Sam LeTendre, roast master at Paradise Coffee in Minneapolis, pours freshly roasted Ecuador-grown robusta, a climate-change-resistant coffee variety, into a cooling bin Monday. For years, Paradise Coffee has roasted highly rated robusta coffee and predicts a bright future for the long-derided cousin of arabica coffee, which is regarded as the taste standard-bearer.
There are two major coffee species grown worldwide: arabica and robusta. One has long been considered the superior strain — otherwise, why would “100% Arabica” appear on so many bags of beans?
However, the age of arabica may be drawing to a close as climate change forces farmers to abandon the fickle plants.
Robusta beans — more climate-resistant, more caffeinated, but long derided as bitter and inferior tasting by the industry — are poised to take their place.
“There is a lot more acceptance of robusta in the speciality coffee industry — there are significant challenges with arabica coffee in the future due to climate change,” said Miguel Meza, owner of Minneapolis’ Paradise Coffee Roasters, which has been roasting high-grade robusta for years. “This must be a component of our future.”
According to trend forecasting firm WGSN, the transition has already begun. It identified robusta as one of the top food and beverage trends that will explode in popularity in 2022 as robusta crops become more refined and flavorful.
“When we look globally, we see signs that this is gaining traction, with more entrepreneurs bringing the robusta crop to the United States,” said Kara Nielsen, WGSN’s director of food and drink. “We’ll see interest in speciality robusta, then in cans, and then at Starbucks in another year — that’s how these things work.”
Though robusta already accounts for 40% of global coffee production and is most frequently used in instant coffee, it is relatively unknown among American coffee drinkers and has long been maligned by speciality roasters who prefer the nuanced flavours provided by arabica.
“Because the majority of coffee drinkers are probably unaware of robusta, it has the opportunity to be defined for the first time as a speciality coffee with distinct characteristics,” Nielsen explained. “In the longer term, we may see some of these robusta beans or blends introduced by larger coffee companies.”
Currently, few roasters are sourcing and emphasising high-quality robusta beans in the same way they do arabica, as Nielsen noted that the shift is “only beginning.”