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The Robusta bean - Part 1. Context.

Almost all premium coffees, from high street to gourmet third-wave, are made with Arabica beans. This is an almost expected mark of quality, but far from being distinctive, it has become expected. However, the Robusta bean, when considered and used properly can make a great single origin or coffee blend.

We were really excited to see what Gabe, Max and Erik are doing at Black Sheep Coffee are doing with their single origin 100% Kaapi Royale Indian Robusta. This is a great showcase for what a Robusta coffee can be, and to understand it’s differences in comparison with Arabica beans. 

In our travels across Italy, we have often seen how Robusta can be used in a blend with Arabica to heighten the overall experience. Often, a true Italian espresso will be a Robusta blend and is often taken with sugar and a small glass of sparkling water. It has more depth and a rounder and smoother flavour, whereas the a third wave Arabica espresso will be more floral and lighter. This smoothness and depth is characteristic of the Robusta bean.

This is the first of two articles to explore some of history of the Robusta bean, with the second article looking at some of the taste characteristics that a Robusta bean brings.

The Robusta Bean
As the name would suggest, the Robusta Bean is robust. It is easier to grow and to harvest than the more sensitive Arabica bean. The Robusta bean is so comparatively easy to grow that is has become the ‘commodity’ coffee, not grown and traded in terms of quality, but in terms of cost. This means that the Robusta bean has not received the attention or investment that the Arabica bean has. Whereas the Arabica bean is cultivated for a premium coffee market, where quality, scarcity and provenance are key, the Robusta bean is traded on price. 

When we think of a quality coffee, we look for an Arabica but this is not a fault of the bean, but the fault of our markets, processing and roasting methods. A good Robusta bean can be as good as an Arabica bean when given the right consideration.

Gabe at Black Sheep Coffee has done some great work in sourcing a Robusta bean, cultivated with the care of an Arabica for his ‘Robusta Revival’ coffee. At Caffe del Bar, we have tasted a great many Italian Robusta blends. Between 10 and 30% Robusta can often be found in traditional Italian coffee blends, Due Puttini from Caffe Putto and Qualita Oro from La Genovese being some of our best sellers.

In our second article, we will take a look at the particular traits of a Robusta coffee.