Most American roasters buy green coffee using the rule of thumb “Arabica good, Robusta bad.” They do so because they’re familiar only with the cheap, low quality, commercial grade Robusta that one often found in supermarket coffee in a can. The fact that some Robusta can actually be clean, high-quality, and suitable for inclusion in top-flight espresso blends is something that many American roasters struggle to comprehend.
High quality Robusta is difficult to source, with India being one of the few origins that can produce Espresso Grade Robusta. What separates high quality Robusta from its low quality counterpart is the high degree of care that coffee plantations in India apply to cultivation, harvesting, and processing of Robusta- typically the same care they apply to Arabica beans.
These factors include:
- High Elevation (up to 1400 meters)
- Shade Growing
- Emphasizing Bean Quality over Plant Yield
- Selective Picking
- Careful and Extensive Washing and Drying
- Meticulous Sorting and Grading
As a result of this effort, Indian Robusta coffees are some of the cleanest, mellowest Robusta in the world. It has none of the rubbery aftertaste one normally associates with such coffees. This has allowed Indian Robusta to play an integral role in Italian and European espresso blends. Consequently, coffee markets assign a substantial premium for these beans.
USING ROBUSTA IN AN ESPRESSO BLEND
The inclusion of clean, high-quality Robusta can provide several benefits to an espresso blend. First, because Robusta has a higher caffeine content than Arabica beans, it gives the blend the extra “kick” that espresso consumers expect. Second, because most Americans consume their espresso in milk-based beverages, high-quality Robusta helps fortify the blend. By cutting into the milk, the Robusta component helps bring out the flavors of the Arabica coffees that serve as a blend’s flavor and/or highlighter components. The final, and perhaps most significant, benefit is that premium Robusta enhances the richness and longevity of an espresso blend’s crema without detracting from the flavor. As we discussed in a much-read blog post (“Busting One Robusta Myth”), the addition of Robusta doesn’t produce MORE crema, as many wrongly assert; instead, it contributes to LONGER-LASTING crema.
[To learn more, review some of our published articles on Espresso Blending]
We currently offer three high quality (i.e. Espresso Grade) Robustas:
- Kaapi Royale (washed Robusta)
- Parchment-AB (washed Robusta)
- Monsooned Robusta-AA (monsooned Robusta)
In considering which Robusta to use in an espresso blend, roasters find India’s Robusta to be vastly superior to those from other origins. Indian Robusta beans provide a smooth, mellow cup with intense aroma and a chocolate-like fragrance. They also have a rather pleasant aftertaste with cup qualities that are actually quite Arabica-like.
In an evaluation performed in 1996 by Coffee Enterprises in Burlington, Vermont, cuppers concluded that Indian Kaapi Royale had a very clean flavor, and had this to say about its suitability for espresso: “At 25 percent, one could hardly tell the inclusion of Robusta in the blend.”
Perhaps the real secret to the unique, soft, Arabica-like cup characteristics of Indian Robusta lies in the fact that most Robusta plant material in India is a hybrid. Of the many hybrids in 1930s India, growers concluded that Selection-274 was the best in terms of bean size and yield, and growers selected it for popularizing. One unique feature of this particular selection is that each subsequent generation is faithful to its parent.
These Robusta coffees are excellent roasters, with a good green aroma. The dry fragrance is fruity, very strong, and deeply sweet. Fruitiness dominates the wet fragrance; it’s very strong, with some pleasing herb overtones such as lavender. The coffee features a creamy mouth feel and brew strength. The taste is also fruity, and the aftertaste is long and reminiscent of prunes and tobacco.
We’ve sourced our current offerings of washed Robusta (Kaapi Royale and Parchment-AB) from the Balanoor Plantations (in the Chikmagalur growing region) as well as from Harley Estate (in Manjarabad). Both cultivate their Robusta in shade and at high elevation.
The partner that supplies our Monsooned Malabar-AA Super Grade also provides our monsooned Robusta offering (Monsooned Robusta-AA).
SAMPLES: We encourage Wholesale Roasters and Roaster/Retailers to start with a two-pound Josuma Select Sampler. Visit our Green Coffee Samples page for more details.
WAREHOUSING NOTE: We currently warehouse some of our most popular washed Robusta at The Annex. Co-locating with other coffee importers has made helped reduce shipping costs for smaller roasters as well as those not on the West Coast.