Robusta coffee farm in Quang Hiep, CuMga, Daklak, Vietnam Coffee Tour
Robusta coffee farm in Quang Hiep, CuMga, Daklak, Vietnam Coffee Tour

By Peter Baskerville

While there are about 25 major species within the Genis “Coffea” there are only two main species that are cultivated for commercial coffee consumption; Coffea Arabica (Arabica), pronounced either a-rã-bik-a or ar-a-bë-ka and Coffea canephora (referred to as Robusta). Via a process of grafting, many cultivars have been developed from these species in an effort to boost production volumes, increase disease resistance or improve cup quality.

Arabica * Catimor in Khe Sanh, Quang Tri
Arabica * Catimor in Khe Sanh, Quang Tri

Arabica * Cà phê Chè

ARABICA was first found growing naturally on the Arabian Peninsula in the country of Ethiopia (previously Abyssinia) in 1753. It was the earliest cultivated species of coffee tree (in Yemen) and is still the most common coffee species that is grown for commercial purposes.

It contributes about 70% of today’s coffee bean market and is considered dramatically superior in cup quality to other species, including Coffea Canephora (Robusta). All fine, specialty, and fancy grade coffees come from the Coffea Arabica species.

There are many cultivars of the Coffea Arabica tree but the two most prominent ones are Typica and Bourbon with Typica being the oldest Arabica. Historically, Typica was cultivated in Latin America and Asia, whereas bourbon arrived in South America and, later, East Africa via the French colony of Bourbon (Reunion).

Robusta coffee in Cư Mgar, Daklak, Vietnam Coffee Tour
Robusta coffee in Cư Mgar, Daklak, Vietnam Coffee Tour

Robusta * Cà phê Vối

ROBUSTA was discovered growing wild in the Belgian Congo (Zaire or Republic of Congo) in 1898. The name Robusta was originally the trade name of a Belgian horticultural house who marketed the species early in the 20th century after the Frenchman Emil Laurent had brought it to their attention.

The name is said to reflect the more robust nature of the taste and kick that it is noted for delivering. It is the second most widely cultivated coffee tree currently producing about 25-30% of the world’s coffee beans.

Generally recognised as having a lower quality taste than the Arabica bean which is why typically it is found in jars of instant coffee and supermarket cans of coffee. However, astute coffee roasters will add between 5-15% quality Robustas to a fine espresso blend to help give the coffee taste that morning ‘boost’.

Old Liberica coffee from French Colonial Time in Huong Hoa, Quang Tri,  Vietnam Coffee Tour

Liberica * Cà Phê Mít

LIBERICA – is another commercial coffee species but it represents less than 2% of the world’s production volumes. It is comparable to Coffee Robusta and originates from the low altitude growing areas of West African.

It grows as a large strong tree, up to 18 metres in height, with large leathery leaves. The fruits and seeds (beans) are also large and more ‘boat’ shaped than the oval and round Arabica and Robusta respectively. Liberica coffee is grown primarily in Malaysia and in West Africa, but only very small quantities are traded as demand for its flavour characteristics are low.

Peter Baskerville
Facilitator, Entrepreneurial Education
Ambrosia Barista School

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