What is Robusta Coffee? – Origins & Biological Characteristics | Helena Coffee Vietnam

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Robusta, also known as Robusta coffee, belongs to the genus Canephora (nomenclature: Coffea canephora); together with C. Arabica, this is one of the two main types of commercially grown coffee in the world. 

Robusta is also an essential variety of Vietnam’s coffee industry, contributing to the 2nd position in the coffee output. However, it is necessary to know that Robusta accounts for less than 30% of the total global coffee production structure, with the remainder belonging to Arabica varieties and their offspring.

What is robusta coffee? (Robusta coffee beans)

The beans of the Coffea canephora plant are used to make Robusta coffee. Coffea canephora accounts for between 30% and 40% of global coffee production.

Robusta is named after its hardiness. It can grow in lower altitudes and diverse climates all over the world, making it a more resilient and ‘robust’ coffee species. Robusta coffee plants are also resistant to pests, insects, and extreme weather.
Africa, Indonesia, and India are the primary growing regions for Robusta.

What is Robusta Coffee? – Origins & Biological Characteristics

Taste

Arabica beans vary in flavor depending on region; Arabica can be sweet with fruity notes, but it can also have cereal or nutty notes. They have a higher acidity than Robusta beans, giving them a winey flavor. Robusta beans, on the other hand, can have a rich flavor with a distinct woody and nutty flavor.

Arabica coffee beans 

Arabica coffee is coffee made from the beans of the Coffea Arabica plant. Arabica coffee originated in Ethiopia and is the most widely consumed type of coffee in the world, accounting for approximately 60% of global coffee production.
The name Arabica or Coffea Arabica is thought to have originated in the 7th century when coffee traveled from Ethiopia to Arabia.

Arabica coffee plants thrive in tropical climates near the equator. This is why some of the best Arabica coffee is grown in Ethiopia and India. Guatemala, Colombia, and Brazil are the world’s largest producers of Arabica coffee. Arabica coffee thrives at high altitudes, which is why it is frequently grown on hillsides.

Origin of the species

Coffea Canephora – Robusta coffee was first discovered in Congo – Belgium (Africa) in the 1800s. Coffea canephora is also a native tree of the tropical forests around Lake Victoria in Uganda. Robusta coffee was put into Southeast Asia in the 1900s after the rust (Coffee Leaf Rust) has wiped out entire varieties of Arabica in Sri Lanka in 1869 (or 1867, according to Wiki), simultaneously attacking most plantations in Java – Indonesia in 1876. Currently, Robusta accounts for between 30% and 40% of the total world coffee production, popular in West and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, Central – South America, and mainly Brazil (where it is called Conillon).

“The popularization of Robusta coffee trees began near the Lomani River, a tributary of the Congo River in Central Africa. Robusta coffee from the Congo (the Democratic Republic of the Congo) has been shipped to Java through a nursery in Brussels. From here, it has been successfully bred to establish plantations in other countries such as India, Uganda, and the Ivory Coast – The Craft and Science of Coffee.”

Central Africa is believed to be the source of two major commercial coffee species, Coffea Arabica (i.e., Arabica) and Coffea canephora (i.e., Robusta). Although Robusta has long been regarded as Arabica’s ugly cousin, recent studies show that is not the case. It turns out that Robusta is the parent of the Arabica breed. By analyzing the genetic sequences of the coffee genus species, scientists have discovered that, in southern Sudan, Coffea canephora crossed with another species called Coffea euginoides that gave birth to the genus Coffea arabica  – that is, Arabica coffee.

Distribution and botanical characteristics of robusta coffee

Robusta farming was started in the early 19th century – as noted above – because of the considerable damage caused by CLR to C. arabica plantations in Asia. According to credible documents (Charrier and Eskes, 1997), It was brought to Java, Indonesia, in 1901, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Republic of the Congo). These Robusta trees quickly became available in Africa and were adopted by the early African farmers for their vitality, yield, and resistance to CLR. At the same time, several other Robusta wild species such as KouillouMaclaudi & GameNiaouli, or Coffea Uganda are also deployed in different countries such as Ivory Coast, Guinea, Togo, or Uganda, respectively.

What is Robusta Coffee? – Origins & Biological Characteristics

Since the 1960s, new cloned Robusta strains have been developed in Uganda, Congo, and later in Ivory Coast. However, there is not much change in properties compared to the original tree. Today, only a few countries continue the program of commercial selection, with some improvements. This is typical in Cote d’Ivoire, where production increases from 30% to 110%, and grain size increases by 50%. Several new varieties were also developed in Brazil, called Conlon.

Botanical characteristics of robusta

Even if some coffee trees are found up to 2300m above sea level, most species (67%) are adapted to the lower 1000m altitude limit. And Robusta is typical of that “adaptable” group, so they are grown in lower lands than Arabica (only in the range of 0 – 800m). In return, it requires quite a lot of rainfall (from 1200 – 2500mm), so most species widely distributed in the African continent (such as C. canephora C. eugenioides) are usually found in the environment.

“Robusta coffee has several outstanding advantages compared to Arabica coffee such as resistance to rust (Coffee Leaf Rust), stem borers, nematodes, .. and much higher yield than Arabica coffee. Therefore, the cost of growing Robusta is relatively low. On the other hand, due to long-term drought tolerance, poor cold tolerance (optimal temperature range (18 – 36  ° C), unstable yield compared to Arabica, here are some characteristics.”

Characteristics of coffee flavor with

Their taste has always been evaluated as inferior to Arabica. The flavor is darker, more acrid, more bitter, especially the acidity – The acidity is higher than Arabica. Since Arabica coffees have a smoother taste with higher acidity and more decadent flavors, they are generally considered premium. In addition, most Robusta coffee growing and processing areas focus on dry processing (instead of wet processing like Arabica coffees), resulting in a more bitter, earthy, burnt taste when roasted.

In nature, Chlorogenic Acid (CGA) and Caffeine play a role in helping coffee plants resist insects, because Robusta is more immune to pests than Arabica.

However, compensating for the loss of flavor, Robusta coffee has on average twice the caffeine content of Arabica coffee (2%-2.5% vs. 1.1%-1.5%). So the combination of Arabica coffee with Robusta gives a relatively higher total blend quality than Arabica coffee. That’s why Italian coffee (Espresso) always has 10-15% Robusta coffee to increase flavor and create the crema layer more attractive.

And from production practice, it is shown that when wet-processed, coffee with wet processing can give higher quality than regular coffee (because Arabica has many types and not all classes are delicious). Therefore, the comparison of Arabica and Robusta is sometimes not entirely accurate.

BLENDS OF ROBUSTA

Ispirazione Ristretto Italiano combines the best Arabicas from East Africa and South America. This blend features great, lightly acidic Kenyan Arabicas with a hint of Robusta for extra zing.

Ispirazione Ristretto Italiano Decaffeinato – is strong and contrasting, with a fruity undertone. A sophisticated blend of the best Kenyan and South American Arabicas with a hint of Robusta.

>>> Overview of Robusta Coffee | Helena Coffee Vietnam

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