There are more than a hundred species of coffee plants. But nearly all the coffee we drink comes from just two: Arabica and robusta. Yet it’s getting harder to grow them as the climate warms.
“The main issues are drought and increasing temperatures,” says Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in the U.K.
He’s been working to identify other coffee species that taste as good as Arabica but can better grow in a warmer climate.
One promising candidate is stenophylla, a species that was once widely farmed in West Africa.
“We were in contact with people that had a memory from their childhood of this coffee and said it was absolutely wonderful. But when we went out and spoke to farmers … nobody had any knowledge of it,” Davis says.
But with the help of local experts, Davis’s team searched for and found stenophylla growing in a forest in Sierra Leone. They roasted a small sample.
“The aroma and the fragrance of the coffee was wonderful,” he says. “It actually tasted like Arabica coffee.”
But it can grow in temperatures up to 12 degrees warmer. So with cultivation and breeding, stenophylla could give coffee farmers a more climate-resilient crop.
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media