Like everything else related to agriculture, the coffee industry is facing serious challenges as a result of climate change. A recently rediscovered coffee species, however, may help safeguard humanity’s relationship with caffeine, as it is just as tasty as high-end Arabica and more resilient to climate change.
While there are more than 100 known coffee species on the planet, the world gets most of its caffeine boost from the beans of just two — Arabica, which is considered the superior brew, and Robusta, which is less refined and is mainly used for instant mixes.
Of the two, Arabica is the one most threatened by a warming planet since it prefers average annual temperatures of around 19C. Robusta, on the other hand, can endure up to around 23C. With that said, the newly discovered Coffea stenophylla is even less vulnerable to global warming, being able to tolerate average temperatures of 24.9C, according to a recent study in Nature Plants.
Aaron Davis, Head of Coffee Research at the Royal Botanical Gardens, who led the research, said that to find a coffee species with both resilience and taste is “a once in a lifetime scientific discovery,” and that it could play a key role in safeguarding the future of high-quality coffee.
Endemic to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast, stenophylla was considered to be superior even to Arabica in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it fell out of use in the 20th century, vanishing completely from the record in 1954. In 2018, however, it was rediscovered again in Sierra Leone by a group of scientists who then went on to study its temperature tolerance, as well as its flavor.
To assess its aromatic profile, the research team conducted a blind test last year with a group of juries made of renowned coffee experts, all of whom found the coffee different from what they have previously tasted. The connoisseurs described the coffee as having notes of “rose, elderflower, lychee, like the best Arabica,” said Delphine Mieulet, the researcher who led the tasting.
According to Mieulet, there’s little doubt that the new coffee strain will have a large commercial success, but it might take several years before that happens since more work needs to be done to figure out exactly where it could be best grown.