C.offee has a problem with climate change. Arabica, which makes up more than half of the world’s coffee cups, grows best between 18-22 ° C and is therefore prone to rising temperatures. Robusta, while better suited to warmer climates, generally does not taste as good as Arabica and is cheaper for farmers.
Now a research team is suggesting that a species that has not been commercially cultivated in a century could be a boon to the coffee industry. As the team reported yesterday (April 19th) in Natural plants, the kind, Stenophylla (Coffea stenophylla), grows at mean annual temperatures of up to 24.9 ºC and tastes similar to Arabica.
Stenophylla has not been cultivated since the 1920s. Historical records indicate that Stenophylla has fallen out of favor due to poor yields and competition with Robusta, the authors write in their paper. It continued to grow in the wild, but until the current study, no sightings had been reported outside of Ivory Coast in decades.
In late 2018, Aaron Davis of the Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK and his co-authors found that Stenophylla grows wild in Sierra Leone. After purchasing some beans, they conducted a taste test that compared the coffee to Arabica and Robusta. 81 percent of the 15-member jury mistook the stenophylla for arabica. The authors write in their study that “The judges identified a complex set of tasting notes for Stenophylla. . . including those popular or desirable in high-quality arabica: stone fruit (peach), berry fruit (black currant, tangerine), honey, light black tea, jasmine, spice, flowers, chocolate, caramel, nuts, English sweets, and elderflower syrup. ”
“As someone who’s tried a lot of wild coffees, they’re not great, they don’t taste like arabica, so our expectations were pretty low,” says Davis BBC News. “And we absolutely loved the fact that this coffee tasted fantastic. It has these other properties related to its climate tolerance: it will grow and harvest in much warmer conditions than Arabica coffee. “Davis predicts the species could be cultivated in Sierra Leone and commercialized in five to seven years.
“In the long term, Stenophylla offers us an important resource for breeding a new generation of climate-resistant coffee plants, as it has an excellent taste and high heat tolerance. If the historical reports on coffee leaf rust resistance and drought tolerance turn out to be correct, it would be another useful benefit for growing coffee plants, ”Davis told Reuters.
“I think we are extremely optimistic about the future Stenophylla can bring,” said Jeremy Torz, co-founder of Union Hand-Roasted Coffee in East London, one of the taste test locations, in a comment to Reuters.