For the coffee drinker there are two major types of coffee beans. The Caffea arabicais the Arabica coffee beans which is the quality coffee of the world. Arabica coffee is the only coffee that is to be drunk and enjoyed without being blended with other types of beans. This is one of the varieties that qualify as a gourmet coffee bean.
Arabica coffee beans are native to northeastern Africa but is now grown throughout the world. The Arabica plant can grow to forty feet in the wild but is pruned in cultivation to eight feet to allow for harvesting of the beans. The plant does not bear fruit until the trees are 3 to 5 years of age but can produce coffee cherries for up to thirty years. Being a tropical plant, it prefers temperature ranges from the fifties to mid-seventies Fahrenheit. They thrive in areas with large amounts of rainfall and in altitudes between 3,000 to 6,500 feet. It is particularly prolific in the tropics of Central and South America.
The Arabica coffee beans accounts for about 70% of the world’s coffee production and is the most wildly grown species of coffee plant. Arabica coffee beans are the most expensive variety and are considered the premium and best tasting coffees of the world. The most renown coffees from Costa Rica, Kona and Jamaica Blue Mountain are all highly prized Arabica coffee beans and produce a fine gourmet coffee bean.
Caffea canephora which is known as robusta, are used for espresso coffees because of its harsher taste. The cost to produce robusta is much lower than Arabica beans and many of the major coffee roasters use this to blend it in with the higher quality Arabica coffee beans to increase their profitability.
The growth and cultivation of this plant is similar to the Arabica plant. The robusta also enjoys lots of rainfall but can thrive in hotter temperatures and higher humidity than its Arabica cousins. Grown mainly in west and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and parts of South America, robusta plants grow best in areas closer to the equator. The temperatures can range from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties and the altitude can range from sea level to 3,000 feet. The robusta plant also differs in that they are more resistant to disease and produce a higher yield than Arabica plants. The robusta plant yields as much as two to three pounds of beans per year, which is about twice the amount of an Arabica plant.
The lower quality grade and higher yield has lead to the government of Costa Rica to outlaw the cultivation of any robusta plants. The fear is that robusta beans would reduce the quality and reputation of the Costa Rica grade of fine gourmet coffee.
Robusta beans are less flavorful and have a bitter taste. Robusta beans find their way into popular commercial coffee blends to lower the cost of production and coffee manufacturers classify this as a gourmet coffee bean. This cutting of the coffee allows Arabica beans to go further by mixing in the inferior robusta beans. So when you hear the phrase “coffee blend” be alert that it is not a blend of robusta beans.