What does Arabica Refer to?

Greer Hed

The term "Arabica" often refers to a species of coffee plant, the coffea arabica shrub. It may also refer to the beans produced by this plant or the coffee brewed from those beans. The name derives from the Arabian Peninsula, one of the areas where the shrub was originally cultivated. It is one of the most widely produced coffee varieties in the world, and is generally agreed to be superior in taste and quality to another popular coffee variety known as Robusta coffee.

A cup of coffee with Arabica beans.
A cup of coffee with Arabica beans.

Arabica coffee is most commonly grown in South America, Asia, the eastern parts of Africa, and of course, Arabia. The country of Brazil is a top producer of this coffee variety, despite the fact that the Brazilian climate offers less than ideal growing conditions for coffee. Coffee plants thrive when grown at a relatively high altitude in a temperate climate with plenty of rain. The Arabica shrub in particular flourishes when planted in moderate shade conditions.

Arabica coffee beans.
Arabica coffee beans.

Coffee shrubs sprout small, white flowers about three to four years after being planted. The flowers of Arabica shrubs do not need an outside pollination source to create fruit; rather, they are self-pollinating. Coffee fruits begin to develop about two months after fertilization occurs. The familiar coffee bean is in fact the seed of the coffee fruit. It takes about eight to nine months for the fruit to mature from a small green pinhead to a large, deep red berry, at which point the beans can be harvested, processed, and roasted.

Production of this coffee variety is often more costly and difficult than production of Robusta beans, meaning that the coffee itself also tends to cost more. Robusta shrubs do not necessarily require high altitudes for cultivation and can be grown in warmer temperatures. Arabica shrubs are more susceptible to damage from cold temperatures, poor weather, and pests. Diseases affecting coffee plants are also less likely to strike Robusta shrubs.

Another possible reason for the costliness of the coffee variety is that most coffee drinkers tend to agree that it tastes better. As the name implies, Robusta beans have a robust body, but their flavor is less complex and more acidic and bitter. Arabica coffees are often described as smooth, mellow, or rich, and tend to have less caffeine than other commercially produced coffees. The beans of coffea arabica can be found in many well-known, single origin, gourmet coffees, such as Sumatran, Colombian, Guatemalan, and Java.

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