GIVING ROBUSTA A SECOND CHANCE
WHO ARE YOU, ROBUSTA?
Robusta coffee, scientifically called Coffea Canephora, accounts for around 35% of global coffee production. It was discovered at a much later stage compared to Arabica – around the 1800s. It originated in the Western and Central parts of Africa, more specifically in the area of Congo and Uganda. At present, the leading producers are Vietnam, Brazil, Indonesia, India, and Uganda.
From a botanical point of view, Robusta trees, which are cross-pollinated (meaning their blossoms must be pollinated with pollen from another plant), are usually between 5 and 10 meters tall.
They mature within 2 years, and their chemical composition is slightly different from the one of Arabica, with the most interesting features being higher amounts of chlorogenic acids and caffeine – main contributors of that famous bitterness Robusta cups have.
Not only bitterness though – they also protect this species against many pests and coffee diseases, making it practically resilient to most of them. Additionally, Robusta is also very tolerant to increased temperatures. These properties are actually the justification of the species’ name: it is, indeed, remarkably ROBUST.
ROBUSTA’S POPULARITY NOWADAYS
In the coffee market, Robusta has a dominant footprint in a few different niches: instant coffee, large-scale commercialized companies, and #Vigorous espresso blends. Those #Vigorous characteristics of espresso blends are usually related to Italy – the proud mother of Espresso, and the adopting grandmother of Robusta. A classic Italian espresso is famous for its intensity, bitterness and full body.
For many people around the world, the recognized flavor notes of Robusta are the ones of an Italian espresso – they go hand in hand. In many other countries in Europe, like France, Spain or Austria, added Robusta to the espresso blend is quite common, mostly in the “conventional” coffee industry. In the specialty coffee world, Robusta coffee is unofficially “prohibited”.
However, there are many hints and predictions that Arabica’s ugly brother will soon become an appropriate guest in many specialty coffee shops around the world.
A SECOND CHANCE
A re-thinking of Robusta is a rising trend in the last few years, with countries like India, Uganda, and Ecuador as its leaders.
From a chemical perspective, it is true that Coffea canephora is slightly inferior to Coffea arabica, but the negative reputation it has is attributed more than all to the treatment Robusta receives during harvest and processing stages.
At the vast majority of the cases, there is no selection whatsoever of the Robusta cherries: a mixture of unripe, rotten and ripe fruits are harvested, usually mechanically, and unlike many Arabica cherries – it is not followed by any manual sorting. If Arabica beans had received the exact same treatment – they would have never reached their precious status and glorious complexity.
That has led farmers in India and Uganda to change their approach towards the poor Robusta. They understood that with the right attention and a caring attitude, the results will be different. And indeed, there are several success stories from recent years which reveal a “new” kind of Robusta: round, sweeter, even some notes of fruit.
Not the classic #Vigorous Robusta, but also #Fascinating and #Adventurous – from notes of nuts and milk chocolate to even some grapefruit citrusy, always with a dominant body and outstanding texture, as befitted to Robusta.
This kind of coffees have received impressive recognition from importers and roasters around the world, and eventually, it brought a new type of certification by the Coffee Quality Institute: Q-fine Robusta! Similar to specialty coffee grading, also this protocol is based on many aspects and a sensorial examination.
THE FUTURE IMPORTANCE
Giving Robusta another chance, or at least trying to discover those higher-quality Robusta beans, has many solid reasons. From an ecological point of view, there is a piece of clear evidence that Robusta is more suited to the upcoming challenges of global warming, with Arabica being so susceptible.
In addition, coffee professionals constantly speak of equity and diversity along the supply chain – what’s fairer than giving another species of Coffea a chance to break through its own borders? If you think about it, 35% of coffee farmers around the world are selling their Robusta coffee at a very low price just because of poor market demands.
They desperately need more recognition and incentives to push the quality of their production up. Also, it must be thrilling to be exposed to a whole new set of #Characters and taste notes. Look for specialty Robusta and give it a chance.
Take the Coffee Test now and discover your coffee #Character!