Why Is Arabica Coffee Expensive?

When they buy coffee at the market or order a cup of Java with their meal, some folks are only interested in the caffeine and others are looking for the excellent aroma and taste that comes with an Arabica coffee. For those who only want enough caffeine to stay awake, Robusta coffee is cheaper and has a higher caffeine content. The reason that coffee house coffee is more expensive is that they use Arabica coffee beans from places like the Colombian coffee triangle. So, why is Arabica coffee expensive? Is it all about the market for better tasting coffee or is there more to the story?

Coffee Harvest for Arabica vs Robusta

Both Arabica and Robusta coffee plants take three to four years from when they are planted until they bear fruit. Both will typically keep producing coffee beans for twenty-five to thirty years and then taper off but potentially keep producing for up to fifty years or even more. During that time a Robusta coffee plant routinely outproduces an Arabica plant by about thirty to forty percent yield. This is assuming that both plants remain healthy and produce year after year.

Coffee Leaf Rust and Other Coffee Diseases

The British grew coffee on the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) until the middle of the 19th century until a fungal disease killed all of the coffee plants which was when they switched to growing tea forcing much of the British public to become tea drinkers instead of coffee drinkers. Coffee leaf rust has wiped out vast areas of coffee production over the years spreading across the East Indies to Africa and in about 1950 to Brazil from where it spread bit by bit up through Colombia and into Central America and Mexico.

Why Is Arabica Coffee Expensive?
Arabica vs Robusta Coffee Prices

How Plant Diseases Like Leaf Rust Affect Coffee Prices

Developing newer varieties of Arabica that are cross bred from resistant strains and growing Arabica only at higher elevations where it is cooler have helped Arabica production recover but made Arabica more expensive to grow and more scarce. Climate change with progressively higher temperatures has driven Arabica production higher into the mountains also thus reducing output and driving prices up. Fortunately for Robusta coffee, it is resistant to coffee leaf rust and many other coffee plant diseases. Thus it can be grown at lower elevations and is not prone to having whole fields wiped out by plant disease. This makes Robusta cheaper to grow and maintain so the coffee farmer can sell at a lower price than Arabica and still make a profit.

The Market Determines the Price of Coffee

The eternal problem for coffee farmers in the mountains where coffee grows best is the same for farmers everywhere. When there is a great year with ideal weather, no new crop diseases, and, thus, a bumper crop, the price of their crop falls. This problem is often compounded by exchange rates. Coffee is priced in dollars and is quoted on the New York Mercantile Exchange. You can walk into coffee cooperative office in the heart of the Colombian coffee triangle and see a TV screen with up-to-the-minute price quotes in dollars and conversions to Colombian pesos. Every time Brazil has a bumper crop the price of Arabica falls and when they have drought and production falls the price goes up everywhere. Because Robusta can grow and produce in dryer conditions it is less prone to such variations in crop yield and thus less prone to such extreme price variations.

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