In the 1970s, the arabica coffee bean emerged as the dominant force in American coffee and changed everything. Up to that point, robusta beans were likely to be what you’d sip in diners and dive-bars – and at home too. Café culture played a big role in flipping the script in American coffee by introducing a consistent emphasis on the higher quality arabica bean along with an invitation to enjoy coffee on a higher level of complexity.
Today, we have come to expect ever increasing quality from our morning coffee thanks to the continuing refinement and popularity of espresso in America. And with the rising tide of espresso, all our coffee ships are being lifted up as well. Whether you are buying pods of coffee, using a home-kitchen espresso machine or heading out to the coffee shop, you are reaping the benefits of the arabica revolution that began in the 1970s.
Before diners gave way to start-up coffee shops on the west coast like Peet’s and Starbucks, the taste of robusta beans would have been what came to mind when someone mentioned coffee. For a long time, that was “the best part of waking up.”
The flavor of robusta is distinctly deep and bitter. When you read John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath (1939) and come across the scenes where someone stops in at a roadside diner to order coffee and a slice of pie for a nickel, you should picture a deep, dark cup of robusta coffee. I know, at first you’re jealous of how much a person could get for a nickel back then, but really that nickel was not buying a tasty latte – or even a bright and clean home-made cup of coffee like the one you had when you woke up today. So, don’t be too jealous.
Thanks to the profound shift in American coffee conventions, from farming to roasting to brewing, we are living in a golden age of gourmet standards. While there are ongoing attempts to foster excellent robusta beans, experts will be quick to tell you that “Gourmet coffees are almost exclusively high-quality mild varieties of arabica coffee, and among the best-known arabica coffee beans in the world” (Pierre Tristam, ThoughtCo).
It’s no wonder that in the mid-20th century people believed that coffee was unhealthy. They were drinking robusta instead of arabica. Now, science agrees with our tastebuds and study upon study shows that coffee is good for us. Has the arabica revolution helped to turn the scientific tide on coffee? It probably has.
Thank you, Arabica!