Like other plants (grapes, hops, tomatoes), coffee cherries have a number of different classifications – known as varieties or “varietals” – that further identify each plant. Arabica is one of such varietals in coffee. Varietals are important because each variation does slightly better in one climate versus another, or for one purpose versus another.
Ultimately, choosing your coffee based on the varietal is a mistake – your choice in coffee should reflect your taste preferences and not some classification based on genetics.
Arabica Coffee is brewed coffee or coffee beans from the coffee plant species Coffea arabica or one of its varietals such as Typica (Coffea arabica var. typica), Bourbon (Coffea arabica var. bourbon), Heirloom (Coffea arabica var. heirloom), or Arabica (Coffea arabica var. arabica).
A number of cultivars – plants bred by humans for specific properties – are also known, and can be a mixture of Arabica or Robusta beans.
100% Arabica Coffee Brands
Arabica coffees are not rare – over 90% of specialty coffee in North America, Europe and Australia is Arabica with prices ranging from $7/lb to $20/lb (and far more sometimes). However, not all brands use 100% Arabica coffees in their blends, which isn’t a bad thing.
Robusta beans have a reputation for being “lower quality”, but the truth is that they have their place in blends, if well blended by master coffee roasters. Robusta coffees produce more crema than Arabica, which is highly valued in espresso blends, and should comprise anywhere from 10%-30% of a blend. They also contain almost twice as much caffeine per pound as Arabica, making them ideal in wake-me-up blends.
If you’re looking for 100% Arabica coffee brands, look for packages that say “100% Arabica Coffee” on it, or select single-origin coffees regardless of brand – the majority of which will be Arabica.
Varietals of Arabica Coffee
The Arabica varietal is probably the most commonly known among connoisseurs and consumers alike – it signifies a higher quality than Robusta, which makes up a majority of the worlds production, and does generally have better flavor. But it can be further sub-divided into sub-varietals such as
Some of the most distinguished Arabica coffees are Bourbon and Typica, from which many culitvars, hybrids, and strains have been developed. Different cultivars and hybrids can be developed for the purposes of changing the flavour of the coffee beans, or to make the tree heartier and less vulnerable to disease (such as coffee leaf rust). While this is a valid method of improving the flavour and reducing the risk of owning a single-crop farm, trees can often take 5 years to produce fruit and long-term planning must be considered.
Growing Arabica Coffee
The Arabica Coffee plant species is grown almost exclusively in tropical and sub-tropical climates at elevations between of usually at least 2,000 feet above sea level and more commonly from 4,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level.
Classification of the Arabica Species
The name Coffea arabica was first given to the plant by Linnaeus, a renowned European botanical expert who categorized all of the flora on the Arabian peninsula.
The Arabica Coffee Market
About 70% of all coffee beans grown for export are Arabica beans. Most of the rest are Robusta (Coffea canephora var. robusta), the other main coffee grown commercially along with a relatively small amount of Liberica (Coffea liberica).
Though Arabica beans are generally more flavorful than Robusta (which has twice as much caffeine) not all gourmet coffee beans are Arabica.
Arabica Coffee Growing Regions
Arabica coffee plants are cultivated in East Africa and Central Africa, all throughout Latin America, in India, and also Indonesia. It’s often the primary varietal of coffee grown for sale in North America, Europe and Australia.
Robusta making up the majority of coffee grown in Vietnam and some other low-altitude regions and is more commonly sold in Asia where it is mixed heavily with milk and sugar to mask the flavour.
Botanical Description of Arabica Coffee Plants
Arabica coffee plants have dark green, oval-shaped leaves and oval fruits (cherry) that take about 8 months to ripen. The Arabica species is genetically distinct in that it has four sets of chromosomes instead of two.
Arabica Coffee vs Robusta Coffee
Arabica Coffee is more expensive to produce than Robusta coffee because it is more vulnerable to pests, more prone to coffee diseases, and more difficult to grow than Robusta coffee plants. Arabica Coffee plants are also more sensitive to temperature and handling, and yield a smaller harvest per acre than the Robusta variety.
Another factor in growing Arabica or Robusta coffee is altitude – Arabica coffees do best over 500 m above sea level, and are really their best above 1300 meters (known as “strictly high grown“). Robusta on the other hand, is heartier and can be grown in countries without huge mountain ranges, and are closer to sea level.
Arabica plants require more care and hand-cultivation, and Arabica coffee beans are usually are harvested by hand to ensure a high quality of coffee fruit (cherry) picked at peak ripeness. Harvesting occurs periodically throughout the fall and winter months as the cherry ripen.
Before the Arabica Coffee beans are roasted they often have a smell similar to blueberries. Once they are roasted Arabica beans continue to give off a sweet fragrance.
Guide to Specialty Arabica Coffee
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