Robusta coffee, originating in Uganda, currently accounts for over 40% of the world coffee production. It is the least popular of the two economically relevant species of the plant genus Coffea. That is not only due to its different taste profile (more ‘robust' than the potentially sweeter, refined Arabica coffees), it has also since decades been presented by the industry to the consumer as the lower quality. It has to be cheap. As a result of all this, we also have to admit that Robusta has been neglected in research compared to Arabica. However, in meantime, the percentage of Robusta in the world coffee production keeps increasing.
The global climate change in combination with high prices for Arabica coffee, renewed the interest in Robusta over the last years; several research programs to investigate the potential of wild Robusta varieties were set up. The Botanic Garden of Meise cooperates with CoffeeLab Independent for the research on new genetic Robusta lines (kept in DRC) with good production capacity and at the same time a high cup potential.( https://coffeebridge.be/)
From this renewed interest in Robusta, we have also recently seen some first trials into 100% ‘fine’ Robusta products in Europe. We think it is too early to understand the precise market potential of fine Robusta’s within the ‘specialty coffee’ market.
At CoffeeLab Independent, housed in the same building as micro-roastery of RAF COFFEE, we performed extensive roasting and taste tests on a specialty Robusta product for the specialty market. A 100% specialty, honey processed Robusta was developed in cooperation with the cooperative ACPCU from Uganda. At this moment it is being ‘tested’ with the usual clients/consumers of RAF COFFEE.
We are not yet ‘there’. Probably we will still have to adjust the roast profile. It is hard to find the right Robusta roast profile after years of Arabica roasting. We also noticed that for espresso shots, we had to use pretty different parameters than used for Arabica: basically you have to limit extraction by keeping temperature lower and grind size coarser. We achieved some great espresso shots and filter coffee once parameters were right. The question is whether the consumer will be ready for the product and will make the effort to experiment with the product. Also we don’t know how consumers will react to the higher concentration of caffeine (in terms of coffee consumption in a day). We believe there is still a lot of work to do and await the response of the consumers to take next steps. We will share more information in the future when available.