Arabica Coffees

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Arabica coffee--scientific name Coffea arabica--is one of the two primary types that most of us everywhere drink. The other is Robusta, scientific name Coffea canephora robusta, grown primarily in Africa. Arabicas are grown primarily in the Americas and Indonesia. What are the differences between the two?

What Makes an Arabica an Arabica?

For a start, the Arabicas generally are weaker in caffeine--from 0.8 to 1.5 percent, versus the 1.6 to 2.5 percent in the Robustas. Arabicas are smoother in taste as well. Yet another difference lies in the growing conditions, with Arabicas more particular about them and Robustas (fairly enough, given the name) less so.

Coffee will grow from sea level to about 6,000 feet. Most of the world's Robustas are grown in the coastal areas of West Africa. Better grades of Arabicas, however, are generally grown at about 1,500 feet or more, and within 10 degrees of the equator. They require consistent temperatures between 60° and 70° F as well as fertile, well-drained, and loamy soil. Also on the list of ideal conditions are only moderate winds, diffused light, and even rainfall of about six inches per month.

What most of us notice, however, is the taste difference. The Robusta variety is not only more hardy as a plant, but less delicate in taste. They are used, for example, in most mass-manufactured blends, such as those typically found in grocery stores. The Arabica varieties tend to be fuller bodied and smoother, regardless of how they are roasted. Without being bitter or acidic, they have nonetheless a more pronounced and individual taste and aroma than the Robustas do.

Whether you're talking Jamaican Blue Mountain or Hawaiian Kona, then, the bean will probably be an Arabica. The same is true for Sumatra, Mocha Java, and Tanzanian Peaberry. Even the rarest of the rare coffees, the Indonesian Kopi Luwak, which runs at as much as $300 a pound and is made from coffee beans excreted whole by the Palm Civet cat, is an Arabica.

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