An interesting article about the search for more genetic diversity in coffee plants to make more productive and hardier hybrids. I'm not sure how long the WSJ will keep the article open, so read it while you can.
Companies are turning to exploration to ensure future coffee supplies because production has leveled off even as demand has increased, causing coffee-bean prices to quadruple since 2001.
The world consumed 17.6 billion pounds of coffee beans last year, up from 2.6 billion in 1982, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. But production in Colombia, which provides 10% of the world's Arabica beans, has dropped 36% since 2005. Output in Brazil, the world's leading Arabica producer, recently hit a four-year low.
Many factors are causing coffee's problems, experts say, including climate changes in some coffee-growing areas and population growth in Central America, which has led to pressure to convert coffee plots into housing and shopping malls.
Coffee historians believe most of the world's Arabica coffee crop shares genetic ancestry with two 18th century plants: one brought to Europe from Indonesia, and another taken from Yemen and cultivated in Brazil.
That's why some coffee-industry experts favor expanding the varieties of coffee being cultivated and crossbreeding plants to strengthen them. "The holy grail is a heat-resistant varietal that provides quality coffee," says Patrick Criteser, chief executive of Coffee Bean International, which supplies the private-label coffees to such retailers as Target and Kroger and is part of World Coffee Research. "If we could develop that, it would solve a lot of our problems."