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WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES VARIETY MAKE?


Can a coffee variety bred for performance match a natural variety in aroma, fragrance, and taste? World Coffee Research and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) are partnering to find out in a sensory trial conducted in Colombia on two leading Colombian varieties, Caturra and Castillo.

Caturra is a natural mutation of the Bourbon variety that is well-regarded for taste and smell, but is susceptible to diseases, particularly coffee leaf rust. Castillo is a hybrid created by the Colombian coffee research institute Cenicafé, to maximize yields, disease resistance, and cup quality.

The Colombia sensory trial will provide actors all along the coffee supply chain with information needed to choose a variety to plant, promote, and buy. Growers need to know what their expected outcome and return can be when choosing a variety for their farms. In an era when quality standards are rising, coffee buyers look for coffee that will meet their customers’ criteria. Policymakers need real data to make decisions about what varieties will be promoted, supported, and subsidized with public resources.

“Small-scale coffee farmers in Colombia and across the world are making decisions today that will affect their families’ fortunes for decades to come,” said Michael Sheridan, CRS Coffee Advisor, who is coordinating the process on the ground in Colombia. “Initiatives like the Colombia trial will help them make those decisions on the basis of better information.”

Scientific evaluation of quality and productivity will help thousands of farmers to make the best business decision on which variety to plant, and the sampling design will ensure maximum validity and robustness.

Dr Schilling said the work represents a rare opportunity to compare the performance of two varieties growing side-by-side over 25 farms. “For the first time we’ll be able to study the effect of key environmental factors such as altitude, soil type and shade on quality attributes and examine the effect that variety plays within and among all the different environments. The robust statistical design of the trials will give us great discriminatory power, something that is usually missing in this kind of work.”

CRS will collect samples from dozens of farms where the two varieties are currently being grown side-by-side. This process eliminates differences in environmental, agronomic and processing variables, isolating the impact of genetic material on cup quality. Participating farms have been divided into three elevation strata (below 1,650m, 1,651-2,100m, and above 2,100m), allowing researchers to better understand the interactions between genetics and elevation – a key determinant of coffee quality.

After harvesting, the sensory evaluation process will take place with two controlled cupping panels. Renowned coffee cuppers recruited from leading specialty coffee companies (Counter Culture Coffee, George Howell Coffee, Intelligentsia Coffee, Keurig Green Mountain, Red Fox Coffee Merchants, Starbucks, and Stumptown Coffee) will taste the coffees in a blind cupping.

Following the cupping events, laboratory-based sensory tests will be performed at the sensory lab of Kansas State University. CRS and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) will collaborate to conduct socioeconomic analyses of the sensory findings. The results will be published in 2015.

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