Understanding coffee: Arabica and Robusta

Ever wondered why a cup of kopi-o in your neighbourhood food court costs less than $2 but an Americano in a cafe easily costs thrice as much? The answer lies in the species of the coffee.

When people talk about coffee, they usually refer to the fruit from Coffea arabica. Arabica makes up a significant portion of coffee produced each year but it is only one out of over 120 different species of coffee. The other species that is grown and harvested in such large quantity is Robusta.

 Fun fact: Robusta beans contain almost twice as much caffeine content as Arabica beans, which is why your  kopi-o  provides that much-needed kick in the morning!

Fun fact: Robusta beans contain almost twice as much caffeine content as Arabica beans, which is why your kopi-o provides that much-needed kick in the morning!

Robusta is substantially cheaper to produce than Arabica. The green beans of Robusta typically costs half the price of Arabica. This is because Robusta is able to grow and fruit at lower altitudes and higher temperatures. More importantly, it is also more resistant to disease and insects, thus having a higher yield than Arabica.

Robusta makes up more than 40% of the world's coffee produced yearly - its lower cost means it is suitable to be used in large-scale instant coffee production. It has also been the staple in Italian espressos due to its heavy body and mouthfeel. As you might have guessed by now, the kopi sold in coffee shops are made with Robusta and the long blacks and cappuccinos you see in most cafes are made with Arabica.

The next time you order a kopi-o from the coffee shop, try to identify the flavours and then compare it with an Americano or pour-over coffee from a cafe. You'll realise that the latter will usually display a variety of notes on your tongue, ranging from floral, fruity to chocolatey or nutty - the list goes on. As for your kopi-o, you'll probably only notice a rubbery and burnt taste that isn't as desirable.