To preserve origin diversity in the face of climate change new varieties are necessary, but they must be substantially better than older varieties for farmers and roasters to want them. Varieties need to be better not only in the field, but also in the cup.
However, most coffee breeding programs have little connectivity with the coffee industry; as such, breeding programs have not traditionally incorporated feedback from roasters and traders into breeding and selection parameters when they are introducing new varieties. (A “new” variety for farmers could be one that is commercially available in some countries but has not until now been available in the farmers’ country; or it could be an entirely new variety developed recently by breeders.) Additionally, there isn’t today a standard approach for breeders to use to evaluate the potential cup quality of new varieties and to measure how they perform in different environments.
WCR acts as a bridge between industry market demand and national research programs. WCR’s network of global member companies (composed of coffee roasters and retailers, exporters/traders, and allied manufacturers in over two dozen countries) provide quality feedback on both existing and new varieties. Materials evaluated come from both WCR trial sites as well as national breeding programs seeking industry feedback on candidate varieties in their breeding pipelines.
WCR is also engaged in collaborative research to explore whether there are correlations between cupping scores, market demand, specific flavors/aromas, economic value of coffee, and bean chemistry/metabolomics. This exploratory research is seeking more efficient ways to evaluate or predict the cup quality potential of new variety candidates (e.g., breeding materials). [read more here]
Examples of recent cupping trials
- In 2021 and 2022, roasters from 20 companies participated in an international “genetics x environment” cupping. They tasted the same 10 varieties being grown in multiple agroecological environments in 7 countries (part of the International Multilocation Variety Trial).
- Between 2019 and 2021, 60 coffee companies in 15 countries cupped new F1 hybrid variety candidates being trialed for possible commercial release. The feedback from cuppers was combined with field performance data and used to narrow down the field of candidates from 46 to 2. The top two candidates will enter larger-scale pre-commercial trials in Central America in 2023.
- In 2021, cuppers from 20 companies cupped wild arabica coffee accessions from the WCR-CATIE Core Collection. This feedback helps us build our knowledge of the potential of these accessions for use in future breeding.
This approach—linking coffee roasters and buyers with national research programs—enables coffee companies to meaningfully participate in shaping the future of coffee flavor and quality while also ensuring that national research programs understand market demand. Roaster feedback helps coffee research programs understand the quality potential of existing and new varieties, supports countries to pursue access to high quality varieties for farmers in their countries, and—perhaps most importantly—helps breeders to make quality improvement a primary, accessible target of breeding programs.