The enriching history of coffee has fascinated many. With the Third Wave of Coffee, enthusiasts now want to know every step of their process: the producers who take care of the cultivation, the workers who collect and benefit it and the roasters who seek the perfect roasting profile.
In the beginning, there were seeds, and everything was good
What starts as a seed, eventually becomes a tree that produces beautiful jasmine-scented flowers. Then the fruits become cherries and within these are the “grains” that we know so much about.
The Kew Botanical Garden in London is responsible for identifying between 120 different coffee species, many of them originating in Madagascar, Asia and Australia. Two of these species predominate Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora (Robusta) which are the ones we consume the most on a daily basis although there are others belonging to the Coffea genus until now it has not been proven that they are viable to produce.
What is Arabica?
The Arabica species represents 80% of world coffee production, is native to Ethiopia and generally grows at altitudes between 900 and 2100 above sea level, known as the “Coffee Belt” located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropics of Capricorn. This is a volcanic area where it rains frequently, and it has the soil and solar radiation that coffee needs to grow.
It is a species that requires special care since its trees are susceptible to diseases and pests. Rust is a fungus that appears as orange spots and damages photosynthesis. If not treated properly, it drops the leaves, killing the tree and destroying an entire crop. The Arabica species is also sensitive to pests such as the Broca ( Hypothenemus hampei ), a small beetle that lays its eggs inside coffee cherries. After this, the beetle has hatched the eggs; it eats the cherry, which drastically reduces the quality of the coffee.
Despite these drawbacks, the Arabica species is the preferred grain due to its pleasant and intense flavor compared to the Robusta species. A cup of Arabica coffee is aromatic and tasty with notes of flowers, fruit, citrus, butter, chocolate, caramel, honey, or sugar. The flavor can be between sweet and acid depending on the area where the coffee is grown and how it has been processed.
What is Robusta?
Robusta native to West Africa is grown at lower altitudes and higher temperatures. It represents the rest of the world production of coffee. Its grain is small and round but contains twice as much caffeine (hence its name) as an oval Arabica bean. Its caffeine content acts as a natural pesticide which helps protect it from most insects. Which means fewer costs to grow it and easier to maintain it, it also produces more cream and is frequently used for mixing.
Although it has positive qualities, it is not a popular type of grain. In fact, most coffee lovers find it bothersome to think of robusta primarily because it is used for instant coffee or blends with Arabica in order to produce a less expensive, lower quality product. After a Robusta coffee has been roasted and brewed, its flavor is described as bitter and harsh with a touch of wood and rubber. But while this species has traditionally been rejected by most consumers, as it is not the type of coffee they are used to asking for, a defence has arisen in their favour.