High cupping scores, high yields, and rust resistance? For specialty coffee producers, finding a variety with all three qualities is almost impossible. Often rust-resistant varieties leads to a lower-quality cup profile – while plants with high-quality crops are often susceptible to disease, and so a risk.
However, in the 2017 Cup of Excellence (CoE) auctions, a new rust-resistant, high-yield hybrid variety just scored 90.5 points. No doubt many producers will be celebrating this turn of events – especially in neighbouring Honduras, where the widely planted “rust-resistant” variety Lempira was recently reclassified as rust-susceptible.
Let’s take a look at this new variety, Centroamericano, and what it means for producers.
Mr. Moreno with flowering Centroamericano trees on his farm, Las Promesas de San Blas, in Nicaragua. Credit: WCR
What Is Coffee Leaf Rust?
Coffee leaf rust (la roya in Spanish) is a disease that attacks the leaves of coffee trees.Over time, these leaves develop rusty orange spots – the sight of which will fill a producer with dread.
The leaves are vital to the health of a coffee plant, since they are where photosynthesis occurs. No leaves means no energy for plants to grow. In farms with bad cases of la roya, it’s not uncommon to see entire plants bare of leaves or cherries.
In 2012, the disease hit Latin America hard, causing over $1 billion in damage in just two years (USAID). In many places, it decimated the majority of the harvest. And even today, farms there are struggling to see the same yield as in 2011.
Only certain varieties of Arabica are currently vulnerable to coffee leaf rust; unfortunately, many of them do not produce the same high-quality coffees as susceptible varieties. What’s more, la roya continues to evolve, meaning no variety is guaranteed to stay rust-resistant for ever.
This means the promise of a new, high-quality and rust-resistant, variety is exciting news.
Rust-Resistant Variety Scores 90.5 Points in CoE
Gonzalo Adán Castillo Moreno’s farm, Las Promesas de San Blas, lies in Nueva Segovia, northern Nicaragua – close to the border with Honduras. His Centroamericano coffee scored an impressive 90.5 out of 100 in the 2017 Cup of Excellence. With coffees 80+ being considered specialty, a 90+ coffee is rare and incredibly valuable. It’s a sign of high-quality coffee plants and excellent production and processing practices.
To confirm that this is definitely Centroamericano, World Coffee Research (WCR) conducted DNA tests of the green coffee samples. It verified that this is indeed the new hybrid variety – something it is calling “a major milestone in validating [Centroamericano’s] quality potential”.
Mr. Moreno with ripe Centroamericano coffee cherries. Credit: WCR
What Is Centroamericano?
Centroamericano is an F1 hybrid variety, something completely new in the coffee industry. This means it is a cross between two genetically distant strands of Arabica – in this case, the Ethiopian landrace variety Rume Sudan and a rust-resistant variety called T5296.
Centroamericano only became commercially available to farmers in Central America in 2010. It’s still unavailable in the rest of the world.
So what’s so special about Centroamericano? Well, not only is it rust-resistant, but it’s also high-yielding. Hanna Neuschwander of WCR tells me, “The variety yields up to 20-40% more than other varieties in the region.” The WCR also label its quality potential as “very good” – something supported by Mr. Moreno’s 90.5-point crop.
Mr. Moreno with Centramericano seedlings in his nursery. Credit: WCR
Good News For Coffee Producers
A high-yielding, high-quality, rust-resistant coffee variety will sound like a dream come true to coffee producers who want to target the specialty coffee market – without the risks of planting rust-susceptible varieties.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled about this,” says Tim Schilling, CEO of World Coffee Research. “It validates our instinct that F1 hybrids are absolutely essential for the future of coffee. F1 hybrids can combine traits that matter most to farmers – higher yields and disease resistance – with the trait that matters most to consumers – taste. That has always been a tradeoff in the past. Coffee just took a huge leap into the future.”
We look forward to seeing more news of high-cupping F1 crops in the future.
Twenty-four 30-kilo boxes of Mr. Moreno’s coffee will be auctioned on the 1st of June. More details on the auction are available here. And if you’re based in Portland, Oregon, a cupping of the winning Nicaraguan coffees will be held at the ACE Lab.
Please note: Perfect Daily Grind is not affiliated with any of the individuals or bodies mentioned in this article, and cannot directly endorse them.
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