A few weeks ago I wrote about what creates the flavours of coffee – the sugars, acids, oils, and caffeine. Even the heat of the coffee affects how we perceive the flavour. This week, I’ll try to explain why Arabica beans are considered the most flavoursome.
About two-thirds of the world’s coffee production is Arabica. It is thought by most drinkers to be more flavoursome than the other beans because it has more sugar, more oil, more acid and less caffeine. The sugar makes the coffee feel better in our mouth and the higher oil content gives it a better flavour.
Arabica beans are more difficult to grow and the plant usually produces less beans. It is naturally low in caffeine which is toxic to most insects, so Arabica plants are more vulnerable to insects. As a result, Arabica is usually grown at higher altitudes because the colder climate deters insects. The altitude range of between 1000 and 2000 metres above sea level seems to be ideal for growing the Arabica plants.
This higher altitude means the coffee’s cherries ripen more slowly and this means the sugars in the cherries develop more slowly. This allows the farmers to harvest the cherries at the optimum time, when the sugar levels are highest. The higher altitude also means Arabica beans have a higher acidity level, which gives coffee its fresh taste and feel in the mouth, the same way freshly-picked fruit feels and tastes. The higher acidity in just-picked fruit gives it the taste and feel that we perceive as ‘fresh’. The same sensory perception applies to Arabica coffee.
And that’s what’s so special about Arabica coffee beans.