Rediscovered coffee species promises new levels of taste
As coffee lovers, you are probably aware that the best tasting coffee (as provided by Recent Beans) is made from the Arabica variety. The next most common coffee variety is robusta, which is used in instant coffee and decaf. Robusta has a harsher flavour and higher caffeine content, and can be easier to grow. There are a further 122 coffee varieties, which typically do not have good flavours – a tasting note for one of them includes the phrase “gentleman’s urinals”. BBC Inside Science recently reported on a fascinating recent rediscovery of an old coffee variety, Coffea stenophylla, which in 1834 was described as having a superior taste to Arabica.
BBC Inside Science interviewed Dr Aaron Davis, who has a fantastic sounding job – Head of Coffee Research at Kew Gardens. He worked with international collaborators, including Daniel Sarmu in Sierra Leone, to search for C. Stenophylla. The variety was cultivated until around 1920 but was replaced with robusta coffee. The team manually searched locations where it had been reported more than 60 years ago, eventually finding first one, then a second plant around 150 km away. Two plants were needed in order to allow breeding of the new variety.
Samples of the beans were blind tested by several coffee tasting panels. The results more than justified the four-year search for the plants. Most of the judges believed the coffee to be Arabica, but many also noted there was something new about these beans. The Specialty Coffee Association panel awarded the beans over 80 points, equating to a Very Good – Specialty rating. This is very impressive for a sample that was from a small number of wild, uncultivated plants, suggesting great possibilities for this variety in the future. Tasting notes included chocolate, elderberry and jasmine.
Stenophylla can be produced at low elevations and hotter conditions, making it potentially more able to survive climate change than Arabica. It is exciting news for the Sierra Leonean economy and very exciting news for coffee lovers, with the potential for new even more delicious brews in the future. Definitely beans to look out for in the future!