proper care because it’s prone to disease.
  • Arabica grows in much higher elevations, at about 6,300 ft above sea level. Suitable to grow in mountainous and volcanic regions.
  • The ideal growing temperature of Arabica is from 15 to 24 °C with 1500 to 2000 mm of annual rainfall. 
  • Arabica can’t stand full sunlight exposure without damage. It typically needs shading protection.
  • In terms of the bean, Arabica has a slightly larger/elliptical shape than Robusta. 
  • Arabica is well-known in the specialty coffee industry for its higher quality beans, having a more complex, acidic, and sweet flavor. 
  • Arabica receives a high cupping score.
  • Arabica contains more lipids and sugar content than Robusta. 
  • Arabica contains less amount of caffeine compared to Robusta.
  • Arabica is more expensive than Robusta.

Several Things to Expect in Robusta Coffee:

  • Robusta is the second most commercially produced coffee. It accounts for about 25-30% of global coffee production.
  • Robusta depends on cross-pollination, which occurs after the flower opens. 
  • Can tolerate a harsher and hotter environment.
  • It’s easy to farm and prevalent to pests and diseases.
  • Robusta can grow in much lower altitudes compared to Arabica, at about 2,400 feet above sea level. 
  • The ideal growing temperature is about 15-30 °C, with 1000 to 2000 mm annual rainfall.
  • Robusta beans are smaller and more rounder Arabica beans.
  • Robusta has often associated with a taste described as rubbery, burnt, and bitter due to its high caffeine content. 
  • Robusta has a lower cupping score than Arabica.
  • Robusta has more caffeine than Arabica. In fact, it almost doubles the caffeine content of Arabica.
  • Robusta is cheaper than Arabica.

What Does Arabica Coffee Taste Like?

As highlighted before, the taste profile varies with different factors or variables. There’s no accurate description of the flavor of arabica coffee.

But one thing for sure, the taste profile is much better than the other types of coffee beans in terms of flavor and aromatics. 

Generally, Arabica provides a slightly sweet and delightful coffee flavor with hints of chocolate and caramel. However, the taste profile could also be spicy, floral, bright, low acidity, juicy, fruity, etc. That depends mainly on different variables.

How is Arabica Coffee Processed?

Although Arabica can be processed in either way, choosing the right method can improve the quality of coffee. Arabica coffee production may require a little sensitivity.

Therefore, it’s important to consider the post-harvest processing technique as it is the most critical in the production of quality coffee. A process that isn’t done right may ruin the great coffee flavor of Arabica.

So, with arabica, we go for wet processing.

Traditionally, many farmers do the dry processing because it’s convenient and easy to implement. But the problem is farmers often pick even the unripe fruits, which degrades the quality of coffee, since the process is done by just sun drying the coffee cherries.

Wet processing requires only ripe cherries. That is because it involves depulping or removing the outer skin of the coffee berries immediately after harvest. Then soaking them in clean water for 12 to 24 hours until the slimy membrane around the berries is totally dissolved. And washing the berries in clean water before finally sun drying.

Therefore, in conclusion, wet or washed method is indeed the best approach of processing Arabica coffee.

How Should You Roast Arabica Beans?

Coffee Roasting is the process of transforming the physical and chemical structure of green beans. It’s also a process where you develop the flavors and other aroma compounds of coffee. 

The technique on how you roast Arabica beans will always depend on your own preference. Whether what type of bean it is, choose a roast that suits your taste. You may roast the beans lightly, medium type, or even darker.

But in my opinion, since Arabica contains more lipids and sugar, it’s better to roast the beans medium-dark. That is because the more you roast the coffee beans, the more sugar comes out as well. Be careful, though, and be sure not to over roast the beans.

However, as highlighted above, the structural differences between Arabica and Robusta beans significantly impact the roast profile. Therefore, both of the beans should be roasted differently under accepted conditions. Besides, the concentration of sugar between Arabica and Robusta plays an essential role in forming numerous aromatic compounds during roasting.

In other words, the technique on how you roast Arabica beans may not be suitable for Robusta beans.

How Should You Brew It?

Is there a particular brewing method that will bring out the best flavor of Arabica coffee beans?

Arabica is already a better-flavored coffee. The only thing you need to do is brew it in any method you like.

Some say that the cold brew method can help bring out the sweet flavors of Arabica. Sure, the brewing process is also crucial in making a great cup of coffee at home, and choosing the right approach is much better. But there’s no really brewing approach recommended to Arabica beans only. It’s in the way how you perform a particular brew method.

What most important is to grind your Arabica beans as close in time to brewing as possible to ensure you’re getting the most out of it – its smell and natural taste. The aroma is one of the essential traits of Arabica beans, and sometimes it is the first thing you lose when making coffee. 

Also, you need to pay attention when it comes to the size of the ground particle. It’s important to choose a grind size according to how exactly you will be brewing it. For example, if you’re making a pour-over coffee with arabica beans, it’s recommended to use coarse grind size. In that case, you’re more likely getting the consistency that you want in a coffee.

Whether you’re using Arabica or Robusta beans, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re paying attention to how fine or coarse the coffee beans are. The grind size is necessary for the taste of your coffee and should fit the brew method. So, don’t ruin the high cup quality of Arabica coffee by using the wrong grind size.

Is Arabica the Highest Quality Coffee?

Arabica is the world’s best coffee due to its superior taste and aromatics. According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), Arabica beans have been considered specialty coffee, wherein often referred to as the highest grade of coffee available. While on the other hand, Robusta bean is known for its inferior taste and aroma, wherein perceived as low-quality coffee.

But what makes Arabica so Special?

Arabica coffee has been graded and cupped by the specialty coffee industry with a cupping score of 80+ points out of 100. If we think of it, that’s already high enough. 

However, behind that high cup score are several factors that contribute to it. Sure, we all know that Arabica is the highest quality coffee than the other species. But the exact flavor of a coffee depends mainly on the growing condition, farming practices, and much more.

In short, what makes Arabica beans so special is the fact that they’ve been grown in an environment that provides enough care, nutrient,and improved water for the coffee to flower, yield, and have vital crops.

But on the contrary, not all the cases are true where every Arabica beans are always the highest quality coffee. You need to consider the coffee bean’s origin, processing method, and so on. For example, have you ever encountered a standard coffee drink that tastes better than a premium one? This situation always happens because the carefully handled, processed, and sorted common beans will produce a better cup than poorly handled superior ones. 

It means that common Arabica beans that are sorted and prepared to produce zero defects in specialty grade coffee are much better than those grown in a pleasant and great environment.

What Does “100% Arabica” Mean?

Usually, that term is used and included in the packaging to claim that the coffee bag contains Arabica beans only. If you’re fun buying coffee, most of the bags you purchased are labeled Arabica, Robusta, or blend.

This label “100% Arabica” indicates that the bag of coffee contains Arabica beans only.

For example, suppose the coffee bag comprises beans from different varieties (i.e., Arabica and Robusta), especially espresso blend. In that case, you can’t expect that the coffee can produce the same quality as the pure Arabica ones.

Some brands will mix Arabica and Robusta coffee beans to provide a different combination. But in return, the quality of coffee degrades. (You can read our recent post, What Does 100% Arabica Mean? All the Things Behind that Label, for more detailed information)

The World’s Largest Producer of Arabica Coffee

All types of coffee species are grown in many tropical countries near the equator, in the span of the world’s coffee belt. But Arabica is best grown in mountainous and volcanic regions. Some of the best Arabica coffee comes from South America and Africa.

In my case, of course, the best Arabica coffee I’ve ever tasted was the ones planted in my backyard for centuries. That is because I’m used to those coffees.

So, going back, the largest producer of Arabica is Brazil, followed by Colombia and Ethiopia. Brazil has an excellent climate, such as high altitude that affects the coffee taste and are well favored in growing coffee. But you can also find it in other countries such as Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and other parts of Asia.

Arabica beans are mostly found in South America and Africa:

  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • Ethiopia
  • Costa Rica
  • Guatemala
  • Mexico
  • Ecuador
  • India

This is just a shortlist of some of the many countries that grow arabica coffee beans. Of course, some regions also produce high-quality Arabica beans. Sometimes you just need to explore those and gain more and more Arabica coffee experience.

Conclusion

There are many reasons why most of us prefer the taste of Arabica coffee, aside from being more aromatic and delicious than any other type of coffee. But several factors contribute to the overall consistency that these coffee beans provide.

In the end, you’ll find that Arabica coffee offers a fruity and sweet flavor with a little hint of caramel and chocolate that devotes to our desired taste preference.

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