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An in depth SCAA Expo preview: A panel discussion on The Coffee Variety Conundrum

2016-04-04 Comments

SCAA Preview in Depth:  The Coffee Variety Conundrum: Does Breeding for Disease Resistance Come at the Expense of Flavor?

Friday, April 15th, 9AM Room B407,Spanish translation available

About this time last year, my first post for the Coffeelands Blog introduced this idea- the coffee variety conundrum – namely, how difficult it is to be a coffee farmer and to make an informed decision on what variety(ies) of coffee to plant.  This is a major investment for farmers, one that needs to take into account financial, production, climatic, and market considerations. For the majority of smallholder coffee farmers globally there are few sources of reliable information regarding the qualities of the varieties that are available to them.  Explored in the Colombia Sensory Trials (CST), held in conjunction with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Kansas State University (KSU), World Coffee Research (WCR) and coffee cuppers and buyers from eight of the world’s most influential coffee brands, CRS tried to quantify the varietal tradeoffs for farmers in Colombia – do they go high risk-high reward by planting Caturra (potential for high quality + price, yet susceptible to coffee leaf rust), or do they play it safe and plant Castillo (reputation for lower quality, yet rust resistant and heavily supported by the national federation)? Do we really understand the basis of these tradeoffs? The CST then explored if there was a real sensory basis behind the quality reputations of the varieties. Castillo surprised and showed that it can be as good as Caturra in its own way.  What can we learn from the CST and how can we apply it to other situations globally where new varieties are emerging?  SL28 vs. Batian vs. Riuru 11 in East Africa? In Central America, what about Catuai/Bourbon vs. Marsellesa? Lempira vs. Tipica?  Anacafe 14 vs. Bourbon? Obvioulsly these are choices that are much more complex than the false dichotomies that I have presented – rather these are meant to stimulate discussion for the panel detailed above at the SCAA Expo.

I am honored to moderate this panel that will attempt to explore these tradeoffs in depth.  What are the challenges facing farmers and why is varietal selection so important? Why are disease resistant varieties associated with sub-par cupping scores?  Why can’t we just plant the varieties with the best flavor everywhere (Gesha, SL 28, Bourbon)?  What does the market want (and does it know what it wants?)? We hope to touch on these topics during our discussion.

This panel gathers expertise from every side to explore this topic:

Science and Breeding: Dr. Tim Schilling, the Executive Director for the World Coffee Research (WCR).  WCR is a non-profit, collaborative research and development program that seeks to grow, protect and enhance the supplies of quality coffee while improving the livelihoods of the farmers. Dr. Shilling brings years of experience to this discussion as a former plant breeder and can share with us the projects and tools being developed at WCR to help advance coffee breeding.

Origin and postharvest: Dr. Edgardo Alpizar is a Costa Rican National working as the managing director for Sustainable Management Systems at ECOM in Nicaragua.  He worked with CIRAD to develop and release new hybrid varieties in Central America and is currently experimenting with management techniques and postharvest processing that provides the best quality coffee for farmers and exporters.

Quality and Markets: Timothy Hill is Counter Culture Coffee’s coffee buyer and quality manager.  He’s absolutely fanatical about quality coffees and in the Colombia Sensory Trial that took place last year, he was one of the few cuppers to consistently distinguish between Caturra and Castillo.

Our hope is that the diversity of opinions will provide us with a rich discussion. Please join us on Friday morning at the Expo to learn more about these tradeoffs between flavor and disease resistance.

– Kraig Kraft


  • Kristin Rosenow says:

    Looks like a great line-up! I hope they make a video so that those not lucky enough to go to SCAA can see it too!

  • JAG says:

    Will there be a video of the lectura for those who could not make to Atlanta?

    • Kraig Kraft says:


      The SCAA does not record these lectures. I’ll post a recap here next week.

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