Arabica coffee has risen to rockstar status because of its sweet, fruity taste and heavenly aroma. This finicky bean simply makes your daily cup of joe better.
Unlike its rugged cousin robusta, Arabica delivers a smooth, well-balanced buzz. Grown only in the world’s prime coffee real estate, this queen of beans imparts notes of chocolate, caramel, and berries – minus the bitterness.
- Arabica coffee is known for its sweeter and complex flavor profiles
- Arabica beans are elongated in shape, while the cherries are smaller and oval
- Arabica thrives at high altitudes with significant rainfall and volcanic soil
- Ethiopia is birthplace of Arabica and home to many heirloom varieties
- Major Arabica producing regions are Latin and Central America, East Africa, and Asia
- Popular Arabica varieties include Typica, Bourbon, Geisha, Pacamara, Mundo Novo, Ethiopian Heirlooms, Caturra, and Catuai
In this article, I am diving deep into the world of Arabica coffee, from its plantations to growing regions and from its flavor profile to different varieties. This is the inside scoop on the fascinating world of premium coffee beans.
What is Arabica coffee?
Arabica refers to one of the two major species used to produce coffee. About 70% of the world’s coffee comes from Arabica beans. They’re known for having a sweeter, more complex flavor compared to the other species, Robusta.
Arabica coffee beans are typically elongated in shape, with a curved crease on one side, often referred to as the “bean’s cleft.”
The cherries containing Arabica beans are smaller and more oval in shape than those of the Robusta variety. Arabica coffee cherries mature more slowly and are typically a deep red or purple color when ripe.
When roasted skillfully, Arabica beans produce a brew with intricate flavors like fruit, chocolate, and wine.
Arabica coffee is popular among coffee enthusiasts for their wide range of tastes and lack of bitterness.
However, the high demand for Arabica beans means they cost more than other varieties.
Why is it called Arabica coffee
Arabica coffee is named after the Arabian Peninsula, where it is believed to have originated.
It was initially cultivated and traded in the Arab world, specifically in Ethiopia and Yemen. Its name reflects its historical association with Arab coffee culture and early adoption in Arab countries.
Where is Arabica Coffee grown?
Arabica coffee is grown in tropical highland climates, typically between 3,000-6,000 feet above sea level. It requires significant rainfall, rich volcanic soil, and temperatures between 64-70°F to grow best.
Arabica coffee is cultivated in various regions around the world, primarily in countries within the “Bean Belt.”
Some of the major Arabica coffee-producing regions include:
1. Latin America
Countries like Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, and Guatemala are leading producers of Arabica beans. The mountainous terrains and mineral-rich soils provide ideal growing conditions.
This region is the largest coffee-producing region in the World where only Brazil produces 40% of the World’s Coffee supply.
2. East Africa
Ethiopia is the birthplace of Arabica coffee, and it remains one of the most important coffee-producing countries in Africa.
Other African countries, such as Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi, also produce high-quality Arabica coffee.
India and Indonesia are the main Arabica coffee-producing countries in Asia.
Indonesia is renowned for Arabica beans from Sumatra with an earthy, spice-toned profile. India’s Arabica coffee comes from the Baba Budan Mountains, with a signature monsooned malabar variety.
4. Central America
Countries in Central and South America, including Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, have been increasing their Arabica coffee production in recent years.
This region has an optimal climate of high altitudes, volcanic soil, and mild temperatures.
Check out an interesting article on What Country has the best coffee
The cultivation of Arabica coffee
Arabica coffee plants are a bit finicky about their soil; they prefer well-draining, fertile earth with a slight touch of acidity.
Farmers first grow Arabica from seeds in nurseries until the plants are 1-2 years old. Then they transplant the young trees outdoors. It takes about 3-4 years for the first full harvest to be ready.
Farmers in some regions take the coffee experience up a notch by growing Arabica under the canopy of shade trees.
These shade-grown beans often have a more nuanced flavor profile, because of regulated sunlight and cooler temperatures. Plus, it’s a win for the environment, as these coffee farms promote sustainable practices.
Arabica plant is actually a little shrub that can grow to about 9-12 feet tall if left unchecked! But growers keep them pruned short so picking all those yummy coffee cherries is easier.
What does Arabica Coffee taste like?
What really makes Arabica special is its natural sweetness and delicate, complex flavor. The taste is much more balanced and intricate compared to other coffee species.
When expertly roasted, Arabica beans produce a brew with hints of chocolate, caramel, berries, and other fruity notes. There is bright acidity but it’s smooth rather than harsh or bitter.
I love brewing Arabica coffee in my pour-over setup because it’s like crafting a personalized coffee masterpiece. And I always prefer a medium roast when brewing Arabica coffee since it maintains the bean’s inherent floral, fruity notes that can get muted in darker roasts.
The manual pour-over process allows me to carefully control the temperature, brew time, and extraction to really highlight the subtle flavor notes of Arabica beans.
The taste and flavors of Arabica also depend on the growing region.
- African Region: Arabica from Africa has a bright, lively acidity with floral and citrusy notes. Ethiopian Arabica is celebrated for its wine-like flavors, while Kenyan coffee offers a bold, fruity profile.
- Latin American Region: These Arabics tend to have a milder acidity and a well-balanced taste. Colombian Arabica is famous for its nutty and caramel sweetness, while Brazilian Arabica offers a smoother, chocolatey profile.
- Asian Region: Arabicas from Asian regions like Sumatra can be earthy and full-bodied with herbal hints, while Indian Arabica often features spicy and exotic flavors.
The caffeine content in Arabica coffee
Arabica coffee has lower caffeine content compared to Robusta Beans. On average, Arabica contains around 8-12 mg/g of caffeine.
A typical cup of Arabica coffee provides around 75-150 mg of caffeine depending on factors like brew method and serving size.
The lower caffeine Arabica provides a smoother, less bitter taste since caffeine also slightly contributes to coffee’s inherent bitterness.
If you are sensitive to caffeine you will find Arabica’s moderate caffeine amounts more palatable.
Different varieties of Arabica coffee
The Arabica coffee family is vast and diverse, with many different varieties. Some are grown in specific regions, while others thrive in many coffee-growing regions around the world.
These are the main varieties of Arabica Coffee
Typica is one of the most widely grown varieties of Arabica coffee. Originally from Yemen, it was spread by Dutch traders to Indonesia and Central/South America in the 1700s.
Typica coffee plants grow best at high altitudes in rich volcanic soil and warm temperatures. The plants produce conical-shaped trees that grow up to 6 meters tall. They have bronze-tipped leaves and long, cylindrical coffee cherries that contain the beans.
The beans produce a coffee with a sweet, soft, well-balanced flavor profile and medium acidity. It has tasting notes of chocolate, caramel, honey and nuts.
The body tends to be light and tea-like. The mild flavor and good balance of acidity and body make Typica a popular choice for blending with other coffee varietals.
While grown in many regions, Jamaican Blue Mountain and Hawaii’s Kona district are particularly prized for Typica coffee. Jamaica’s cool misty mountains and Hawaii’s mineral-rich volcanic soil contribute to Typica’s most complex and refined flavors.
Bourbon is another highly valued Arabica coffee variety that originated on the Indian Ocean island of Bourbon, now known as Reunion.
It is primarily found in coffee-producing regions in Central and South America and some parts of Africa.
The Bourbon coffee plant is a compact, stocky shrub that produces short nodes and small, rounded leaves. The plants yield dense clusters of coffee cherries that are smaller than Typica cherries.
Bourbon coffee is known for its sweet, balanced flavor profile with rich notes of chocolate and caramel. It often has a fruity acidity featuring berry and citrus tones. The body tends to be medium to full with a syrupy mouthfeel and intense aroma.
According to the World Coffee Research Organization:
“Bourbon is one of the most culturally and genetically important C. arabica varieties in the world, known for excellent quality in the cup at the highest altitudes.
Geisha coffee is a highly prized Arabica coffee variety that originated in Ethiopia but gained international acclaim in Panama.
Geisha coffee is known for its unique flavor profile, which often includes notes of jasmine, peach, and bergamot.
Geisha thrives in the high altitudes and rich volcanic soil of Panama’s Boquete region. The tall, vigorous trees produce large leaves and beans with tea-like flavors.
The hype around Geisha comes from record-breaking auctions – in 2019, a 100 lb bag sold for $1,029 per pound in Panama. Besides extraordinary prices, Geisha brews a clean cup with hints of peach, apricot, and bergamot.
This variety thrives in Central America, especially El Salvador and Guatemala, at altitudes above 4,500 feet. Pacamara is a cross between the Pacas and Maragogipe varieties.
The large beans are a defining feature of Pacamara coffee. The large bean size results in a higher concentration of sugars and a distinct sweetness.
The slow maturation process also leads to complex flavors and wine-like acidity. These unique qualities make Pacamara one of the most prized beans.
5. Mundo Novo
Mundo Novo is a notable Arabica coffee variety, particularly known for its disease resistance and adaptability to various growing conditions.
This coffee variety is found primarily in Brazil, one of the world’s largest coffee-producing countries.
Mundo Novo coffee often offers a balanced and smooth cup with mild to moderate acidity. The flavor profile is characterized by nutty and chocolatey notes, with a clean and pleasant finish.
6. Ethiopia Heirloom
As the birthplace of Arabica coffee, Ethiopia is home to a diverse range of heirloom coffee varieties that have been cultivated for centuries.
These indigenous varieties include Harar, Sidamo, and Yirgacheffe. They grow in the highlands of southern and eastern Ethiopia in ideal coffee-producing conditions.
Ethiopian Heirloom coffees often showcase bright acidity, floral and fruity notes, and a distinct sweetness that reflects the terroir of their origin.
Caturra is a mutation of the Bourbon Arabica variety that originated in Brazil in the late 1930s.
Caturra thrives in the rich volcanic soil and cool highland climates of South and Central America, especially Brazil and Colombia.
It is a dwarf, compact shrub that produces high yields and grows well at high altitudes. Caturra produces a coffee with a rich, velvety taste and a well-balanced body.
Catuai, a cross between Mundo Novo and Caturra, is a popular Arabica coffee variety known for its compact growth habit and resilience.
It is a preferred choice for coffee cultivation in various regions worldwide, especially on steep terrain. Catuai trees are compact, vigorous, and highly productive.
Catuai produces a balanced, smooth coffee with a rich body, low acidity, and a lingering caramel sweetness. It is now being cultivated more extensively in Central America as well.
9. SL28 & SL34
SL28 and SL34 refer to two celebrated Kenyan coffee varieties that originated from the Scott Agricultural Laboratories in the early 1900s.
They are grown exclusively in the Central Highlands of Kenya. SL28 plants typically have a conical growth shape, while SL34 plants exhibit a more spreading growth pattern.
The beans are medium-sized and yield a lively, acidic coffee with sublime fruit tones, full body, and complex flavor.
Arabica vs Robusta
When it comes to coffee beans, not all are created equal. Robusta and arabica, the two main market varieties, have several key distinctions.
Coffee Plant: Arabica beans are more delicate and elongated, while Robusta beans are more robust and rounded. Arabica beans prefer high altitudes and cool climates, while Robusta beans thrive at lower altitudes and can withstand more variable climates.
Production: Arabica is a less productive and more labor-intensive crop that is more susceptible to pests and diseases, while Robusta is a more productive and easier-to-cultivate crop that is more resistant to diseases.
Price: Arabica is more expensive, and can be 2-3 times the price of Robusta which is cheaper and often used in coffee blends to lower the cost.
Taste: Arabica offers a smoother, nuanced flavor with fruity and floral notes, while Robusta has a stronger, bitter taste with earthy undertones.
Caffeine: Arabica has 1.1-1.5% caffeine content by weight while Robusta has 2.2-2.7% caffeine, nearly double Arabica.
With that said, Robusta coffee isn’t to be dismissed as inferior. It plays a crucial role in the coffee world, particularly in the preparation of instant coffee.
In addition, Robusta beans are frequently used in espresso blends as the dense beans help produce a thicker crema and provide a powerful caffeine kick.
Top Arabica Coffee brands
Here are my favorite Arabica Coffee brands
Illy is my favorite Arabica coffee brand. It offers both expertly blended Arabica from different regions and enticing single-origin options from Colombia, Ethiopia, Brazil, Guatemala, and India – all 100% Arabica.
I particularly enjoy the balanced Colombian single-origin coffee, with fruity and citrus notes.
Illy starts with the top 1% of sustainably grown Arabica worldwide, available in three roasting intensities. Their unique pressurized packaging keeps the freshness and flavors of coffee beans.
2. Volcanica Coffee
Volcanica is my top choice for extraordinary Arabica coffee, carrying over 130 varieties sourced from premier volcanic regions worldwide.
I’m especially fond of their floral, complex Tanzania Peaberry and bright Ethiopian Yirgacheffe single origins.
Volcanica’s mineral-rich volcanic soil beans offer remarkable aromas and tastes.
They source only the finest Arabica coffee cherries and are dedicated to bringing the diverse flavors of each region alive in every sip.
And that’s a wrap on the wonderful world of Arabica coffee! I don’t know about you, but learning about this queen of beans has given me an even greater appreciation for my daily cup of Joe.
With its delightful flavors and diversity, Arabica truly elevates the coffee experience for us java junkies.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments – what’s your favorite Arabica varietal?
Why is Arabica Coffee expensive?
Arabica coffee is more expensive than other types because It’s picky about where it grows, needs just the right conditions, and is more susceptible to diseases and pests. Plus, it takes longer to ripen on the coffee tree, making it a bit high-maintenance.
What is 100% Arabica coffee?
When you see a bag of coffee labeled “100% Arabica” it means those beans are completely made up of the Arabica coffee species. None of the cheaper, more bitter robusta beans are blended in there!
Arabica itself has tons of varieties though – like the smooth, balanced Typica or fruity, acidic Bourbon. A 100% Arabica coffee could be a blend of any of these varieties.
Is Nescafe 100% Arabica?
Nescafe is primarily known for its instant coffee products which typically contain a blend of cheaper coffee beans rather than 100% Arabica.
However, Nescafe does have some premium offerings like Nescafe Espresso Gold Blend which is 100% Arabica.
Does Arabica coffee have Calories?
Yes, Arabica coffee contains calories (Negligible amount) like any other coffee variety. A typical 8oz cup of black Arabica coffee brewed from ground beans contains around 2-5 calories.
Does Starbucks Use Arabica Coffee?
Yes, Starbucks uses 100% Arabica coffee beans in all of their roast blends. They do not use any other varieties.
Starbucks says that they only source and roast fine Arabica coffees from regions like Latin America, Africa, and Asia Pacific.