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Specialty Coffee: Arabica vs Robusta vs Liberica

Our beloved coffee come from a genus of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae. These plants are known as Coffea, a species of shrubs or small trees native to tropical and southern Africa and tropical Asia. The seeds from the fruits of these plants are harvested and processed to give us the drink we all love: Coffee. Here are the three main plants used for commercial purposes: Arabica, Robusta and Liberica

The three main commercial coffee varieties

There are over 120 species of Coffea, with three main types being cultivated for commercial use. These are

  1.    Coffea Arabica (75-80% of the world’s production)
  2.    Coffea Canephora (otherwise known as Robusta, 15-19% of the world’s production)
  3.    Coffea Liberica (1% of the world’s production)

*Image By Elcambur - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Robusta Coffee

Robusta Coffee is most commonly found in instant coffee and some traditional espresso blends. The reason for this is its low prices. Robusta is half the price of Arabica. This lower pricing results in less care into the farming practices and ends up creating end products of a lower grade. These low-grade Robusta coffees are known to taste like burnt tires and rubbery. This is not to say that there are no high-quality Robusta, but it is rare.

Robusta Coffee is popular among farmers due to their disease resistance and higher yields. Robusta contains twice the amount of caffeine as compared to Arabica Coffee. This contributes to its higher bitterness and resistance to insects on the farm.


Arabica Coffee

Most of specialty coffee is made up of Arabica coffee. They are generally regarded as higher grade which is why many companies market themselves as serving only 100% Arabica blends.

Arabica coffee contains 60% more lipids and almost twice the concentration of sugars compared to Robusta. This contributes to their milder and sweeter tastes.

Arabica coffee is prone to diseases such as leaf rust and insect damage. Their yield is also lower than their Robusta counterparts, resulting in much higher prices for their coffees.


Cup of Excellence

The top Arabica Coffees in each country are commonly sold in auctions known as the Cup of Excellence (COE). These are the top 1% of coffees in terms of cup scores and deliver much more nuanced and complex flavours. Prices for coffees at these auctions fetch 2 – 3 times more than what is normally possible through importers and exporters. The top-ranking coffees can sometimes even reach almost 10 times their normal pricing.

Compound Coffee Co. believes in these auctions as a way of rewarding farmers for their excellent and hard work. Not only do they get paid better but it also incentivises the farmers to continuously produce high quality coffee. The higher quality impacts consumers on the other end of the supply chain who are also willing to pay more for these coffees. The cycle continues and creates a more sustainable eco-system.

Want to experience some of these Cup of Excellence coffees? Discover them and other amazing auction coffees here or have our trained baristas brew a cup for you at our roastery here!

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