Why There Are Dark Days Ahead For Coffee

Why There Are Dark Days Ahead For CoffeeAmenic181/Shutterstock

Is your morning coffee an espresso or a skinny latte? Is it from a darkly roasted French or Italian blend? If it’s a high quality brew, it’s almost certainly made with beans from the Arabica species (Coffea arabica), which is known for its finer flavours. Examples would be Javan coffees, Ethiopian sidamo, and the expensive Jamaican blue mountain.

If you’ve stirred together an instant blend, it’s probably from a different species, Robusta (Coffea canephora), known for its harsher taste. But there are more than 100 species of coffee in the wild. All produce similar beans that you could make a recognisable coffee drink from.

Robusta is sometimes openly mixed with Arabica in commercial products – and is often secretly used to adulterate “100% Arabica” products, too. A third species, Coffea liberica, native to west and central Africa, is widely grown for local use in tropical countries, but is not globally traded because of its more bitter taste.

A fourth species Coffea eugenoides was bred with Robusta in ancient times to give rise to Arabica, a crossbreed. Another 38 closely related species can cross-fertilise commercial coffees through pollen transfer.

There are a further 82 species which are more distantly related to the commercial breeds, but scientists could interbreed them with commercial coffees in a lab. All these coffee relatives can help enhance the genetic diversity of commercial coffee species, making them more adaptable to changes in their environment.

Dark days ahead for coffee

Climate change is threatening global coffee yields as changing temperatures and rainfall patterns affect plant growth. The changing climate may also be leaving plants more vulnerable to disease.

All major commercial coffee growing countries have been badly affected by the fungal disease “coffee leaf rust”, which spread across Africa and into Asia during the early 20th century, then to South America, becoming entrenched globally by the turn of the millennium.

The Central American coffee rust outbreak that began in the 2011-2012 harvest season affected 70% of farms in the region, resulting in over 1.7m lost jobs and US$3.2 billion in damage and lost income.

Robusta varieties used for the instant blends have been key to developing resistance to coffee leaf rust in Arabica varieties through cross breeding. As climate change and disease risks escalate, wild coffee species offer a crucial resource for maintaining the world’s coffee supply. Arabica has tightly limited geographic ranges in which it grows well and Robusta, while resistant to leaf rust, is vulnerable to other diseases.

A recent study led by the UK’s Kew Royal Botanic Gardens set the value of this variety in context: over 60% of coffee species are threatened with extinction.

The authors explained that wild relatives of coffee are already used as local substitutes for globally traded commercial crops. They offer different climatic tolerance ranges and disease resistance traits that can help ensure global coffee production continues to meet demand.

But coffee species are particularly vulnerable to extinction because they occur in a small numbers of small geographic ranges – such as pockets of wild Arabica populations between certain altitude ranges in the Ethiopian highlands.

Wild coffee species – and wild varieties of the commercial species – are almost all in decline due to competition for land use and overharvesting of the coffee plant for timber or firewood. A number of wild coffee relatives haven’t been spotted for many decades and may be extinct.

One species, the cafe marron, from the remote island of Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean, was known from only one sighting in 1877. A century later, a schoolboy drew an “unusual” tree while exploring and showed it to a teacher. They recognised it as a surviving cafe marron. The sole surviving specimen of that wild coffee has inspired wider forest conservation on Rodrigues. It is also being cultured in lab collections at Kew.

Sadly, there may be less hope for other species. Coffee seeds don’t store well, unlike wild relatives of other crops such as wheat or maize. So we can’t rely on storage in seed banks to conserve coffee diversity and resilience. Freezing plant matter in labs or growing samples in test tubes might be an alternative, but not one that has been explored beyond existing commercial strains.

Preserving different coffee varieties in botanic gardens isn’t really viable for protecting genetic diversity either. Coffee species readily fertilise each other, “contaminating” the resource you’re trying to conserve.

While some experts suggest we preserve coffee diversity in collections, the Kew Gardens study argues that the sustainability of coffee depends on conservation of these species where they grow, in protected areas and working with communities throughout their native distribution in Africa and Asia.

Why There Are Dark Days Ahead For Coffee Coffee leaf rust (Hemileia vastatrix) on a Robusta plant. Peter Cho/Shutterstock

Conserving genetic diversity should be included in existing approaches for sustainable coffee production, such as Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certifications. Ensuring the continuity of the coffee trade means protecting the ecosystems coffee comes from and the livelihoods of people across the bean to coffee cup economy.

We can also expect new flavours and even coffees with naturally low or zero caffeine content. Naturally caffeine-free Indian Ocean island cafe marron anyone?The Conversation

About The Author

Adam Moolna, Teaching Fellow in Environment and Sustainability, Keele University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Product Description:

The bestselling reference updated and expanded with seven new coffee-growing countries.

Praise for the first edition:
"Fills a gap in the popular reference literature. Recommended."
-- Booklist

"The definitive guide.... Well-written, informative, and a must-have for general readers who want to know more about their favorite morning brew."
-- Publishers Weekly

"Educational, thought-provoking, and substantial. I've already recommended this book to (our) readers countless times."
-- Barista Magazine

The World Atlas of Coffee takes readers on a global tour of coffee-growing countries, presenting the bean in full-color photographs and concise, informative text. It covers where coffee is grown, the people who grow it and the cultures in which it is a way of life. It also covers the world of consumption -- processing, grades, the consumer and the modern culture of coffee.

For this new edition, the author expanded his research travels over the last several years to include seven additional coffee-growing regions: Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, China, Philippines, Thailand, Haiti and Puerto Rico. These are covered in 16 additional pages. As well, all of the book's maps have been updated to show greater detail, and all statistics and data have been updated to the most recent available.

Organized by continent and then country or region, The World Atlas of Coffee presents the world's favorite brew in color spreads packed with information.

The coverage in The World Atlas of Coffee is wide and deep. The book is used by barista and coffee-tasting instructors in North America and overseas and has been welcomed by enthusiastic coffee drinkers everywhere. Appropriate for special and general collections alike, it is an essential selection.

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Product Description: From the creators of the Internationally popular YouTube Channel, Read Scripture comes a coffee table book that will transform the way you see the Bible.

This coffee table book will help transform how you see the Bible. It is an entire collection of every biblical book with hand-drawn diagrams alongside short, written summaries of each book. Seeing the literary design of each book helps aid in reading, retention, and understanding.

Go to our website, thebibleproject.com to check out all the videos that correspond to the book, as well as other resources.

Stunning Style: The diagrams include the Old Testament and New Testament books in the Protestant tradition. These illustrated summaries are bound together in a gray cloth hardcover binding.

This book is so big, it could be its own coffee table! We are only partially kidding, the dimensions of this book are 19in x 12in (48cm x 30cm). It is perfect for displaying on a table or to use during family Bible studies or small groups.

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Product Description: The Coffee Roaster's Companion is the world's first professional-level how-to book about coffee roasting. Scott Rao has consulted for many of the world's finest roasters, and now he has put his expertise in a book accessible to roasters everywhere. No serious coffee roaster should go without this book. Scott Rao is the author of several best-selling coffee books, including: The Professional Barista's Handbook Everything But Espresso and Espresso Extraction: Measurement and Mastery

English Afrikaans Arabic Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional) Dutch Filipino French German Hindi Indonesian Italian Japanese Korean Malay Persian Portuguese Russian Spanish Swahili Swedish Thai Turkish Urdu Vietnamese


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