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July 06, 2018 6 min read

What does Arabica Coffee mean?

Few joys in life beat a really excellent cup of coffee. Whether you are leisurely sipping an espresso in a piazza on holiday or grabbing a latte on the go in the morning - coffee is an integral part of modern day living.

We’re lucky in today’s modern world in that all we have to do is to walk into a local store and buy a packet of fresh coffee beans. When you’re looking for something different, however, you can always choose to buy your speciality arabica coffee and get the best coffee beans online and have it delivered straight to your door.

With the convenience of trying different types of coffee using a wide range of readily available coffee makers at home.

If you’ve ever been confused about the different types of beans or the strength ratings of coffee, you’re not alone. To help you out, here’s our comprehensive guide to arabica coffee beans and what makes the perfect cup of joe and where coffee comes from.

What is arabica coffee?

Pick up many packets of coffee or coffee beans, and you’ll see the term arabica. It was actually the first type of coffee to be used as a drink, and it makes up over two-thirds of the current world production.

The scientific name is Coffea arabica and it’s grown on plantations in areas like Ethiopia and Indonesia but more often in Latin American countries like Brazil. The beans have a subtle difference in taste and quality depending on where they are grown. That flavour can also vary because of the time the coffee berries are harvested and the roasting process used.

In general, arabica coffee has a slightly sweet taste with a subtle underlying bitterness. You may also notice chocolatey or nutty flavours depending on the brand. While arabica coffee is the most popularly grown plant around the world, it can be mixed with beans from different locations and varieties.

A brief history of arabica coffee

The origins of arabica coffee are thought to be in Ethiopia where it was first used ground and mixed with fat as a stimulant by local tribespeople. When these Ethiopians traded with surrounding nations, coffee migrated to Arabia at some time around the 7th century.

In an area that is now modern-day Yemen, it was first used to make a drink – this time by scholars who had become aware of its stimulating properties.

From there, trade brought coffee to the Turks and beyond to Europe. By the end of the 17th century, it was being grown in other areas besides Ethiopia, including Indonesia. Today, there are many regions of the world that produce coffee for global consumption.

Arabica vs robusta coffee beans

When it comes to types of beans, most coffee enthusiasts can name arabica and robusta. Some interesting differences between this two effect the kind of drink that ends up in your cup:

  • The big difference, of course, is in the taste. Robusta is a lot harsher and really is an acquired taste. That’s often put down to the higher caffeine content which is almost twice that found in Arabica.
  • There are different varieties of arabica including typical, bourbon and caturra. The coffee, has over the years, been mutated so that it grows in new areas and produces different flavours.
  • If you’ve wondered why you would drink a more grainy coffee, it all comes down to a matter of taste and texture. Robusta is often used in espressos because it creates that tell-tale creamy froth on top which arabica doesn’t deliver.
  • Compared to arabica, robusta can be grown at lower levels and is less prone to fungus and other diseases. Arabica needs an actively controlled environment at altitude to develop correctly.
  • The individual beans look different. Arabica beans are more oval and have a crease down the centre. They also tend to be bigger. Robusta beans are rounder and slightly paler.
  • The cost of growing and making coffee from robusta beans is cheaper than for arabica.

Coffea arabica in more detail

While coffea arabica was first found in the hills of Ethiopia and later in Yemen, it’s a plant that has managed to cross borders quite efficiently over the years. It is now grown in areas such as Latin America, particularly Brazil, Kenya and even some islands in the Caribbean.

The Arabica coffee plant is fairly delicate and grows to around 40 feet. Its flowers are small and white and develop into drupes or small fruits that contain two seeds which eventually become the coffee beans.

The reason it is more expensive than the cheaper robusta is not just down to one plant being hardier than another. It takes around 7 years for an arabica plant to reach maturity.

While it can be grown at lower levels, it’s best cultivated at heights between 1,300 and 1,500m. The plant is also susceptible to frost and requires fairly temperate environments with regular but moderate rainfall.

Cultivation - how to grow Arabica coffee

Yield for arabica plants has to be carefully controlled. Too many berries on a tree can produce lower quality coffee, so regular pruning is a significant factor in production.

The berries also have to be picked at precisely the right time – doing it too early or too late can have implications for quality. When it’s time to harvest, the berries are generally picked by hand so that only the ripe ones are chosen.

You may have noticed on your coffee packet that beans are roasted to bring out their authentic flavour. You can get light, medium and dark roasts which have subtle differences in taste.

Dark roasting is generally used if the beans are slightly substandard and the coffee is characterised by being darker in colour and having less nuance in the flavour. Light roasts, however, have much more taste and usually apply to the high-end beans that are picked at just the right moment.

World coffee prices and future demand

Coffee prices are a significant factor in commodity trading around the world and like sugar or oil, an indicator of the health of the economy. The cost of a pound of coffee beans has varied between $0.50 in 1975 but has risen to as high as $3.50.

It currently stands at just over $1 a pound. A bad season for one of the major producers can cause a quick change in their value. Note: this is the world commodity prices.

Most high-end speciality coffee brands like Chateau Rouge, import direct from small producers and cooperatives whose prices are determined independently of commodity markets.

We want to work with and support our growers for years to come, so we prefer to treat them as part of our family, paying an above average fair price that not only helps support their livelihood and family but also invests back into ensuring we consistently have healthy coffee plants that produce the best quality fruit - and beans.

The price of beans and ground coffee you find in the stores has remained reasonably constant over the last few years. If you are buying a standard coffee, you should expect to spend between £3.00 and £4.00 for a reasonably decent quality brew.

Gourmet coffees on the other hand, which are of much higher quality, can cost you between £15 and £20. Better technology is enabling coffee producers to refine their techniques and produce even better tasting beans. The availability of new brands online is already benefiting consumer who want a better cup of coffee.

While many of us enjoy a morning cup of arabica coffee to start the day off, however, there may be a few clouds on the horizon for the industry and it’s not all good news.

Global warming may be having a bigger impact on coffee production around the world than we initially thought. There is also some concern that rising demand is leading to deforestation in many parts of the globe and careful management is becoming increasingly vital.

Promotion of greener practices and sustainable farming will hopefully help mitigate the impact on the environment but as demand grows so does pressure to produce more coffee.

Buying Arabica Coffee Online

There’s no doubt that a great cup of coffee requires a high quality arabica bean. If you’d like to explore the world of gourmet coffees, we invite you to sample our selection of coffee beans and ground coffee.

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Please let us know how we are doing. Have you enjoyed reading this article and what would you like to see more about? When we're not busy in the kitchen: discovering and making new gourmet foods, we're very busy with running a small artisan food business. So to ensure we keep on providing excellent value to you, we'd appreciate if let us know.

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