Measuring light to find the origin of coffee

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World Coffee Research (WCR) is brewing up a pot of coffee, and it is not from the usual markets in Columbia, Hawaii, Ethiopia or Indonesia.


Dr. Al-Hakimi in the greenhouse with coffee plants.

The WCR, part of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University, is conducting a genetic diversity study of coffee in conjunction with Sana’a University of Yemen. Dr. Amin Al-Hakimi, a professor of plant breeding and a Fulbright visiting researcher, is looking at the genetic diversity of the exceptional land races of coffee from the Republic Yemen. This project has attracted the attention of Mokha Origin, a start-up based in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the Harvard Innovation Lab.

Working with the Moka Origin co-founder and researcher, Edward Kenney, measurements of the reflectance of green coffee samples from Ethiopia and Yemen were taken in the lab of Dr. Seth Murray, Assistant Professor in the Soil and Crop Sciences Department and collaborator of World Coffee Research. The reflectance of green coffee samples from Ethiopia and Yemen were measured using a technique called near infrared spectroscopy.


Green coffee beans ready for testing.

Variations in how infrared light reflected off of the coffee beans indicate information about the growing conditions of the coffee and could even help determine which country the coffee was grown in. The same process has been used to test coffee origins in South America and Mexico, but never Yemen.

“Our hope is to create a database and testable model to ensure the origin of our coffee.” said Kenney.  ”With this tool, the Yemenis themselves will soon be able to protect and build their national brand of high-quality coffee,” he added. In the past, the practice of blending Yemeni beans with cheaper coffee from Ethiopia was believed to be widespread and lessened the perceived quality of the coffee in the marketplace.

“We are excited to help Mokha Origin test if NIRS can be used to develop a traceability system for coffee. If successful, this technique could represent an important resource for producers and the coffee industry as a whole,” said Dr. Leo Lombardini, Deputy Director of WCR and Associate Professor of the Department of Horticultural Sciences.

Coffee is generally grown in the equatorial tropics where even the smallest climate change can have an impact on crops. “This work holds a lot of potential for increasing resiliency of the coffee trees to better tolerate effects of climate change,” added Schilling.

Mokha Origin is in the initial stages of this project, with twelve samples of what should be a 200+ sample database. The raw spectral images collected this week still need to be tested using advanced statistical models.   Still, despite the early stages of this collaboration, this project has already received significant interest. Last month, Mokha Origin was declared a finalist in the Harvard University President’s Challenge, an entrepreneurship competition.  They are one of ten finalists eligible for a $100,000 prize purse.

“We are delighted to be working with World Coffee Research and Texas A&M University’s world class scholars to develop and apply to Yemeni coffee this technical verification,” said Kenney.

Choosing between coffee and beer for creativity …

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Which is best? Find out what you need to know …

2012-2013 Annual Report in Japanese

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The SCAJ recently undertook the translation of the 2012-2013 Annual Report to Japanese (WCR Annual Report 2013 邦訳). Thank you, Takao Ueshima, Executive Director, SCAJ and Hidetaka Hayashi, Immediate Past President of SCAJ.

The English version 2012-2013 Annual Report is available electronically, and in hard copy. WCR activities, projects, and milestones are fully detailed.

If you would like to request a printed copy of the WCR Annual Report (only available in English), please fill out the request form.

Coffee boosts memory retention, study says

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Caffeinated subjects better able to distinguish between similar items

Did you start your morning by preparing a strong cup of coffee? Chances are you were also brewing an effective long-term memory tonic, according to researchers with Johns Hopkins University.

To read (and remember) more …

How climate change will brew a bad-tasting, expensive cup of coffee

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Rising heat, extreme weather and pests mean the highland bean is running out of cool mountainsides on which it flourishes

by Damian Carrington in the Manchester Guardian

Rich western urbanites expecting to dodge the impacts of climate change should prepare for a jolt: global warming is leading to bad, expensive coffee. Almost 2bn cups of coffee perk up its drinkers every day, but a perfect storm of rising heat, extreme weather and ferocious pests mean the highland bean is running out of cool mountainsides on which it flourishes.

“The rise in global temperature is of great concern for us in the coffee industry because it will – and has already started – putting the supply of quality coffee at great risk,” said Dr Tim Schilling, executive director of the World Coffee Research programme, based at Texas A&M University. “It is also obvious that increasing temperatures – as well as extreme weather events – have a very negative affect on production. Over the long term, you will definitely see coffee prices going up as a result of climate change.” (To read more)



UC Davis establishes center for coffee science study center; possible major to follow

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UC Davis establishes center for coffee science study center; possible major to follow

By Edward Ortiz
Published: Thursday, Mar. 6, 2014 – 11:00 pm
Last Modified: Friday, Mar. 7, 2014 – 12:04 am

UC Davis has made a name for itself researching beverages people use to relax – like wine and beer. Now it’s turning its attention to one Americans use to get wired: coffee.

For the rest of story – read more here

For information about the UC Davis Coffee Center.

Yemen: Once and future coffee

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From Global Coffee Review

yeman2World Coffee Research is turning its attention to a particular strand of Yemeni Arabica, which has proven a remarkable ability to thrive in a hot and dry climate, while maintaining an impressive taste profile.

While it is widely known as the launching pad for coffee’s global journey some 1400 years ago, scientists now believe the coffee grown in Yemen could help safeguard the plant’s future in the face of climate change.

World Coffee Research (WCR) is working with Sana’a University in Yemen to study Yemeni coffee landraces with the support of the American Embassy and the Fulbright Scholarship program.

As part of the project, Yemeni coffee professor and breeder Dr Amin Abbo al Hakimi is spending one year at Texas A&M University. He will work with scientists in breeding and genomics to conduct a genetic diversity analysis on the Yemeni coffees that have long attracted the attention of specialty coffee roasters for their unique taste attributes.

Behind these unique flavours lies a source of genetic diversity that has gone unexplored. Approximately 1000 years ago Ethiopian and Yemeni traders brought Arabica coffee from Ethiopia to Yemen where hundreds of years of environmental, genetic and human selection pressures have likely produced different Arabica varieties unique to Yemen (to read more).


Slate author looks at climate change and coffee shortages

Brazilian drought pressuring global coffee supplies


By Eric Holthaus in Slate

If there was ever a reason to rise up in support of a benevolent climate-obsessed world dictator, this could be it.

Climate change has already taken the Winter Olympics, your Eggos, and the McDonald’s dollar menu, and now it’s coming for your coffee, too.

An epic drought—Brazil’s worst in decades—is threatening exports from the world’s largest coffee exporter and driving up wholesale prices worldwide. We’ve officially entered the realm of bloggers’ worst-case scenario (to read more).

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters sourcing solutions

Lindsey Bolgers anticipates potential supply problems

LindseyGreen Mountain Coffee Roasters has been an active player in addressing the recent rust crisis in Latin America, but as Lindsey Bolger tells Global Coffee Review, the company must also protect its own supplies in times such as this.

As the person in charge of sourcing strategies for the largest sellers of specialty coffee in the US, Lindsey Bolger makes it her business to anticipate potential supply problems.

However, while the Vice President of Coffee Sourcing and Excellence for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) has spent more than a decade devising strategies to safeguard her business against supply interruptions, she is more passionate about finding ways to prevent those interruptions in the first place (read the rest of the story).

To Stop the Coffee Apocalypse, Starbucks Buys a Farm

Starbucks farm to test 30 new Arabica strains for World Coffee Research

By and

Starbucks farm to test 30 new Arabica strains for World Coffee Research

Carlos Mario crouches next to a knee-high seedling growing in a plug of volcanic soil wrapped in black plastic. The young plant will one day be a coffee tree. A yellow sign identifies it as “Par 1 Plan 1,” the code name for a new coffee hybrid. The mermaid logo on Mario’s black cap identifies his employer.


Coffee seedlings.

Par 1 Plan 1 is one of 165,000 seedlings growing on a Costa Rican ridge 4,500 feet above sea level. The plants are arranged in long, neat rows within a 7.5-acre trapezoid crisscrossed with white irrigation pipe; there are scores of varieties, with names like Obata, Bourbon 2, and Et 47-P1. The patch is an open-air laboratory where Mario, a slight, 52-year-old agronomist with a salt-and-pepper mustache, tends to what he calls his “little babies.”

Caressing the leaves of Par 1 Plan 1, Mario says it’s a cross between a Costa Rican variety known for the bright flavor favored by U.S. coffee drinkers, and an African breed with a bitter taste but the resilience to battle a fungus ravaging Latin America’s coffee crop. After a year in the nursery, a few hundred of these seedlings will be replanted nearby. Seeds from the trees that can fend off disease and yield the most abundant, high-quality beans will be replanted again in a cycle that could take five years before Par 1 Plan 1 is ready for Costa Rican farmers. The plant Mario is holding might never be responsible for a Starbucks venti latte, but its grandchild or great-grandchild might. “We have hopes,” he says.

For the whole story and videos, see the BusinessWeek article.