Robusta Coffee — What is it?

What is Robusta coffee?

In the world of coffee there are two main types of coffee that we consume – Arabica and Robusta.

Arabica is the more tender, gentle, needy of the two.  And Robust, as its common name suggests is more robust and hearty:

  • Robusta can be grown at lower and higher altitudes than Arabica
  • Robusta needs less tending and attention
  • Robusta needs lots less water to grow
  • Robusta produces more coffee cherries (or drupes as the botanists like to call them)
  • Robusta is more of a bush than a tree
  • Robusta is much less expensive than Arabica

So agronomically those are some of the major differences between the Arabica and Robusta.  And we also see quite a difference in the cup as well:

  • Robusta easily has twice the caffeine content of Arabica
  • Robusta tastes a lot harsher than Arabica
  • Robusta is hardly ever drunk straight
  • Robusta is used in a lot of ‘espresso’ blends to add to the boldness or add kick
  • Blends rarely have more than 20% or so of Robusta in them

Because of the recent high prices of Arabica (although they are now coming back down to reality) more and more commercial roasters, the big factory roasters, have kept their prices down because they’ve added more and more Robusta to their blends.  Possibly you’ve noticed that in the coffee you buy, that it doesn’t taste quite like it used to.

Or another trick is that they reduce the amount of coffee in the package.  You used to get 227g in the package and now you’re getting 200g.  Not a big difference to you but spread that out over thousands of bags and 27g starts to add up to a mountain of coffee.

While you may think of Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sumatra and others as the world’s coffee powerhouses, the biggest producer of Robusta, by far, is Vietnam.  Estimated crop production in 2013 is 1.5 billion kilos whereas Brazil, the next largest producer comes in at about 950 million kilos.  The third largest producer, Indonesia, is estimated to produce under 500 million kilos.  So you can see what a whopper of a producer Vietnam is.

Since Robusta is so plentiful in Vietnam it is one of the places where people drink it straight.  And like so many other things, once you acquire the taste and get used to it, you can come to prefer it.

There’s a lot more to know about Robusta if you’re a coffee cultivator, bulk buyer, or botanist but for most everyday coffee drinkers the information above should give you a good overview of the plant, its uses, and why you may have noticed a taste difference in the coffee you drink.

By the way, Red Rooster coffee only uses Robusta in its Buzz Bomb blend.  Plenty of buzz, plenty of taste, a big explosion in your mouth.