Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, prized for its invigorating and aromatic qualities. Two main commercially grown coffee species are Coffea arabica (Arabica) and Coffea canephora (Robusta).
Arabica coffee accounts for around 60-70% of global coffee production and is considered the higher quality bean, commanding higher prices on the market. Native to the highlands of southwestern Ethiopia and Sudan, Arabica coffee beans have a long and storied history dating back centuries.
Arabica coffee beans with a sweeter, more delicate flavor and complex aromas catch everyone’s attention quickly. This variety of coffee is not just a beverage; it’s a global phenomenon that has captivated the taste buds of millions.
In this article, we will discover more about Arabica coffee beans, so continue reading to learn more about them.
What Are Arabica Coffee Beans?
Arabica coffee beans come from the Coffea arabica plant, indigenous to the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia and the Boma Plateau of Sudan in Africa. This delicate, shade-loving plant produces beans that makeup about 60-70% of global coffee production. It’s one of the most consumed coffee beans in the world.
Arabica beans have an oval, elongated shape and are cultivated in the cool, highland tropical regions they originate from. They contain almost half the caffeine of other coffee species. However, its complex flavor profile is what sets it apart.
An Arabica bean tastes sweet and refined, with notes of fruit, wine, chocolate, and caramel. It has a smooth mouthfeel and aromatic properties. The subtleties in an Arabica’s flavor profile are directly tied to the specific climate, soil, altitude, and cultivation method of the region it is grown in.
Read more: Why Are My Coffee Beans Oily?
Origin Of Arabica Coffee Beans
Arabica coffee traces its origins back thousands of years to the ancient indigenous tribes of southwestern Ethiopia, such as the Oromo people. As early as 1000 BC, Ethiopians were consuming the beans of the Arabica coffee tree as a stimulant. The Oromos would crush the beans and mix them with fat to create a primitive coffee drink.
According to legend, an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi first discovered the energizing effects of the Arabica coffee beans. He noticed his goats behaving strangely energetically after eating the red cherries from a certain tree, later known as the Arabica coffee tree.
This discovery marked the beginning of a journey that would lead to the global phenomenon that is coffee today.
The Arabica species got its name when the beans were exported from Ethiopia across the Red Sea to Yemen and lower Arabia in the 15th century. Arab scholars became the first to document roasting coffee beans to brew a beverage, noting its stimulating effect that helped prolong working hours.
Yemen pioneered the early coffee trade up until the 17th century, closely guarding fertile Arabica coffee seeds to prevent cultivation from spreading abroad. It was Yemen’s Arab innovation of roasted bean coffee brewing that first spread the beverage culture through trade to Egypt, Turkey, and beyond.
By the 17th century, the term “arabica” emerged as the first official botanical classification for the coffee tree that grew natively in Ethiopia and Sudan. Since then, Arabica has become the dominant and most prized coffee on the international market.
Types Of Arabica Coffee Beans
Bourbon is one of the oldest and most famous varieties of Arabica coffee beans. It traces its origins back to the Indian Ocean island of Bourbon. Now this island is known as Réunion. It all started in the 18th century when the French began cultivating it.
This historical variety is known for its beautifully balanced and complex flavor profile, often with tasting notes of sweet fruits, brown sugar, and warm spices. Subvarieties of Bourbon include Yellow and Red Bourbon, which have slight differences in flavor.
However, Bourbon coffee plants are quite susceptible to common diseases like leaf rust, making them tricky to grow on a large scale.
Typica is another heritage of Arabica variety that originally hails from Yemen, which was the epicenter of the early coffee trade and cultivation. From here, Typica spread to Indonesia before making its way to Central and South America, where it became instrumental in establishing coffee production.
This varietal is known for its sweet, mellow flavor with subtle hints of spice and light acidity. Due to its balanced cup profile, Typica remains a popular “parent” for cross-breeding new coffee varieties. It is still widely cultivated, especially across Latin American coffee regions, and its sweeter beans blend well with other varieties.
Caturra is a natural mutation of the Bourbon variety that was first discovered in Brazil in the late 1920s. As a dwarf, high-yield plant, Caturra produces far more cherries than Bourbon and has greater disease resistance.
The beans yield a coffee with bright, crisp acidity and clearly defined citrusy flavors. Caturra became popular with Brazilian coffee farmers for its heartier constitution and higher yields compared to the more fragile Bourbon plants.
Catuai is a crossbreed first created in Brazil in the 1940s by combining two other Brazilian varieties – Caturra and Mundo Novo. Like Caturra, Catuai also produces abundantly; hardy plants tend to resist diseases while readily adapting to different environments.
Catuai beans produce a sweet, smooth coffee with a medium body and flavors of nuts and fruits.
Pacamara is a hybrid variety originally developed in Central America by crossing the Maragogype and Pacas varieties. Pacamara produces uniquely large, irregularly shaped beans that create a coffee with intense fruit flavors. They are often coupled with nuts, chocolate, or honey-tasting notes.
It is now primarily grown in regions of El Salvador and Panama. The large size and distinct cup profile make Pacamara a prized bean.
Geisha/Gesha traces its origins back to the Gesha region of southwestern Ethiopia. It has gained enormous popularity in the specialty coffee market for its highly unique and delicate floral flavors, often tasting of rose, jasmine, bergamot, and lemon.
While originally from Ethiopia, Gesha is now primarily cultivated in Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.
Due to its incredible cup quality and rarity, Gesha is one of the most expensive and coveted Arabica varieties, with each year’s crop highly prized by coffee connoisseurs.
Read more: How Many Coffee Beans Fit In A Cup?
What Does Arabica Coffee Taste Like?
High-quality Arabica coffee has a slightly sweet flavor, with tasting notes of chocolate, nuts, and caramel. You may also detect hints of fruit-like berries in the flavor. There is a pleasant acidity that provides liveliness and brightness, along with a touch of bitterness to balance out the sweetness.
Cold-brewing Arabica coffee can accentuate the natural sweetness even more. The roast level will affect the flavors – lighter roasts preserve more of the bean’s original character, while darker roasts bring out more roasted flavors.
The soil composition and climate where the Arabica coffee beans were grown also influence the flavor balance. For example, beans from volcanic regions often have very bright fruit notes.
Proper storage to keep beans fresh helps maintain aromatic oils and complex flavors. Freshly roasted Arabica has a broader range of tastes and aromas.
Benefits Of Arabica Coffee
Several health benefits of Arabica coffee are as follows:
- Antioxidants – Arabica is high in antioxidants which help neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress. This may lower the risk of diseases like cancer and heart disease.
- Brain Function – Arabica contains caffeine which improves alertness, focus and short-term memory. Long-term, caffeine may provide some protection against cognitive decline.
- Metabolism – The caffeine in Arabica boosts metabolism and fat burning. Studies show it can aid weight loss and improve physical performance when exercising.
- Liver Health – Consuming Arabica coffee is associated with a reduced risk of liver conditions like fatty liver disease and cirrhosis. It may protect the liver from damage.
- Diabetes – The polyphenols in Arabica may help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Boosts Mental Alertness: The caffeine in Arabica coffee can help to improve focus and concentration, making it a great pick-me-up in the morning or during a mid-afternoon slump.
- Weight Loss: Arabica coffee can help to boost metabolism and suppress appetite, aiding in weight loss.
Growing Arabica coffee beans can also benefit the environment:
- Shade Grown – Arabica is often cultivated under a canopy of shade trees which fosters biodiversity and provides wildlife habitat.
- Carbon Sequestration – The coffee plants and shade trees help absorb and trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
- Soil Health – Shade-grown Arabica plantations prevent soil erosion and nutrient depletion in rainforests.
- Reduced Chemical Use – The shade minimizes weed growth, lowering the need for herbicides and pesticides.
- Arabica Coffee Beans Vs. Robusta Coffee Beans
Read more: How Many Coffee Beans Fit In A Cup?
Arabica Coffee Beans Vs. Robusta Coffee Beans
Here is a comparison between Arabica vs Robusta coffee beans:
The beans of the two species can be distinguished based on their physical shape and size. Arabica beans are larger and oval-shaped, while Robusta beans are smaller and rounder. The shape and size of the beans impact how they roast.
Arabica has a sweet, soft taste with notes of sugar, fruit, chocolate, and caramel. It has a pleasant acidity and a well-balanced body. Robusta is harsher, grain-like, and extremely bitter, with a peanut-like aftertaste. It lacks the complexity and aromatic qualities of Arabica.
Arabica contains about half the caffeine of Robusta. Arabica beans have 1.5% caffeine, whereas Robusta beans have 2.7% caffeine. Robusta has almost double the caffeine, which adds to its harsher, more bitter taste.
Arabica has a lovely fragrance and aromatic oils that give it a pleasant smell. Robusta beans have little aroma, and the earthy, rubbery smell of Robusta brew is considered unpleasant.
Arabica thrives in cooler, high-altitude tropical climates, requiring steady rainfall, shade, and rich soil. It flourishes between 3,000-6,000 feet. Robusta grows in lower altitudes and hotter, more humid environments. It is hardy and resistant to pests and disease.
Processing Of Arabica Coffee Beans
Once Arabica coffee cherries are picked after cultivating, they undergo processing to remove the outer skin and fruit flesh to extract the beans, which are then dried. There are two main processing methods for Arabica coffee beans:
The dry method entails drying the whole coffee cherries first before removing the dried outer skin and fruit. The cherries are spread out on concrete or brick patios to dry in the sun for several weeks and raked frequently to prevent spoilage.
Once sufficiently dried, the outer skin and dried fruit are mechanically removed to reveal the green coffee beans.
With the wet method, the fruit flesh is removed from the fresh cherries immediately after harvest. This can be done by pressing the cherries between rollers or soaking them in water tanks to prompt fermentation.
The freed beans are then rinsed, fully dried in the sun or mechanically, and ready for export.
For both methods, the length of fermentation time affects the coffee’s flavor. A longer ferment increases acidity and fruit notes. Shorter ferments lead to cleaner, brighter flavors. Selective picking of perfectly ripe cherries also preserves sweetness.
Read more: How Are Coffee Beans Harvested?
Roasting Process Of Arabica Coffee Beans
Roasting is vital for developing the complex flavors and aromas inherent in Arabica coffee beans. The beans are heated in a roasting machine, undergoing a series of chemical reactions that transform their taste and appearance.
Here’s a closer look at the different roasting levels of Arabica coffee beans:
1. Light Roasts
Lightly roasted Arabica beans are typically roasted at a temperature of around 356-401°F (180-205°C), just until the first “crack” – a popping sound that signals the beans have reached the desired level of roast.
Light roasts preserve more of the original complex flavors of the coffee, often resulting in a brighter acidity, lighter body, and notes of fruit, floral, or spice. The beans will have a light brown color and no oil on the surface.
2. Dark Roasts
Dark roasts are heated to a higher temperature of around 464-482°F (240-250°C) beyond the second “crack.” This results in a fuller body and robust flavor with less acidity. The beans will have a dark brown color and a shiny oil surface.
Dark roasts often have flavor notes of chocolate, nuts, or caramel, and the roasted flavor can sometimes overshadow the original flavors of the beans.
How To Brew A Perfect Cup Of Arabica Coffee?
Here is a step-by-step guide to brewing the perfect cup of Arabica coffee:
Step 1: Choose Fresh, Whole Bean Coffee
Purchase whole bean Arabica coffee roasted within the past 2 weeks. Opt for specialty-grade, single-origin beans from a reputable roaster that lists the roast date.
Step 2: Grind Beans Just Before Brewing
Grind beans immediately before brewing using a burr grinder on a medium setting; if brewing, drip or pour over coffee. Use a finer setting for espresso. This maximizes freshness and flavor.
Step 3: Heat Water To The Ideal Temperature
Heat fresh water to a temperature between 195°F – 205°F. The boiling water is too hot and will scorch the coffee. Proper water temperature is crucial.
Step 4: Weigh Out Coffee And Water
Use a kitchen scale to weigh the freshly ground coffee. A good ratio is 55g coffee to 1-liter water. For a small batch, use 2 tablespoons coffee to 6 oz water.
Step 5: Bloom The Coffee Grounds (Optional)
Pour a small amount of hot water over the grounds and let bloom for 30-45 seconds. This releases CO2 and enhances extraction.
Step 6: Brew The Coffee
Add the remaining hot water and brew according to your preferred method – drip machine, French press, pour-over, etc. Follow recommended time for full extraction.
Step 7: Stop Extraction Before Overextraction
Stop brewing once you hit the target time. Overextracted coffee will taste very bitter.
Step 8. Enjoy Immediately
Drink your perfect cup of Arabica coffee right away to appreciate the full aroma and flavor.
Read more: How Long Can You Store Green Coffee Beans?
Arabica coffee beans remain one of the world’s most prized and sought-after commodities, just as it was when first cultivated in ancient Ethiopia centuries ago. From the sparkling fruit notes of a Kenyan roast to the syrupy body of Java, Arabica offers a spectrum of flavors for discerning coffee lovers to explore.
The demand for high-quality Arabica coffee is unwavering as its flavors simultaneously awaken, stimulate, and soothe the senses.
Let us know in the comments if you still have any questions.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why is it called Arabica?
There are a few reasons why this species of coffee is called Arabica:
Origins – Arabica coffee traces its origins back to the mountains of Yemen and Ethiopia. It was first cultivated and traded by Arabs, who helped proliferate the species.
Name derivation – The term “Arabica” comes from the Arabic name of the plant, which was coined when coffee was introduced throughout the Arabic Peninsula.
Early written records – Some of the earliest written records documenting coffee consumption and cultivation come from Arabic texts dating back to the 15th century. Arab scholars were the first to describe and name this species.
Trade routes – As coffee gained popularity in the 15th century, trade spread from Mocha, Yemen, through the ports of the Red Sea, Arabian Peninsula, and Eastern Mediterranean, which were dominated by Arab traders at the time.
Q: What is so special about Arabica coffee?
Arabica coffee is set apart by its unparalleled complexity and quality. The Arabica coffee beans offer a diverse range of tasting notes, from bright fruit flavors to rich chocolate and caramel. Beneath this spectrum lies a signature smooth body and lush texture creating a pleasant, silky mouthfeel.
The aromas exude an equally impressive range – floral notes like jasmine mingle with berries, citrus, and spice. Arabica’s acidity provides vibrancy reminiscent of fine wine. Since Arabica thrives in specific climates, the beans adopt regional characteristics reflecting the local terroir.