Coffee Craze #2: Know Your Cup

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by Leah Voskuil, Lifestyle Editorial Assistant

If you are a true coffee nerd in the sense that you care about the bean from conception to cup, I am here for you. If you have no idea what a coffee bean even looks like, I am here for you, too.

Coffee, which is a fruit that grows on coffee trees and called a bean because it looks like one, was discovered over 1200 years ago (supposedly) by a goat herder named Kaldi in Ethiopia and has been changing lives ever since.

Considered a tropical fruit, the actual coffee bean is found within a cherry. The riper the cherry is when it is picked, the more sweet the cup of coffee will be once the entire process has concluded.  

Brazil has taken over as the primary coffee producer for the second most traded material across the world.¹ Though there is no doubt that there are literally millions of variations, fundamentally there are two species in which all others come from– Arabica and Robusta.² This sounds boring, but it is actually a fascinating aspect of the coffee industry that often gets overlooked by the typical consumer though it directly affects them.

The Arabica species is much more particular in regard to the climate it can be grown in and therefore are frequently the pricier, more elusive option for coffee fanatics. This species has twice the concentration of sugar while simultaneously having less caffeine than Robusta. Brazil is by far the primary producer of Arabica beans due to the country’s rich, moist soil and availability of higher elevations.³

Robusta, on the other hand, is less particular in its growing methods and therefore is the cheaper product exchanged across the world. With more caffeine embedded in this species, Robusta naturally has a chemical defense against insects with its bitter taste and stronger kick. With the price set a lot lower with Robusta, it is typically used as a filler in coffee products or as a cost reducer. For example, your instant coffee is definitely all Robusta. Your espresso, on the other hand, is most likely a mix of Arabica and Robusta to get the burst of caffeine with a suitable taste.

At the end of the day, what I am saying is that your highest quality Robusta bean is on par with Arabica’s lowest quality, but a solid majority of those reading this are college students and care more about cost than taste. Though it is permissible to state that the cheaper the coffee, the more caffeine there is per cup and probability of the beans being Robusta, I highly recommend taking into account two things. First, there is a chance that you could be scammed into paying more for a lower quality bean due to the factors of convenience and consumer ignorance. The more you know about what you are purchasing, the more likely it is that you are making wise financial decisions in a way that is productive for your wallet. The other, and more important point, is that coffee is so much more than a chore that you complete every morning (and probably afternoon, and probably evening, and probably at 3:00 a.m. come finals week), whether you recognize it or not. Coffee is an art form. Quite literally, hundreds of people are relying on the product they have meticulously crafted in front of you in order to feed their families and keep artistry alive. Before you trek to the nearest coffee chain, choose wisely.

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