Coffee Varieties: Sarchimor

A coffee variety more resistant to coffee leaf rust than most is sarchimor. This is a hybrid between the Costa Rican Villa Sarchi coffee and a Timor variety. Timor coffee itself is a hybrid between Arabica and robusta which is what gives the coffee its leaf rust resistance. Besides being grown today in Costa Rica, the sarchimor variety is grown in India.

Coffee Leaf Rust Resistance

The leading quality of this coffee is its leaf rust resistance. Coffee leaf rust is a plant disease that not only kills coffee plants but wipes out coffee plantation.

A seemingly eternal threat to growing healthy organic coffee is a fungus that is native to the tropics where coffee is grown. Leaf rust attacks coffee crops and leaf rust kills organic coffee crops. If an organic grower is unable to treat the problem with non-chemical means he risks losing his crop and his livelihood. The fungus’ proper name is Hemileia vastatrix. When it is not controlled the disease kills coffee plants and reduces coffee growers to poverty. It starts as an orange to yellow somewhat powdery discoloration on the underside of the leave of the coffee plant. It begins as spots, less than a millimeter in diameter and grows to millimeters diameter with a pale yellow discoloration. It is known among Latin American coffee growers as “roya.” The issue for organic growers is that quarantine and destruction of individual plants is not always effective. Thus a grower who has put the time, effort, and money into getting organic coffee certification may lose everything unless he turns his back on organic practices and spays the heck out of his coffee plants. Then he can only sell his produce at regular coffee prices and not the higher prices that good quality organic coffee commands. If he loses his crop he needs to replant, probably after spraying the soil, and wait several years for new coffee plants to reach maturity.

The ideal approach to coffee leaf rust is to find a variety that has native resistance such as sarchimor or cross breed with Timor strains to produce leaf rust resistance strains such as the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation did in combating the disease.

The Colombian Approach

Colombia developed new varieties to combat leaf rust.

When coffee leaf rust swept into Latin America the Colombian coffee research organization, Cenicafé started work on producing a Colombian leaf rust resistant coffee. This was in the 1980s. Today Colombian leaf rust resistant coffee comes in two varieties, Colombian and Castillo. The first is a cross between an old Colombian variety, Caturra, and a rust-resistant strain from Southeast Asia, the Timor hybrid. Castillo is an offshoot of further cross breeding of the first Colombian leaf rust resistant coffee strain. Replanting with Colombian leaf rust resistant coffee in Colombia has reduced the incidence of leaf rust from 40% to 5% from 2011 to 2013.

Similar to sarchimor, the new Colombian varieties use traits of the Timor hybrid to combat this lethal plant disease. One can find healthy organic coffee in all of these varieties as any are amenable to the sustainable growing practices required for organic coffee certification.

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