Coffee Robusta (also known as Canephora)


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Jun 27, 2019
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Robusta or bust

ROBUSTA: One of the two main coffee species, Robusta is responsible for the strength and intensity of the coffee. It lacks the aroma and smoothness of its competitor, the Arabica coffee bean. It grows well at low altitudes, and has twice the amount of caffeine, about 2.2 percent, of the Arabica bean, which has about 1.1 percent.

By 1920, 80 percent of Java’s coffee crop consisted of Robusta beans, the high caffeine, disease-resistant alternative that had been discovered in the Belgian Congo in 1898, just as the leaf rust hemileia vastatrix was decimating the East Indies’ Arabica crop. Unlike its more delicately flavored Arabica cousin, Robusta —so named for its hardy growth—thrived anywhere from sea level to 3,000 feet and produced its small berries in far greater abundance. It also began bearing in its second year, earlier than Arabica. Its only disadvantage lay in the cup: even the best Robusta brew tasted harsh, flat, and bitter. It had to be used in a blend with Arabica, to the detriment of the latter. The Dutch, who supervised Robusta’s growth amid the rubber trees of Java and Sumatra, nonetheless developed a taste for it, particularly during World War I, when its consumption in the Netherlands surpassed that of Brazilian Arabica.

Robusta Beans

This coffee bean species is used for the lower grades of coffee sold throughout the world. This species does best at lower altitudes and elevations, even on plains, where the climate is unsuitable for the Arabica species. It will do well even in poor growing conditions. Coffee Robusta is very hardy and disease resistant. Robusta commands the lowest prices in the world, and its unremarkable flavor and scent are undetectable when the beans are in lower-priced commercial coffee blends and soluble instant coffees. However, Robusta is responsible for the strength and intensity of a finished cup of coffee. Robusta shrubs have a higher yield than do Arabica, 2 to 3 pounds (1 to 1.5 kilos) of green coffee per shrub each year. Robusta coffee beans contain about 2 percent caffeine by weight.

In contrast to Arabica, robustas weren’t cultivated until after 1850. Commercial production began on the West African coast between Gabon and Angola as European colonial powers (principally France and Portugal) sought to promote Robusta cultivation and use in their home markets. This species grows from sea level up to 3,200 feet and tolerates warmer temperatures and higher humidity than Arabica but is more sensitive to cold. Robustas tend to yield smaller beans than do Arabica, with an inferior flavor (but more caffeine) and a distinct bitterness. They are, however, easier to grow, as they demonstrate a wider tolerance to most diseases, soil conditions, and hotter climates.

Following World War II, Robusta production grew and its consumption expanded. With a harsher flavor and greater ease in cultivation, this variety commands a lower price in the market than Arabica and is commonly used in both instant coffee and the mass-produced ground coffees seen in large grocery chains. Today most Robusta is grown outside of Africa, where the only remaining top producer is Côte d’Ivoire.