Today’s Solutions: May 29, 2024

Did you realize that the beans that comprise your morning cup of coffee date back 600,000 years? Scientists have discovered the ancient origins of Coffea arabica, the popular coffee plant that fills millions of cups worldwide.

The global takeover of Arabica coffee

With its well-known sweet and velvety taste, Arabica coffee has become the world’s most popular coffee, powering chains like Dunkin’ Donuts, Tim Horton’s, and Starbucks. However, its voyage began centuries ago in Ethiopia, before captivating taste buds across continents.

According to legend, the discovery of coffee’s powers occurred in 9th-century Ethiopia, when a goat herder named Kaldi observed that his goats grew especially energetic after devouring berries from a specific bush. This chance contact with the coffee plant piqued residents’ interest, leading to the discovery of its stimulating properties.

Coffee cultivation developed over the Arabian Peninsula, becoming an important element of social and cultural traditions. By the 15th century, coffee had arrived in the thriving port city of Mocha, Yemen, where it was first roasted and brewed. From then, it spread throughout the Ottoman Empire, where coffeehouses, known as “qahveh khaneh,” were popular social gathering places for intellectual discussion and entertainment.

In the 17th century, an Indian monk named Baba Budan smuggled seven raw coffee beans from Yemen to India, challenging the Arab monopoly on coffee growing. These beans were planted in the hills of Chikmagalur, signaling the start of coffee farming in India and laying the path for its global spread.

By the 18th century, coffee had caught Europe’s imagination, fast gaining appeal among the elite. Cities like Vienna, Paris, and London saw the proliferation of coffeehouses, which soon became lively centers of social and intellectual life.

Unlocking the genetic code of coffee plants

Researchers started on a genetic exploration, studying coffee genes from all around the world to create a family tree for Coffea arabica. The investigation revealed fascinating details about the natural crossbreeding that gave rise to arabica coffee 600,000 years ago.

“In other words, prior to any intervention from man,” said Victor Albert, a biologist at the University at Buffalo who co-led the study.

Protecting the future of coffee

The study not only sheds insight into coffee’s ancient roots but also provides critical information for ensuring its future survival. Arabica coffee plants, which are prone to diseases such as coffee leaf rust, confront difficulties due to their genetic composition. Understanding the genetic variety of coffee plants, including hardy types, could be the key to preserving this beloved crop.

Fabian Echeverria, an adviser for the Center for Coffee Research and Education at Texas A&M University who was not involved in the study, underlines the necessity of researching Arabica’s history to assure a strong future for coffee production. Researchers hope to keep our cups full of the liquid gold that starts our days by unlocking the riddles of coffee’s ancestry.

Source study: Nature Genetics—The genome and population genomics of allopolyploid Coffea arabica reveal the diversification history of modern coffee cultivars


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