The global coffee market is valued at over $450 billion a year and supports the economies of several tropical countries. About 100 million farmers depend upon coffee for their livelihoods.
Coffee bushes grow best in a narrow range of temperatures. The existing coffee market is dominated by two species Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora, the latter commonly called robusta. Arabica, the most preferred coffee, thrives in average temperatures between 64 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Robusta does not flourish above 75 degrees. Therefore, the warming climate is making growing coffee increasingly difficult.
There are actually well over 100 species of coffee. Many of them grow in warmer places than those preferred by robusta and arabica, but are considered to have poorer flavors, smaller beans, and lower yields.
Researchers at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Britain came across a paper written in 1834 about a species of coffee from the lowland hills of Sierra Leone called Coffea stenophylla. According to the paper, stenophylla supposedly has a flavor superior to arabica’s.
It turns out that stenophylla still grows in parts of Africa with temperature ranges between 75 and 80 degrees. It was actually farmed until the 1920s but was abandoned because robusta was found to have higher yields.
Extensive taste testing verified the positive attributes of stenophylla. Whether it should be cultivated directly tolerating potential yield issues or crossbred with existing commercial coffees remains to be determined. But the prospects for finding more heat tolerant coffees should be encouraging news for coffee addicts.
Photo, posted October 30, 2012, courtesy of Coffee Management Service via Flickr.