Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) is a species of coffee plant known for producing high-quality and flavourful coffee beans. Approximately 60-70% of the coffee consumed worldwide is Arabica, with the remaining percentage primarily Robusta coffee (Coffea canephora).
Arabica coffees are known for their exceptional flavour profile, which includes a range of flavours, higher acidity, and milder caffeine content. It requires specific growing conditions (which I will cover later). It is prized for its quality in the speciality coffee market and accounts for 100% of your favourite FiXX coffees'.
Arabica originates in the highlands of Ethiopia, specifically in the region of what is now known as the coffee's birthplace, the Oromia region. According to legend, the discovery of coffee's energising effects is attributed to an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi, who noticed his goats becoming more lively after consuming berries from this specific plant. It's a nice story, but it probably isn't true.
Either way, from Ethiopia is spread northward to Yeman, where it was first cultivated. From there, it spread to Java, Indonesia in the east, west to the Caribbean, and Central and South America. This movement was down to the colonial superpowers of the Dutch and French. Today, Arabica coffee is grown in coffee-producing regions worldwide, primarily in tropical and subtropical climates. Some of the prominent coffee-growing areas include:
The specific taste notes, characteristics, and nuances of Arabica coffee beans vary greatly based on the geographical region, altitude, soil, climate, and cultivation methods. Speciality coffee often features Arabica due to its complex flavours and careful cultivation and processing.
Arabica coffee thrives at higher elevations with cooler temperatures and consistent rainfall. They are usually farmed between 1,300-1,500masl and like a moderate temperature of 15-24C. The choice of location is crucial, as these conditions contribute to developing the beans' desirable flavour characteristics.
New Arabica plants are propagated from seeds or cuttings. They are typically grown in nurseries before being transplanted to their final growing location. Arabica coffee plants benefit from some level of shade, especially in hotter climates. Shade trees provide protection from direct sunlight and help maintain a more favourable microclimate.
The amount of rainfall, shade, and temperature a plant receives will affect the quality of the coffee cherries it grows. This will influence the flavour of the final cup of coffee. But equally as important is how the beans are processed.
Arabica, like other coffees, is processed in a number of ways. The three most popular methods used in FiXX blends are Washed, Natural and Honey. Processing, in essence, is all about removing the fruit from and drying the coffee beans in preparation for roasting.
The original way, and therefore the oldest method, to process coffee. First practised in Ethiopia and Yemen, this method involves drying the whole fruit intact. Once harvested, the cherries are laid out on elevated drying beds or sometimes patios for up to 3 weeks. During this time, the flavours of the fruit are absorbed by the bean, giving coffee processed this way potent berry, fruity notes. Leaving the cherry on the bean during the drying stage increases fermentation, giving naturals a winey, almost boozy flavour profile.
After harvest, the cherries are passed through water channels where the ripe fruit will sink to the bottom, leaving the unripe and defective cherries floating on top, which are easily removed. Unlike with naturals, the fruit pulp is removed, leaving only the mucilage, the sticky layer surrounding the seed. The mucilage is then removed by soaking the beans in fermentation tanks for 8-50 hours. After this step, the green beans will be rinsed again before being sent to dry. The shorter fermentation time gives washed coffees vibrant and clean flavours.
This process is almost like a bridge between natural and washed processing. As with the washed process, after harvest, the cherries pass through a water channel where the defective fruits are removed. The ripe ones are then de-pulped, leaving you with the bean covered in its layer of mucilage. Whereas the washed process would now soak and remove all of the mucilage before drying, the honey process doesn't. Depending on producers' preferences, some, most or sometimes all of this layer is left on the bean while drying. How much is left on dictates how long it takes to dry, which can drastically impact the sweetness levels.
In summary, Arabica beans are prized for their complex flavours, higher acidity, and smoother taste. In contrast, Robusta beans are known for their more assertive flavour, higher caffeine content, and greater resilience. Both beans have their place in the coffee world and are used for different purposes, from speciality blends to espresso and instant coffee production.
There are hundreds of known Arabica species and potentially thousands yet to be categorised. But here is an introduction to some of the most famous.
These are just a few examples of the many Arabica coffee varieties that exist. Each variety has unique characteristics and, quite often, an intriguing story to go with it. You can read some of them here.