How to brew robusta coffee like an expert.

Robusta coffee gets a bad rep but sometimes you might end up brewing one. Are you stuck with some robusta beans and worried about how to make a good tasting coffee? Have you spat out your coffee in disgust at the bitter flavour? Fear not. Buckle in. Learn how to brew robusta coffee like an expert.


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What is Robusta coffee?

Coffee is made from a plant. Most of the stuff you drink in your cup is harvested from a variety called ‘Arabica’ and is believed to represent around 60% of the worlds global coffee. Often selected for its superior flavour, it is usually the coffee bean of choice for connoisseurs around the world.

On the other hand, the robusta plant is often selected for coffee growing due to its relative ease and cheapness of production in comparison. Whilst it gives you a cheaper coffee, this is offset by its harsher taste and often inferior quality to its Arabica cousin.

How to brew Robusta coffee.

Now we know why the robusta plant is used and how it tastes, this can inform us how to brew a decent tasting coffee. There are ways to account for taste defects in your coffee but your brewing methods and recipes could have just as big an impact. 

Use it sparingly.

As I have already mentioned the robusta taste is a lot harsher in flavour. It also contains more caffeine. Put less in your coffee then you would usually do. You may want to dilute it with more water than you usually would to make any bitter or harsher flavours less intense. But just adding more water alone only waters down the flavour.

The ratio of coffee to water you use really depends on what coffee maker you have. Pick the recommended ratio for your brewing device and start by reducing it by a quarter. For example, in my French press guide I recommend a ratio of 1 to 10. So for 10 grams of coffee I would use 100ml of water. So for robusta coffee I might use 7.5 grams of coffee for 100ml of water and scale up accordingly depending on how much I need.

Make lattes with it instead.

Because a latte uses so much milk it makes it much easier to smooth over any rough edges you would normally get when drinking it black. If you normally drink your coffee with a lot of milk, using less coffee and lots of milk could be the right sweet spot. The increased caffeine content of the robusta should give you a big enough hit of coffee to compensate.

Use a shorter extraction time.

The longer you brew your coffee for, the stronger it will taste and the more time you give it to extract more bitter flavours. The perfect extraction time varies depending on your coffee making device, grind size and water temperature. 

Use the normal time you would brew a coffee for and then experiment with using less time to brew your coffee. For example, with a French press I usually brew my coffee for about 4 minutes. So if you were using robusta beans with the same type of coffee maker you could start by experimenting with around 3 minutes 30 seconds or even 3 minutes for the extraction time.

Choose the right coffee maker.

The coarser your coffee grind, the longer it will take to extract the flavours. A coffee maker such as a French press or Aeropress is usually more forgiving because of this. Pick a coffee maker that makes it really easy to brew a good coffee. One that utilises a courser grind and creates a smoother coffee. If you use a finer grind (such as with espresso coffee), you may have less room for error.

Blend your coffee beans.

You may be considering robusta beans because they are cheaper but that does not mean you have to shun arabica all together. Why not blend the two together? 

Not only will it cut down on cost compared arabica only, the harshness of the robusta may add an interesting dimension when combined with its softer cousin. Start with a ratio of 80/20 with the robusta being the lower ratio of the two.

Consider your water temperature.

The hotter your water temperature when brewing, the faster your coffee will extract. Given that robusta is generally a more bitter coffee bean, you may want to brew it using lower water temperatures. It will make the process more forgiving and make it taste better. 

According to the National Coffee grinding association, the ideal water temperature is around 195 to 205F (around 90 to 96C). Start on the lower side and experiment from there. Alternatively, use a timer and let the water cool down for a minute. Let it cool down for longer if it still tastes too bitter.

Cold brew instead. 

As my cold brew French press guide points out, brewing your coffee at room temperature overnight is a fantastic way of bring out the mellow, more acidic flavours of coffee. Refrigerate it when done and what you are left with is a chilled and really concentrated drink of coffee. When you a ready to drink, simply dilute it with some liquid (I like to add ice cubes as well).

Why would this work with robusta coffee beans? Well if you remember what I said earlier about coffee temperature then you will know that the hotter the water, the faster the flavour will extract. The net result of letting your ground robusta coffee brew in room temperature for several hours overnight is that less of the bitter flavours are extracted. You will be left with a coffee that tastes smoother and more enjoyable but highly concentrated with caffeine. 

What’s the best way of brewing? It depends on your needs.

Most people use robusta coffee as it is usually cheaper than arabica. If that is the reason and you are used to drinking instant, you may just want to put milk and sugar in your coffee and be happy with that. 

Alternatively, some of the tips and tricks I have shown you will go a long way to making sure you get the best coffee possible. Will it be enough? Well that depends largely on the quality of your coffee. 

In the end, the simplest way is to mix some arabica beans with robusta. That way you cut down on some costs by spreading out the use of the arabica beans. At the same time you add a bit more of a full bodied flavour to your coffee without compromising on the taste, provided you create the right blend. And if you plan to use robusta long term, the key to forming a long lasting habit is to do something you enjoy. After all, what other reason is there for drinking your favourite morning coffee?