Coffee beans fall into two broad varieties – Robusta (Coffea canephora) and Arabica (Coffea arabica). Of the two, Robusta is an easier to grow, higher yielding crop – which translates to cheaper beans – while Arabica is considered to have more refined and less bitter flavour.
For these reasons, most premium beans are Arabica while the majority of Robusta production is destined for instant coffee, where it's more powerful flavour (and naturally higher caffeine content) makes it even better value.
However, things are starting to change, and a growing number of companies are exploring "premium Robusta" coffee.
Black Sheep's Robusta Revival is one such coffee, offering beans from the Sethuraman Estate in India's South-Western state of Karnataka. Will this be, as Black Sheep describe it, "the most unorthodox coffee you have ever come across"?
The grounds have a powerful aroma; slightly burnt sugar, redcurrants and a faint nuttiness promise a robust (if a little brash!) coffee to come. Brewed, the burnt notes fade and a heavier, woody nature arises.
In the mouth, it's gently sweet with a full body and an initial fruitiness, but that's quickly joined by quite a sharp bitterness that slightly overpowers things. It's almost a very nice coffee and it's grown on me over time, but the finish is just a touch too harsh.
Overall, 3.5 stars – it's a fairly powerful coffee (although hardly "the most unorthodox" I've ever tasted) and certainly shows that Robusta isn't the undrinkable cousin of Arabica; I just find myself wishing for a slightly smoother finish.
Many thanks to Black Sheep for this sample.
This review was originally published 18th August, 2014. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.