Uses of Robusta Coffee Beans

The two main commercial types of coffee are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is better-tasting coffee which Colombian coffee growers produce. Robusta has a higher caffeine content, adds a “kick” to Italian espresso, and is the main source of caffeine in soft drinks sold worldwide. The world’s biggest producer and exporter of Arabica is Colombia followed by Brazil. Brazil and Vietnam are the biggest exporters of Robusta coffee beans.

Robusta Coffee Beans

The scientific name for Robusta is Coffea Robusta or Coffea Canephora. Robusta is a very hardy coffee plant, much less susceptible to coffee leaf rust and the various insect infestations to which coffee is prone such as the coffee borer beetle. Robusta is cheaper to cultivate, grows to a larger size (up to 30 feet high), produces more coffee beans, and produces beans sooner than the Arabica plant. Whereas Arabica comes originally from Ethiopia, Robusta comes from the central and western sub-Sahara regions of Africa. While Arabica coffee beans have about 1.5% caffeine, Robusta beans have about 2.7%.

About a third of world coffee production is Robusta with most coming from Africa and throughout the Indian Ocean. In the Americas Brazil is the main Robusta producer. Vietnam is the most recent large producer and has moved up to rival Brazil in Robusta production.

Robusta in Your Cola Drink, Instant, and Espresso

The one niche where you can find Robusta in fine coffees is in Italian espresso where a quantity of Robusta is mixed with Arabica to give the espresso more caffeine.  And, you can find Robusta in coffees like Death Wish. Although much of the caffeine in soft drinks is synthetic, some also comes from Robusta beans.

The bulk of robusta coffee goes into making instant coffee, commercially packaged espressos, and as filler in average grade blends of ground coffees. Throughout Southeast Asia it is more likely to find yourself drinking Robusta than Arabica coffee.

Uses of Robusta Coffee Beans - Robusta Coffee Tree

Will We Drink More Robusta in the Future?

We recently wrote about climate change and coffee production. The main problem for growing Arabica coffee in a hotter climate is that more heat means more coffee diseases. Because Robusta is a hardier plant we can expect to see it replace Arabica to some degree over the years. We also expect to see attempts at cross breeding to keep the flavor and aroma of Arabica while gaining the strength and endurance of Robusta. An added benefit of growing Robusta is the greater production per plant than what is seen with high quality Arabica varieties. Robusta produces coffee beans earlier, produces more per plant, and very commonly produces coffee beans for more years than Arabica.

Does that mean we will eventually only be drinking poor quality but higher caffeine content coffee? That will probably not be the case. Organizations like the research arm of the Colombian coffee growers will keep working on Arabica strains that are increasingly disease resistant while retaining the flavor and aroma of the Arabica we love. It may even turn out that future Arabica cross breeds will have a higher caffeine content and be more productive.

Uses of Robusta Coffee Beans – Slideshare Version

Uses of Robusta Coffee Beans – PDF

Leave a Reply