Shopping Cart


Your shopping bag is empty

Go to the shop
Explaining What 100% Arabica Means

Choosing a coffee can be overwhelming if you’re unfamiliar with the terms used in packaging. A standard label is the claim that the coffee is “100% arabica”. But what does this mean?

To explain that, you first need to understand the critical differences between the two main species of coffee, arabica and robusta. I spoke to supply chain experts to determine the differences between the two and to learn what it means when coffee is labeled “100% Arabica”. Read on to find out what they said.


Dozens of coffee species exist, of which roughly 124 have been identified. The two that dominate commercial production and sales are Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora (commonly referred to as robusta). 

Arabica is about 70% of the world’s coffee production and is generally regarded as producing better-tasting coffee. Of course, the exact flavor of a coffee depends massively on its origin, processing, method, and much more.

Gonzalo Hernandez is the President of Coffea Diversa, a green bean-sourcing company based in Costa Rica. He adds that “there’s no general recipe or description in terms of the taste profile of arabica, depending on the variables. The taste profile could be chocolatey, spicy, floral, caramelly, bright acidity, dry acidity, low acidity, juicy, fruity, etc.”

Hanna Neuschwander is the Director of Communications and Strategy for World Coffee Research in Oregon, USA. She explains that robusta evolved roughly 100,000 years ago, while arabica is only around 10,000 years old. Therefore, robusta has had more time to develop and evolve, and in that time, it has become much more adaptable. It can grow in more diverse climates and is naturally more resistant to pests and disease. Robusta plants also generally have a higher yield.

The fruit of the robusta plant is also naturally higher in caffeine, lower in sugar, and produces more crema. Furthermore, robusta is often used in lower-quality blends or instant coffee because it's cheaper and easier to grow. It has therefore developed a reputation for producing unpleasant coffee, with many drinkers describing it as having a harsher flavor.

Hanna says: “Robusta is considered much lower in quality than Arabica. However, it’s debatable just how much of this quality issue is due to genetics, and how much is because robusta is generally not held to the same quality standards as arabica.”

Despite this, Hanna acknowledges that robusta production has risen dramatically over the past 50 years in response to a higher demand for cheaper coffees and challenges facing Arabica production.

However, some producers believe that if the same amount of research and resources were invested into robusta production, it could produce single-origin specialty coffees; Brazil already has an emerging specialty robusta scene. As well as this, some farmers are experimenting with arabica-robusta hybrids to improve their crops’ resilience and yield.

A third species also accounts for about 2% of the world’s coffee consumption: Coffea liberica. Liberia is known for producing smokey and bitter-tasting coffee. It’s cheap to make and thrives in Asian countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, where it’s often enjoyed as an affordable, mass-produced brew. Liberica is relatively unknown outside of these areas.


Coffee labeled as 100% arabica contains no robusta coffee. Hanna says that brands use this label to indicate that their coffee is high quality. She explains: “When Arabica dominated world markets, before the middle of the 20th century, there was no need to market Arabica this way. But when robusta became more widespread, there was a push to differentiate arabica as being higher quality.”

In the past, some roasters would add robusta to blends to increase their volume, lowering costs and increasing profits. This meant that roasters who weren’t adding robusta to their blends needed to differentiate themselves and market their coffee as higher quality. 

However, a 100% arabica label on your coffee should not be interpreted as a sign of quality. Hanna says the label is a “statement of the fact about the bag's contents” and nothing more. It simply means that there is no robusta present.

“Nothing is inherent in the [100% arabica] claim to suggest that the contents will necessarily be higher quality or taste any particular way.”

She adds that your definition of what constitutes a quality cup of coffee should also be considered as what you expect when drinking it. “Perhaps you are looking for a specific coffee that produces a certain taste or contributes crema to your espresso blend. A robusta might be much better suited than an arabica for this. Is one better than the other? Perhaps not, if your definition of ‘better’ is ‘suitable for its purpose.’”

If you want a better indication of a coffee’s quality, look for a cupping score. Coffees with a score of 80 or above are considered specialty coffee, while commodity coffee (used for supermarket blends and instant) generally has scores between 65 and 80. 

Different factors will influence a coffee’s quality – its origin, how it’s processed, the elevation at which it was grown, and so on. Most modern specialty coffee labels will share details on the coffee’s background rather than a claim that the coffee is “100% arabica”. This information gives consumers more details about their coffee and often assures them that it is traceable and has been ethically produced. Gonzalo says: “The phrase ‘100% arabica’ is just fundamental information for a specialty coffee consumer.

“Packaging of specialty coffee nowadays is filled with full traceability information like ‘[the] name of the farm, GPS location, name of the owner, specific botanical variety, crop year, etc.”

Author: Janice Chinna Kanniah

For the full story, Click Here.

Leave A Comments

Related post