The vast majority of the coffee sold in the US – and elsewhere – is made with Arabica beans. You’ll see packaging proudly proclaiming “100% Arabica” on everything from instant coffee to gourmet, hand-roasted beans. You’ll rarely see Robusta mentioned. This is because Robusta is kind of the black sheep of the coffee world. The beans are much higher in caffeine than Arabica and tend to deliver a coarser flavor.
This is a nice way of saying that they beans do not taste anywhere near as good as Arabica beans do, at least on on their own. It has been described as “disgusting,” “like putting a child’s unvarnished building block in your mouth,” and like “wheelbarrow tires.” Not a glowing recommendation. But as the NY Times pointed out in their recent article about robusta, it can bring something to the table and a handful of roasters are starting to incorporate very small amounts into some of their blends. Its strong flavor and extra caffeine can add some oomph to a dark roasted blend, and it makes excellent crema for espresso.
Arabica still makes up about 75% of the world’s coffee crops and will probably always be more popular than Robusta because it is more drinkable on its own, but the nuances of Robusta will probably start to be explored a bit more in the future, just as darker and darker chocolates (more bitter and less sweet) are being tasted and tested in the chocolate world.