The plant that produces coffee - the one you may be drinking as you read this - is called coffea. There are hundreds of varieties of coffea, but today only two are grown for so-called industrial production: coffea arabica and coffea canephora. These are the only varieties productive enough to be worth growing. Coffea arabica is commonly known simply as arabica, while canephora is better known as robusta. Although they have much in common, the two plants produce very different fruits - and therefore coffees.
Robusta is more often reserved for instant coffee, or for very robust Italian-style espresso. It is much more productive than Arabica, grows in a wider variety of soils and weather conditions, and is generally more resistant to disease. Considering all this, Robusta should logically be preferred! Yet it only accounts for around 30-35% of total world production, and is pretty much excluded from the world of specialty coffee. Why do you think this is? Robusta coffee is very strong, generally bitter, not very complex and much more caffeinated than Arabica. The beans also contain more oil, which is partly responsible for the "crema" so dear to fans of classic Italian-style espresso. The beans are generally roasted longer, to camouflage defects and accentuate the tasting notes associated with espresso. Gone are the fruits, and here we're looking for tastes of caramelized sugars and chocolate at best, tar and leather at worst. Robusta is less expensive than Arabica on world markets, and it's easy to see why. When it comes to taste, Robusta and Arabica are worlds apart. While robusta has a vegetal side that can be unpleasant, arabica is more floral and fruity. Where robusta is harsh and drying, arabica is soft and thirst-quenching.
As far as specialty coffee is concerned - also known as 3rd wave coffee, this type of coffee testifies to high quality, rated at over 80 points out of a possible 100 - we find, so to speak, only Arabica. Indeed, the aromatic and taste profile to which Arabica-type plants give access appeals to a large majority of coffee lovers. At Jungle, we only roast specialty coffee, so we only buy Arabica. Although there are many varieties of Arabica, they all have one thing in common: they require a great deal of care and time to produce. The first fruits don't appear until 3 years after the tree's birth. With some varieties, it can take up to 5 years for fruit to appear. The trees also need special conditions to grow. Coffea arabica grows only in tropical zones, at high altitudes (over 1000 meters above sea level) and in temperate microclimates, neither too hot nor too cold, where the temperature is stable throughout the year. The places on earth where it can be grown are very limited, and increasingly so due to climate change. Within the next few decades, it is highly likely that Arabica coffee will no longer be feasible.
Scientists are working on alternative solutions, including hybrids called arabusta. The idea is to create plants that combine the good taste and sweetness of arabica with the flexibility of robusta. The results aren't always up to scratch, more often than not offering a satisfying but not extraordinary in-between. Although research is advancing rapidly, the pace of climate change is outstripping it. That's why, in our view, it's more important than ever to support growers facing growing environmental and production challenges.