How Old Is Arabica Coffee?

When we ask how old is arabica coffee we are not talking about stale coffee that has lost all of its antioxidant properties. Rather we are asking how far back in time the arabica coffee variety came to be. In regard to people drinking arabica coffee we know that coffee was first consumed by humans in what is today Ethiopia nearly a thousand years ago. Arabica coffee crossed over to what is today Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and from there spread across the world. Evidence of when arabica coffee came to be by natural cross breeding so long ago comes from a study just published about a newly sequenced genome by the University of Buffalo.

When Was the First Arabica Coffee?

Long, long before anyone ever contemplated drinking coffee and even before modern humans walked on the earth there were arabica coffee plants. A breeding and genetics study just completed and reported date the first arabica to about 600,000 years ago. What the scientists tell us is that in what is today Ethiopia natural cross pollination between coffee plants in the wild resulted in a relatively stable coffee plant that has retained its genetic makeup for a very long time.

Why Study the Genetics of Arabica Coffee?

The research that produced an estimate of arabica coffee being more than half a million years old did not just get done because it is an interesting topic. Nestle and other big actors in the coffee world are concerned about how high quality arabica coffee will survive as the world’s climate heats up. They want more detailed genetic information about high quality arabica coffee in order to guide research into more resistant and hardier varieties that retain the current quality of a good cup of arabica, organic or not.

Arabica Is a Climate Change Survivor

One of the things that scientists want to study is now arabica coffee maintained a relatively stable genetic makeup ever since it was naturally created so long ago. Over the last 600,000 years the earth has seen ice ages in which temperatures were much lower. However, roughly 60,000 years ago it was about as hot globally as it is today after human activity has heated up the planet. What the genetic record with arabica coffee tells us is that this coffee variety has remained roughly the same throughout temperature ups and downs. What we do not know for sure is how many arabica plants there were during the times of greatest climate stress and how may during ideal climate conditions. What coffee scientists would like to know is how to preserve arabica production in the coming years and if newer genetic information will help in that regard. The recent evidence seems to tell us that arabica is a climate change survivor.

Can Arabica Characteristics Be Genetically Transferred to Robusta?

What makes arabica different genetically is what is called polyploidy which is multiple copies of many of its chromosomes. While this may make arabica a variety that does not change much over time it may be a hindrance to direct genetic manipulation in search of greater hardiness combined by great flavor and aroma. What that may well mean is that the best ways to maintain and improve arabica strains is what scientists have been doing for generations, cross breeding and picking the offspring with the best results to create newer, stronger, and great tasting coffees.

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