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mcdonaldsIt is on signs EVERYWHERE!  ARABICA coffee used here!  Arabica coffee sold here, brewed here, roasted here, etc…  From small coffee houses to Starbucks to grocery stores to McDonald’s, we see Arabica coffee advertised all over the place.  I started noticing this several years ago before we even thought of the adventure we are on now.  It piqued my curiosity because of the frequency in which I was seeing it.  My wife and I would notice a sign which inevitably always turned into a funny discussion on how we thought it should be pronounced.  Finally, I decided to at least look up the pronunciation of the word.  Click Here to hear the word pronounced correctly.

About a year after learning just how to say the word I started researching why all the fuss about Arabica coffee.  Were there any other kinds? Was it from Arabia or Arab countries?  I thought all coffee was from Juan Valdez in South America, so were they trying to distinguish themselves from Juan?  Heck, maybe Juan was secretly Arab!  So, with plenty of questions I dove in and here are just a few facts about Arabica Coffee and why it is so widely advertised.

Arabica and What?


There are actually 2 main species of coffee, Arabica and Robusta.  Arabica accounts for around 70% of the coffee purchased.  Arabica coffee is native to Ethiopia.  It is said to have been consumed over 1000 years ago with the first cultivation of the plant taking place in the 1700’s in Yemen.  The name Arabica was given to this species of coffee by the botanist Carolus Linnaeus who incorrectly believed that it originated on the Arabian peninsula in modern-day Yemen. Robusta coffee makes up 25-30% of coffee sold and Liberica Coffee rounds it out with about 2% of coffee sold and purchased.

coffee-varietal-treeThere are over 30 varieties of Arabica coffee each with their own flavor profile.  Typica is the most well-known variety and is grown world wide.  Others you may have heard of include Java, Blue Mountain, Bourbon, Yirgacheffe and Caturra.  Some of these have evolved from Typica with new flavor profiles, thus they are given a specific name of Variety.

 Arabicas are delicate, they require cool subtropical climates, lots of moisture, rich soil, shade and sun. They are subject to attack from various pests, and are extremely vulnerable to cold and bad handling. Arabicas also must be grown at a higher elevation of 2000 to 6500 feet.

Robustas are hardier plants, capable of growing well at low altitudes of 600 to 2500 feet, they are also less subject to problems related to pests and rough handling. They yield more pounds of finished goods per acre at a lower cost of production.

Taste is KING!

So why Arabica over Robusta?  Taste, taste, taste…  Arabica coffee is known for being sweeter, smoother,  with more complex flavors and less bitterness.  Robusta coffee has  almost twice the caffeine as Arabica.  Caffeine by nature is bitter which is why Robusta tends to be more bitter than Arabica.  Robusta coffee has a more earthy and harsh or powerful flavor.  Robusta is normally what you would find in your grocery store big tub coffees because it is easier to grow thus it is cheaper.  Arabica is overwhelmingly used in “specialty coffee” although a few Robusta coffees have found their way into the “specialty coffee” world.  Robusta does have some good qualities to contribute to the coffee snob world.  Sometimes a Robusta will be added to an Arabica espresso in the 5-15% range to give the espresso a caffeine kick as well as a more powerful flavor without sacrificing taste.  This is often left up to the roaster who will use a blend of the 2 beans to create a different flavor profile, much like a wine blend.

Don’t be Fooled

Just because a coffee boasts “Arabica” does not mean it is going to be a great cup of coffee.  There are a ton of different Arabica coffees in the world.  To produce a good cup of coffee there are a lot of factors that play into the bean before it hits the cup.  How the bean is picked, processed, dried, packaged, soil levels, roasted, the list goes on and on.  So don’t be fooled into thinking if the sign says “Arabica” you are getting something great.  One thing you can be sure of though is it will most likely be better than any Robusta you find in a can of Folgers.

specialty If you want a great cup of coffee look for the logo of “Specialty Grade”.  This simply means the coffee has gone through the processes and taste tests to earn that grade.  I would also encourage you to try different varieties of coffee.  You will begin to notice a distinct difference in the coffees you are drinking.  One of the things I like to do is purchase 2 different varieties and try them side by side.  This really seems to help.  Drinking them side by side gives me a distinct flavor.  Just this last month I had both an Ethopian Yirgacheffe and a Mexican Bourbon.  I had read both flavor profiles and they seemed on opposite ends of the spectrum.  The Yirgacheffe had a distinct flavor of berries and sweetness I have never had in a coffee.  The Bourbon had a cocoa finish which was also a great surprise.  When I drank them side by side the tasting notes were really distinguishable between the two.

Good Luck and Happy Brewing!

To Learn more about Mission Arabica and how you can help change people’s lives through coffee click here.

Arabica Means What to Me?