STiR coffee and tea magazine

Volume 13, Number 2

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8 STiR coffee and tea | 2024 Issue 2 (April / May) Chris Kornman After years of extensive research, Chris Kornman teamed up with Jeremy Yingling and Randy Krum from Infonewt to create an easy-to-follow infographic that represents 20,000 years of arabica's evolutionary history. Visually appealing and historically accurate, the flow chart traces the birth, cultivation, selection, distribution, mutation, and hybridization of arabica's most popular cultivars. STiR magazine sat with Chris to talk about how lessons learned from arabica's past can be used to help coffee producers face the challenges of the future. Q A By Diana Jendoubi STiR: What are some important lessons today's coffee industry could learn from looking back at the last several hundred years of coffee cultivation? Chris Kornman: I think the biggest takeaway by a long shot and one that gets repeated often is monoculture. You look at the rust outbreak in the late 19th century and that was the result of exclusively cultivating an extremely narrow genetic strain of arabica coffee in places where it wasn't native. And the same thing occurs time and again. Rust is the big story there, but there are lots of little stories. Many failures are often related to trying to increase productivity and trying to increase yield. How many trees you can fit in a given area? All of these have proven time and time again to be highly susceptible to cata- strophic failure. And so you look at farms that are prepared to weather the future successfully and it's those that not only are planting multiple types of coffee but also encouraging biodiversity at scale. Chris Kornman is the director of education at The Crown: Royal Coffee Lab & Tasting Room. Starting as a barista in 2003, Chris has worked in every major area of the industry from production roasting, sourcing, and quality control to training, and writing. He's the author of Green Coffee: A Guide for Roasters and Buyers and has been published in many leading coffee industry magazines/websites. I think it's a lesson that we just kind of keep learning the hard way a lot of times. Another thing may be the importance of having research and development on the ground in countries where coffee is being grown. There can be a paternalistic instinct in some cases in science communities from time to time. Saying 'This is the right way, we're giving you the right thing to do, and this has been proven elsewhere.' And the fact of the matter is that coffee, while not terribly genetically diverse, the way that it presents itself in the fields is highly susceptible to things like environment and the way that people choose to care for it and process it. So I think that kind of diversity in the way that coffee is handled and treated in various places should be celebrated and acknowledged as important. STiR: Why is the spontaneous hybridization of the Timor hybrid so significant? Chris Kornman: It's pretty rare. Inner species hybrids don't happen very often in nature and they're not always as successful as the Timor hybrid. Arabica itself is, theorized to be an inner specific hybrid of robusta and a species called Eugenioids. On the island of Timor in the late 19th and early 20th century, colonizers were planting a bunch of Robusta Canephora because arabica had been mostly wiped out by the leaf rust epidemic. So we've got this new hardier species of coffee, that's mostly being planted in this one particular area on the island and then the robusta spontaneously hybridizes with the arabica. One of the reasons that it's so special is that there is a divergence in the number of chromosome sets in these two plants. Robusta is diploid. It has two sets of chromosomes. Whereas arabica is tetraploid. It has four and theoretically, that makes them incompatible for hybridization. It's like a donkey and a horse when they hybridize that's called a mule and mules are sterile. So theoretically this hybrid would be sort of similar to that where the plant is not a viable survivor. But it turns out that not only is this hybrid viable but it's also a tetraploid, so it's considered arabica by the scientists. It's also extremely resistant to rust. So we've got this new arabica type of plant that exhibits a lot of the benefits of robusta along with some of the benefits of arabica. A lot of picky tasters don't exactly prefer the Timor hybrid these days. So specialty coffee folks will recognize that flavor as less than and therefore what often happens, and it has been happening for the past century or so is that the Timor hybrid gets used as an ingredient for other resistant varieties. You take it as a starting point and then you add more arabica to make it taste better, but you still have the resistance genetics in the background.

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