Why You Should Be Drinking Robusta Coffee
Coffee is a big deal. There's no doubt about that. But when it comes to coffee and Robusta, things can get a little… complicated..
First of all, it's important to note that Robusta has been around longer than many people think. Back in the early 1900's, Robusta accounted for 13% of the market—which is impressive by any standards!
In fact, if you look at it in terms of volume (48.66 million bags traded in the year up to November 2020), Robusta makes up just under 40% of the coffee market.
But there are also some downsides to Robusta—which makes it such an exciting topic for discussion. For example:
Robusta tends to be less expensive than Arabica beans because it grows more easily and doesn't need as much care (or time) throughout the growing process
It has a higher caffeine content than Arabica beans which means more energy but also more jitteriness
It can have an unpleasant flavour profile that's often described as burnt popcorn or black liquorice.
Why does Robusta get bad press?
Robusta is a hard bean to crack. It's easy to assume that because it's more widely available and generally cheaper, Robusta is lower in quality than Arabica, but this isn't always the case. While Robusta is broadly perceived as being lower quality among the coffee community and associated with commodity coffee, higher quality Robusta can actually yield complex and delicate cup profiles.
But here's the thing: since the advent of R-grade quality systems, "speciality" coffee has become a term used by some people to describe any coffee not sold at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. This means that even though Robusta still accounts for more than half of all roasted coffee beans sold worldwide each year, it doesn't necessarily mean that everyone thinks of it as "good coffee."
Robusta coffee, are you already drinking it?
There are a lot of great roasters out there who are committed to using only top-quality Robusta beans in their blends.
Just one example is Costa Coffee, where their iconic Signature Blend is a perfect combination of delicate Arabica and strong Robusta beans. They slow-roast them for a minimum of 18 minutes to ensure they keep their hearty flavour, rich aroma, and smooth taste.
It's no secret that Italians love their coffee. They're also known for drinking it black and bitter, which is a common trait of Italian coffee.
But how did this style come to be? In Italy, coffee tends to rely on blends that include the cheaper Robusta beans, noted for their bitterness and lack of acidity, and common in instant coffee. Because this species is used in Italian blends, a developed roasting level is an instrument to somehow "hide" the poor qualities of it; the customer won't taste the actual flavours of the coffee bean and origin, but rather the bitterness and caramelization of the roast.
Although nowadays there is a much better understanding of coffee, people around the world still might consider Italian coffee as "the real coffee"—intense, full-bodied, bitter—just because they're used to it and because Italian coffee has been marketed this way since many years now.
What is a Arabica and Robusta coffee blend?
If you’re roasting Robusta beans, you should approach it differently than roasting arabica beans. While arabica is more subtle in flavour, Robusta is bold and easy to taste.
Robusta is also often used in blends to add caffeine, crema, and body to the overall cup. If you’re blending, you should approach the roast differently.
Cheryl, a coffee specialist from Coburg Coffee, says:
“If you’re using it in a blend, the best thing to do is to split the roast to enhance the qualities of both the Robusta and arabica,” she says. “You should also educate the clients about how fine Robusta can create a better and bolder espresso beverage, for example.”
What is ‘Fine Robusta’?
More recently, there has been a movement to grow higher quality Robusta coffee to increase its presence in the market. Fine Robusta is essentially the practice of producing higher quality Robusta beans. Much like the brands we have listed in this post!
Fine Robusta can have notes of tea, lemon, honey, vanilla, caramel, cocoa, walnuts, tea rose, coffee blossom, malt, coffee pulp, butter, raisins, raspberries, cinnamon, cloves, banana and jackfruit.
Roasting Robusta Coffee
The flavour of coffee is essentially unlocked during the roasting process. Like arabica beans, Robusta beans are roasted to bring out their delicious flavours. However, as a different species, Robusta beans behave differently during the roast, and roasters must change their approach accordingly.
Density, shape, and sugar levels all play when profiling each new coffee. To bring out the best in each lot, roasters must consider these variables (and a variety of others) when developing a profile.
Firstly, density. Robusta beans are generally less dense than arabica, as they’re grown at lower altitudes and higher temperatures.
However, their bean structure is far more complex, so confusingly, during the roast, Robusta actually behaves like a very dense high-altitude arabica coffee.
Want to learn more about Robusta coffee? Chat with one of our team about our coffee and how we can work together.
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