STiR coffee and tea magazine

Volume 4, Number 2

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54 STiR tea & coffee industry international / Issue 2, 2015 (April/May) By Dan Bolton Photo by Willem Boot Gesha beans with pulp removed Pouring coffee from a clay jebena Photos by Rachel Samuels Editors note: Gesha is an Ethiopian village and place name like Harrar or Yirgacheffe. Geisha is a coffee varietal. GESHA, Ethiopia Coffee's reproductive biology limits its ability to improve its lot in life. "It mostly reproduces by self-fertilization which occurs in about 90% of the flow- ers," according to Dr. Sarada Krishnan, a coffee plant expert and director of horticul- ture at the Denver Botanic Gardens in the U.S. The result is countless varieties in its native Ethiopia – and a very, very small gene pool among arabica grown elsewhere. Dr. Aaron Davis, leader of coffee research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, U.K., reports that only 0.03% of the genetic diversity available in coffee can be found in commercial farms worldwide. This is one reason why coffee is highly susceptible to pests and diseases such as coffee leaf rust (CLR). "Enlarging the genetic base and improvement of arabica cultivars have become high priorities for researchers," writes Krishnan. "In Ethiopia we have the opportunity to save the world's most astounding coffee cultivar, geisha, by reproducing the mother trees of this variety to preserve this unique genotype for many future generations," adds Dutch coffee consultant Willem Boot. Enhancing coffee vigor is why in 1931 the British government tasked its consul in Ethiopia, R.C.R. Whalley, with obtaining coffee samples to plant in Kenya and Tanza- nia (the former German East Africa which gave way to British rule after World War I). It was the practice then for coffee farmers to plant many species. As the birthplace of arabica, Ethiopia offers the greatest genetic diversity of all. Samples, named for the nearest location where they grew, were sent to agricul- tural research stations for evaluation. One variety the diplomat chose by happenstance proved robust, disease resistant, and intensely flavorful (although that trait would not be revealed for decades). The seeds are believed to have been sourced in the western highlands near Maji and Goldija. The coffee was labeled with some variant of Gesha, one of three like-sounding places (Gesha, Geiscia, and Gescia) in Pueblos Unidos, Ethiopia. At the time it was just another seed in the sack. The Gesha Legacy Augmenting Arabica's Genetic Pool

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