The Lowdown : Coffee Arabica
Beloved for its superior smoothness, rich flavor profiles, and low bitterness, Arabica coffee makes up 60percent of modern global coffee production. If you are a specialty coffee lover, you've likely been drinking Arabica coffee and may not have even known it. Arabica is sometimes referred to as “mountain coffee”. That's because the plants grow best at higher elevations. While you may be familiar with the name, there's a lot to learn about this tasty type of coffee. Let Sippy give you a crash course in Coffee Arabica 101. Who knows, maybe even the aficionados among us might learn something new. First, let's start at the beginning.
Coffee Arabica's Origin Story
Some of the earliest tales of Arabica coffee comes from what is present day Ethiopia. Arabica is considered to be the very start of our love affair with coffee. It is believed that the first coffee bean ever consumed was from an Arabica coffee plant. It was also the first species of coffee to be cultivated. The Oromo tribe of Ethiopia was said to have crushed the bean and then mixed it with fat. From there, they would shape the mixture into small balls about the size of ping-pong balls. Their reason for consuming these culinary wonders was for the stimulant properties of the coffee. However, it wouldn't be until much later that the plant would actually get its name. That happened in the 7th century in modern day Yemen and lower Arabia. The first written record of the beans actually being roasted to produce coffee is thanks to Arab scholars. Tales quickly spread of their love of the drink due to it helping them to extend their working hours. The Egyptians and Turks were the first to catch on and quickly take up their own love affair with Arabica coffee. It wouldn't take long for the rest of the world to follow suit.
How Arabica is Grown?
Did you know that an Arabica plant takes about 7 years to fully mature? Kind of makes you appreciate your morning cup all the more. With a taste that is generally a cut above the rest, it comes as no surprise that the Arabica plant likes to grow in higher elevations. Its happy spot is around1300-1500m in altitude. After about 2-4 years, the plant will begin to produce flowers. These flowers are white, diminutive in size, and quite fragrant. The smell of these flowers is said to strongly resemble the scent of jasmine. When the flowering begins, things become a dangerous balancing act.
Too many flowers can result in the plant producing too many berries. Too many berries means that the plant will shift focus to ripening those berries, to the detriment of the rest of the plant.
Cultivators must pay careful attention and prune accordingly to ensure a good yield, but not so high that the plant suffers. After a few days, the flowers fall away. When the berries first appear, the will be green. As they ripen, colors shift from yellow, to light red, to a rich glossy red when fully ready. Fully ripened, the berries are called “cherries”. Picking the cherries can be hard work. Many quality farmers choose to do so by hand, as the berries don't ripen at the same time. Pick them too early or too late, and the coffee will be “inferior” in quality. The Arabica plant is also notoriously difficult to grow because of its susceptibility to disease, pests, and frost.
Where is Arabica Grown?
Arabica tends to favor subtropical climates. It enjoys humidity, but also shade. It also loves growing on a good hillside. Frost is Arabica's kryptonite. Though many will argue that there is still no better Arabica coffee bean to be found than those produced in Yemen and Ethiopia, several other nations have taken to growing the plant. Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, India, Columbia, Sudan, Ecuador, Indonesia, and Jamaica all produce flavorful Arabica coffee beans. Though there are other countries that also grow the plant, the largest producer is Brazil.
It's All About The Flavor, Baby.
Arabica is partially so popular because of its fabulous flavor profiles. With arabica coffee you can get notes of things like caramel, fruit, chocolate, nuts, berries, and sugar for starters. Overall, the finish of an Arabica coffee is much milder and sweeter than that of a Robusta. Because of its superior flavor and lack of bitterness, almost all specialty and gourmet coffees are made from Arabica coffees and blends. Arabica is the choicest type of coffee to use if you opt for a cold brew, as well as a V60 approach, because of its high quality and rich flavor profiles.
Where Arabica and Robusta Differ
Alright, so, now you know a fair bit about Arabica coffee. But, you still might be wondering: what makes it different from Robusta? Which one should you be making or ordering? Well, that's up to preference.
Arabica may be overall higher quality and more flavorful, but it does have less caffeine. This lower caffeine content is what makes it less bitter than Robusta. Arabica also contains more sugar. So, if you like your coffee on the sweet side, opt for the Arabica. Another consideration is that Arabica does have higher acidity and contains more lipids than its more hardy brother. Lipids are things like certain waxes, vitamins, fats, and oils. Arabica has about 60% more of those than Robusta. Food for thought.
Some Arabica Beans to Know
With so many different kinds of Arabica beans out there, it can be overwhelming finding a type you like most. Here are some that you might want to put on your coffee bucket list.
Gesha aka (Geisha) : This bean originated in the town of Gesha in Ethiopia. But, it was later imported to Panama. It produces a renowned taste that has made it one of the world's most expensive types of coffee. With this bean, you'll find notes of things like honeysuckle, tropical fruits, and jasmine.
Jamaican Blue Mountain: Named after the same region where it's grown, this bean is beloved for its smoothness. It's considered so naturally sweet and mild that it requires no cream or sugar.
Jember: Buttery, rich, and with a natural sweetness that is often compared to brown sugar and caramel, this bean is a source of pride to its Indonesian growers.