Beliefs & Prejudices Towards Robusta Coffee

Vietnamese Coffee Exporter
beliefs-prejudices-towards-robusta-coffee

Beliefs & Prejudices Towards Robusta Coffee: Robusta accounts for about 40% of global coffee production. It grows faster than Arabica and is more tolerant of harsh weather conditions, but it is often not given the same attention and care as its “brother” in production and processing. Many specialty coffee lovers dismiss robusta with a reputation for poor taste. But if Robusta is grown and processed with a focus on quality, will it be able to meet the standards for flavor quality? This article focuses on arguing & analyzing the ability to achieve high-quality Robusta coffee.

Robusta coffee in Central Highlands, Vietnam

Although more than 120 known species in the genus Coffea, only two species, Arabica and Robusta, account for more than 99% of total global production. Which, Robusta accounts for about 30 to 40% of the total output and is considered lower quality than Arabica. Even though there are very few studies discussing its origin and history, the genetic diversity of Robusta is pervasive. This means an uncharted world of Robusta varieties out there, with many potentials yet to be discovered.

Canephora (including Robusta & Conilon) currently accounts for 30% to 40% of global coffee production. Vietnam is the world’s largest producer of Robusta; Domestic production has reached about 30.2 million 60kg bags in the 2019/20 season.

 

Robusta & Arabica flavors

Robusta and Arabica are fundamentally different. Therefore, you should not expect a drink from Robusta to have the taste of Arabica. Instead, allow high-quality Robusta to express its personality and story.

Arabica is often more complex than Robusta when it comes to flavors and aromas. This is partly because the two species differ in genetic results. In Espresso Coffee: The Science of Quality, authors Andrea Illy and Rinantonio Viani say, “Arabica has lower caffeine, amino acids, and chlorogenic acids than Robusta, but 60% more total oil content (15-17) % for Robusta and 10-11.5% for Arabica). Many volatile aromatic compounds are dissolved in the oil droplets and released during extraction. The oil fraction may explain some differences in separation quality between Arabica and Robusta, especially in coffee Espresso coffee.”

On the other hand, Robusta has been criticized for having negative flavors related to its high caffeine and chlorogenic acid content (which makes the plant so much more robust in the wild. Specialty coffee grinders and most discerning customers in the third wave dismissed it. Robusta is present only in a low-end market and is often used to blend or produce instant coffee.

Coffee quality comes not only from the beans’ chemical composition but also from a range of human choices. The specialty Arabica coffee we drink today is not only a gift of nature but also the result of centuries of selection that has emphasized quality-related factors. And then, in the entire production, processing, roasting, and brewing process,s we all develop methods to enhance the sensory quality of Arabica coffee. In other words, Arabica coffee is invested more time and resources than Robusta in the entire supply chain. The whole production process has a tremendous direct influence on the final coffee quality.

Prejudices Towards Robusta Coffee: Most of Vietnam’s Robusta coffee is processed by natural methods ( dry processing)

Robusta was often overlooked because of its poor quality in the past. Frequently, Robusta beans are traded with a multitude of defects, and flavor quality is usually not a priority. But what if it is handled correctly? The impact can be huge for the farmers who produce it and other links in the supply chain.

We often use the word “specialty” to refer to high-quality Arabica coffee, but there is a separate language used for high-quality Robusta. We don’t call it Specialty Robusta or “Special Robusta”, instead we call it “Fine Robusta” or “Excellent Robusta”.

 

Rethinking Robusta

If Robusta is given the same emphasis as Arabica, it is likely to be of higher quality, and the species is more respected. But if we don’t have a market demand for premium Robusta, farmers have little incentive to improve quality at the production level.

Several organizations are trying to change the perception of Robusta and develop the market for premium Robusta. Pioneering is the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), which established the Q Robusta Program in 2010 to develop a common quality language for premium Robusta coffee.

In 2021, CQI launched Fine Robusta Standards and Protocols at World of Coffee. Dr. Mario Fernandez, Technical Director of CQI, said, “ Robusta has several characteristics that make it more attractive than Arabica to some farmers, roasters, and consumers. Many people in the specialty coffee industry do not understand or misunderstand when comparing Arabica and Robusta in terms of quality… They are two species of the same genus, like donkeys and horses. Both donkeys and horses are valuable resources for humans, but each species has different names and serves other purposes… There is soil suitable for Arabica and soil ideal for Arabica. Robusta“. These standards and protocols are now published in digital & print formats through CQI ( link ).

Prejudices Towards Robusta Coffee: Robusta coffee trees in Gia Lai, Vietnam

Even the finest Robusta is said to not exhibit the sensory complexity we associate with Arabica. But again, most Arabicas don’t exhibit the typical complexity and flavor that we associate with the finest Arabica species.

According to Shirin Moayyad, a coffee expert in Switzerland

Choosing a crop suitable for soil conditions is becoming more urgent as the coffee industry becomes more aware of the impacts of climate change. As demand increases and the area ideal for growing Arabica shrinks, the industry needs to look for alternatives. Coffee Barometer 2018 states that “without major efforts to adapt coffee production to climate change, global production in 2050 may even be lower than today”.

Franziska Bringe is the Purchasing Manager of a coffee importer in Germany and is working with Robusta producers in Uganda. Franziska says some of the advantages of growing Robusta:

As the name is associated with its ubiquitous nature, Robusta is stronger than Arabica. It is easier to farm and less expensive to grow. Farmers can grow it at lower altitudes than Arabica, and it is less susceptible to pests and diseases due to its higher caffeine content (as a natural pesticide). Robusta is also more resistant to variable weather conditions and warm temperatures – an argument that’s pretty obvious in times of climate change and the fact that Arabica acreage is decreasing. Robusta also produces fruit much faster than Arabica, which takes several years to mature, and they give a higher yield per tree. One disadvantage, of course, is the lower price compared to Arabica (Franziska Bringe, Purchasing Manager GEPA).

Prejudices Towards Robusta Coffee
Prejudices Towards Robusta Coffee: Today, the development of the specialty coffee industry has made farmers interested in growing higher quality Robusta coffee.

But in fact, the low price is a strong argument against the development of high-quality Robusta coffee and its position in the specialty coffee industry. Robusta is already grown by millions of farmers worldwide, and improving the quality of these coffees can lead to higher prices and better income for producers. If the mission of the specialty coffee industry is to put producers first, as many members assert, investing in Robusta to improve its quality and enhance its reputation must be a top priority for the industry. Ethically oriented industry.

Market Demand & Industry Expectations

Openness in the industry is critical to creating the opportunity for premium & premium Robusta to become a solution. This will help coffee farmers achieve higher and more sustainable profits and assist customers in finding new taste experiences.

Imagine a Robusta grower using all the best techniques, following all the rules of best agricultural practice, and investing the little money he has. Then a roaster of specialty coffees will say, “Well, thank you, great, but this is still Robusta, and we only work with special beans, which is Arabica.” Continuing, Stephan Katongole, a Robusta coffee farmer in Central Uganda, said:

This has gone so far that even exporters in this region reject Robusta. “Because the industry only produces Arabica coffee. You can’t blame the grower for not investing in improving his crops because their coffee will never become a specialty where he could earn more for his efforts.

Prejudices Towards Robusta Coffee
Prejudices Towards Robusta Coffee: Robusta is abundant and available, but the supply of high-quality Robusta beans is minimal.

On the other hand, promoting premium Robusta doesn’t mean putting extra pressure on Arabica producers – it means giving consumers the ability to taste a completely new and different product. As Ph.D. student in International Political Economy – Mamy Dioubaté shared: I don’t think it is a zero-sum game as the emergence of Robusta in the specialty coffee market will take away Arabica’s market share. . We should work for the quality and variety of coffee. We need to think about all the people who don’t have access to our current specialty coffee instead of worrying about the cake being cut into smaller pieces. Let’s make an enormous cake.

It is imperative to consider the context of how the coffee is produced. Vanilla coffee farmers account for 40% of the coffee market, and most of them do not have access to the specialty coffee market even if their products are of the highest quality. Robusta producers that work hard and focus on product quality will need to receive the same acceptance as specialty Arabica producers, said Mamy Dioubaté.

Prejudices Towards Robusta Coffee: Like Arabica, innovations in processing can also lead to more distinct & complex flavors for Robusta, helping them appeal to a broader audience.

As you can see, for Robusta to be taken seriously, the industry has a responsibility to provide technical support to producers to improve their production and processing. But at the same time, we also need to strive to create a stable and financially worthy market for quality Robusta with trading becoming more frequent. This seems to be the only way out of the vicious cycle of low quality – low price.

To do this on a large scale, importers, roasters & specialty coffee shops need to cooperate closely & work with transparency to assist farmers in creating market demand—the market for premium Robusta. With a coffee market that has always been in a state of “crisis” in prices and its impact on producers, it is time for roasters, bartenders, and consumers to take action. Take action because we share the same cup of morning coffee. We need to revisit some of the beliefs and stereotypes that are harmful to coffee-producing communities, especially those who don’t have a choice between Arabica and Robusta farming.

Finally, We need to use more critical thinking and be less addicted to coffee. Before “designating” Robusta as inferior, it would be fair to give the ugly duckling the same opportunities we gave Arabica to become the swan we so cherish.

Francesco Impallomeni, Co-founder and Roastmaster Nordhavn Coffee Roasters


Reference source :

  • www.https://coffeeinstitute.org/ Unveiling Cqi’s Robusta Standards at World of Coffee in Berlin
  • www.perfectdailygrind.com/ Can Fine Robusta Be Considered Quality Coffee?
  • www.perfectdailygrind.com/ Fine Robusta & New Markets: Exploring Ghana’s Coffee Industry
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