World Coffee Research is the industry research and development program to increase the supplies of quality coffee and the QUALITY of those supplies. Coffee Cup Quality is a cross-cutting priority that runs through all WCR research projects in order to increase our understanding and the improvement of this major market driver. To date, very little research has been conducted to understand and therefore improve coffee cup quality. WCR believes that increasing the number and combinations of the taste attributes involved in overall cup quality is needed to increase taste profile offerings to consumers and thus drive the growth of fine coffees at the top end of the market. This segment of the industry has an important “pull-up” effect, raising the quality bar and thus growing the market for the entire industry. Coffee cup quality must be better understood so that technologies and methods to improve quality can be determined and made available to key value chain players who profit from these advances.
World Coffee Research agenda and its applicability to improving Coffee Cup Quality
Front and center on the WCR coffee quality research agenda is the development of an accurate, repeatable, and highly discriminatory sensory analysis method for measuring coffee cup quality that can stand the rigors needed in scientific research. Without a precise and efficient way of measuring coffee cup quality, WCR will be limited by the variability and unreliability associated with current sensory methods that were designed for coffee trading. Most WCR research projects generate high numbers of coffee samples that require a sensory evaluation tool that allows us to discriminate among important, market-related quality attributes in a cost effective manner.
The WCR Sensory Project will benchmark existing evaluation methods and develop a common reliable system. This research will focus on the development of a new ‘hybrid common’ approach that will improve the current sensory evaluation by using descriptive analyses, an industry sensory expert panel, an anchor sensory lab, robust statistical designs and integrated laboratory methods. Further work will allow us to define and correlate sensory attributes to key marker compounds defining coffee quality.
WCR research to better understand and improve cup quality is integrated in all WCR research projects as illustrated below in our priority programs:
- International Multi-location Variety Trials: Quality evaluation is a key variable that will be measured and studied in all WCR variety trials. The compilation of quality data on different varieties across hundreds of diverse environments over years will provide scientists with the first statistically controlled data set from which in-depth investigations on the effects of climate change and other environmental variables will be performed to develop better mitigation strategies.
- Coffee germplasm screening, cataloging and preservation for the development of new varieties: WCR will place significant resources into the evaluating cup quality taste attributes in current germplasm collections and in new collections coming from wild arabica land races. Taste attributes will be cataloged for each of the entries thus permitting coffee researchers to utilize the material in variety development programs and to study the relation between taste, volatile compounds, precursor molecules and environmental factors. A special emphasis will be put on the discovery of new taste attributes to expand taste profile differentiation possibilities.
- Development of new breeding populations: WCR will work with several coffee breeding research institutions in origin countries to develop new breeding populations from which new, more adaptable, higher quality, greater pest resistant and heat tolerant varieties can be bred. This ‘second generation’ of genetic material will include a maximum level of genetic diversity from wild, cultivated and curated germplasm sources. As a result, the potential to produce ‘super varieties’ tailored for different coffee producing environments and be capable of high yields, superior quality and resistances to the major pest threats is revolutionary. Key to this project is WCR breeding teams’ ability to include a wide range of quality characteristics in the new populations and then to be able to screen for quality in the early generations of variety development.
- The Accelerated Productivity Enhancement Program (APE): Even within the WCR farmer-level technology conduit, cup quality will be evaluated and that evaluation will be shared with the farmers participating in the trials. On one hand, these quality evaluations will provide researchers with thousands of statistically controlled quality evaluations from which the effects of environment and especially climate change can be determined. On the other hand, the quality evaluations shared with the farmer will assist the producer understand better his or her role in defining coffee quality and thus achieving higher prices for their harvest.