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Coffee is now an endangered species

The world isn't running out of coffee, but the coffee of the future may not taste as good

Coffee and sugar.

If you’re one of those runners who can’t get out the door without your morning coffee, enjoy it while you can, because according to an article in the journal Science, 60 per cent of the 124 different species of coffee may be on their way to extinction. 

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Perfect cup of coffee

The article was authored by several UK researchers. What this means for coffee drinkers is not that the world is running out of coffee, but that, according to Steven Salzberg, a professor from Johns Hopkins University commenting on the Science article for Forbes magazine, “… we might all be drinking a less-tasty brew in the years to come.”

Arabica and robusta beans (which account for 60 and 40 per cent of coffee sold globally) have been farmed in many countries for a very long time. And although arabica beans are generally considered to produce better-tasting coffee than robusta beans, many people actually prefer the stronger taste and higher caffeine content of robusta beans, and the robusta species “has… been responsible for overcoming most of the key issues for coffee sector sustainability”  for many years.

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Arabica and robusta beans are both vulnerable to pests and diseases to which many of the now-endangered wild varieties are resistant. The wild varieties can be, and frequently are, inter-bred with the farmed plants to create disease-resistant crop that produces good-tasting coffee. But that may not be possible for much longer as wild species are threatened by more frequent and severe drought, deforestation for agriculture, and climate change. And researchers have found that existing conservation measures are inadequate to their survival. 

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The 60 per cent figure is much higher than the global average of 22 per cent of plant species that are endangered. In Madagascar and Tanzania, more than 70 per cent of wild coffee species that have been so useful to the sustainability of coffee production, are now threatened.