Most of the time when we order coffee or prepare it at home we do not pay attention to the fact that there are so many different varieties and the one we are about to drink is just one amongst them. These diverse qualities hold a wide range of different tastes, aromatic scents and notes. The one known as Arabica is by far the most widespread and renowned bean used today, covering about 70% of the whole global production and distinguishing the so called Arabica blend.
Arabica coffee is considered the first coffee ever to arise and develop into a form that could be consumed by humans. Dating back to 1000 B. C., it originally came from the Kingdom of Kefa, located in the region now known as Ethiopia, Sub-Saharan Africa. The Oromo Tribe were the first ones to come across and crush the bean, mixing it with a fat used as a form of stimulation before consuming it.
Arab scholars were however the first to report it in written form with the use of coffee bean roasters, taken into account since it was useful both to protract their working hours, and at the same time to stay alert. After the invasion of the Turks which occurred in 1583, coffee beans spreaded to the Egyptian civilization and later across to the European powers of that time. Arabica is now to be considered worldwide as the most popular and consumed coffee bean.
Although, there must be a reason for which it is known as the most precious and broadly cultivated variety. Being very delicate, this plant needs to grow at an altitude of between 1900 and 6500 feet (the higher, the better) and requires regular rainfalls, since they crucially determine the rate at which the plants will grow.
That is the reason why Arabica coffee grows all along the tropical Equatorial strip. Hence, it is no surprise if its biggest producers are located in Central and South America and in several African and Asian territories.
What is so special about Arabica coffee? What characterizes its distinctive, unique taste from the other varieties of coffee? Why is it generally more expensive and perceived to be of high-quality? Firstly for its unmistakable taste and scent: high-quality Arabica coffee beans present a rich, enveloping and absolutely fragrant aroma, with its slightly sweet and sour nuances.
What are Arabica beans? In terms of shape, they are elongated and ovoid and present a quite shallow but sinuous furrow, while containing less caffeine than Robusta and other varieties.
Another key point of Arabica is one of its most important and characteristic features: its delicacy. Since we are dealing with the most delicate and smooth coffee variety by far, it is of no surprise that it must be handled with appropriate processes, temperatures and roasting times. Another factor making Arabica coffee more desirable and prestigious when compared to the other types is properly linked to its fewer hardy plants, a feature which makes them more expensive to source. They are also more susceptible to pests and – as already mentioned - need specific climactic conditions, including low acidity soils, regular and distributed rainfall throughout the year and an average temperature of around 68° F.
What does Arabica mean? Most coffee blends are made by using either Arabica or Robusta and most of the time combining them in a mixture based on different varying ratios. Containing more caffeine than any other coffee variant, Robusta beans generally contain more than twice the amount that that in Arabica ones. As a matter of fact, caffeine itself holds a bitter alkaline and slightly soapy taste which shows up during blending process when Robusta is included, resulting in a mildly burnt taste. By contrast, Arabica contains far less caffeine and consequently results in a much smoother and more tasteful, less bitter flavor.
The blending melting these two varieties is aimed at combining their best features, allowing to obtain a rich, intense and complex flavor, which we may find and appreciate in the texture of espresso. Though, its flavor unquestionably depends on many processes and factors, there is no other product with as many flavors and nuances such as coffee itself.
As mentioned, although being varieties of the same plant, Arabica and Canephora (as to say, Robusta) have quite different characteristics by which coffee blenders build the peculiarities and fragrance of each blend, according to the Arabica/Robusta ratio they include.
While Robusta tends to be bitter, strong tasting and more intense, Arabica richer and more aromatic beans may confer a delicious and flavourful tone. Nevertheless, the end results also depends on a multitude of factors, such as the quality of the grains and their roasting.