Arabica
December 15, 2023

What is Arabica Coffee?

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'.

What Are the Origins of Arabica Coffee?

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:

Central & South America:

  • Countries like Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras are renowned for their Arabica coffee production. The high altitudes, varied microclimates, and volcanic soils in these regions contribute to producing premium Arabica beans with diverse flavour profiles. Peru, Ecuador, and other South American countries are also part of the Arabica coffee-producing landscape.

East Africa:

  • Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, continues to produce Arabica beans with distinctive regional flavours. Other East African countries like Kenya and Tanzania also contribute to the global Arabica coffee supply.

Central Africa:

  • Rwanda and Burundi are emerging as notable Arabica coffee producers, with efforts to improve quality and sustainability.

Asia:

  • Countries like Indonesia (notably Sumatra and Java), India, and Papua New Guinea cultivate Arabica coffee, often with unique flavour characteristics shaped by their local growing conditions.

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.

What are the ideal growing conditions for Arabica coffee plants?

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.

How is Arabica Coffee 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.

Natural (Dry) Method

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. 

Washed (Wet) Method

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. 

Honey (Semi-Washed/Pulped-Natural) Method

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.

Arabica vs Robusta: What's the Difference?

Arabica Coffee:

  • Flavour Profile: Arabica beans are known for their complex and nuanced flavour profiles, including fruity, floral, nutty, and chocolaty undertones. Arabica coffee is often preferred for its smoother, milder, and less bitter taste than Robusta.
  • Acidity: Arabica beans typically have a higher acidity, contributing to their bright and lively character. This acidity can be reminiscent of citrus, berries, or wine.
  • Caffeine Content: Arabica beans generally contain less caffeine than Robusta beans, with an average caffeine content of 1-1.5%. 
  • Growing Conditions: Arabica can grow between 1000-2800masl (meters above sea level). They require cooler temperatures, consistent rainfall, and shade to develop their best qualities.
  • Plant Characteristics: Arabica plants are more sensitive to environmental conditions and susceptible to diseases. They require more care and attention during cultivation.

Robusta Coffee:

  • Flavour Profile: Robusta beans generally have a stronger and more bitter flavour compared to Arabica. They can have earthy, woody, and sometimes slightly rubbery notes.
  • Acidity: Robusta beans have a lower acidity than Arabica, resulting in a less pronounced brightness in the cup.
  • Caffeine Content: Robusta beans contain higher levels of caffeine, with an average caffeine content of about 2-2.7%. This contributes to the beans' sometimes slightly astringent, more bitter flavour.
  • Growing Conditions: Robusta coffee plants are hardier and can withstand lower elevations and warmer climates. They are often grown at lower altitudes and require less care than Arabica. This makes them cheaper to farm.
  • Plant Characteristics: Robusta plants are more resistant to diseases and pests, making them easier to cultivate. They also have a rounder bean shape and a straight crease on one side.

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.

What are the different Arabica coffee varieties?

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. 

Typica: 

  • Typica is one of the earliest Arabica coffee varieties and is considered the parent of many other varieties. It originated in Ethiopia and spread outward to various coffee-growing regions thanks to colonial trade routes. Typica beans typically exhibit a balanced flavour profile with moderate acidity, medium body, and multiple flavours, including fruity, floral, and sometimes nutty notes. It's known for its classic, well-rounded cup.

Bourbon:

  • Bourbon coffee originated on the island of Bourbon (now Réunion) in the Indian Ocean. It has since been cultivated in various coffee-growing regions, including Central and South America, Africa, and the Caribbean. Bourbon beans often have a smooth and full body, accompanied by sweetness and bright acidity. They can display flavour notes like caramel, chocolate, and fruitiness.

Caturra:

  • Caturra is a mutation of the Bourbon variety, first discovered in Brazil. It is a natural dwarf variety, meaning it has a shorter stature than other Arabica plants. Caturra beans share some traits with Bourbon, such as sweetness and acidity. However, the flavours tend to be more concentrated due to their smaller size. They are often used in areas where space is limited.

Mondo Novo:

  • Mundo Novo resulted from a natural cross between the Bourbon and Typica varieties found in Brazil. It inherits some of the positive qualities of its parent varieties, and its potential to produce high yields of coffee cherries makes it appealing to growers. Mondo Novo beans often have a balanced flavour profile with a medium body, moderate acidity, and a range of taste notes. 

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.

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