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Seven species of wild coffee amongst Kew's haul of new discoveries

Newly discovered coffee species could help safeguard the long-term survival of this important industry

The world’s largest coffee bean. Coffea ambongensis photographed (left) with a bean of Arabica coffee (right) (Image: RBG Kew)

Seven wild coffee species, mostly native to the mountains of northern Madagascar, feature on the list of Kew's most recent new discoveries. These species have been prioritized as part of a initiative to provide key indicator species to monitor climate change. This takes the total number of new coffee species discovered by Kew and its partners over the past ten years to nearly 30, including some weird and wonderful species.

Strange fruit...

The winged fruits of Coffea pterocarpa, one of the species discovered by Kew and its partners and described as new to science in 2008.

Recently described new species include Coffea ambongensis and Coffea boinensis, which have the world’s largest ‘coffee beans’, being more than twice the size of those of Coffea arabica (Arabica coffee), the main species used in the commercial production of coffee. And then there are Coffea labatii and Coffea pterocarpa, which have winged fruits, while Coffea namorokensis and Coffea bissetiae are distinctly hairy, a very unusual feature for coffee.

“We’re still finding new species of coffee, including those directly related to crop plants,” says Kew’s coffee expert Dr Aaron Davis. “Coffee is the world’s second most traded commodity, after oil, with at least 25 million farming families dependent on its production for their livelihoods, yet we still have much to learn about its wild relatives. We estimate that 70% of wild coffee species are in danger of extinction due to habitat loss and climate change.

“Conserving the genetic diversity within this genus has implications for the sustainability of our daily cup, particularly as coffee plantations are highly susceptible to climate change, pests and diseases. Those involved in the coffee trade could help to future-proof the industry by working with Kew and its partners to create special reserves to conserve coffee genetic resources.”

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23 December 2009
Great, but how does it taste? Will it rate as SCAA grade coffee?
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