What Is F1 Hybrid Coffee? What Are The Advantages Of Hybrids?

What Is F1 Hybrid Coffee? What Are The Advantages Of Hybrids?

Hybrid coffees have the potential to score higher on cupping tests and are grown to have better disease resistance and better yields. But what kind of coffee are they? Why do we need to care about it? Is it possible for a hybrid to replace an existing single strain such as Bourbon or Tippecka?

A Quick Look At Coffee Varieties

Before we look at the hybrids, let's take a quick look at the varieties of coffee. There are around a hundred known varieties of coffee, but in the general category of coffee shops, you will only find Arabica, Robusta, or a blend of both.

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Arabica is the most commonly used variety and is known for its high quality flavour and aroma, but at the same time, the Arabica tree is less resistant to pests and diseases. Robusta, on the other hand, is more resistant to pests and diseases, has higher caffeine content, and is generally more bitter than Arabica (although there are still some so-called fine Robusta coffees in circulation in the fine coffee world).

Today, only Arabica still dominates the boutique coffee industry, and this variety is subdivided into many varieties, each with different flavour characteristics, disease resistance, yields, and the right environment for growing.

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Coffee Varieties And Diversity

The lack of diversity in Arabica coffee is a problem.

The different varieties of the species should increase genetic diversity. However, it actually has a worrying 98.8% genetic similarity. To illustrate this, comparing crops such as rice and soya beans, which are only 70-80% similar, makes Arabica even more vulnerable.

If leaf rust affects a particular variety, it is likely to affect other similar varieties. For this reason, many strains that are protected against leaf rust are extensions of the Catimor. These are a blend of the Arabica varieties Cadura and Timor, which is itself a blend of Arabica and Robusta. Robusta adds disease resistance and diversity. However, it also means that buyers of fine coffee may be hesitant about the quality of these varieties.

Combined with the effects of global climate change, this could lead to the disappearance of the Arabica variety if nothing is done to address the problem.

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Why Is There A Lack Of Diversity In Arabica?

Ethiopia, the birthplace of the coffee gene, has the widest range of Arabica varieties. In fact, a few years ago, a study showed that over 95% of coffee genes originated in Ethiopia.

There are many varieties that grow in the wild in Ethiopia. If you see a bag of coffee beans labelled as native to Ethiopia, it probably means that it is grown in the wild or that it has been cultivated to a very low degree.

You may also find that some cultivars, such as the popular Cuisinart, started out in Ethiopia and were brought to Panama to flourish.

Most Arabica varieties, however, are no more than Tippecas, Bourbons, and related extensions.

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Are Hybrids A Solution?

Traditional Arabica varieties have either been lucky enough to mutate in their natural state or have been cultivated by hand (known as cultivars).

However, whether or not they are cultivars, their lack of genetic diversity and low disease resistance has always been a problem, so some have looked to F1 hybrids. These are varieties that have been propagated on a large scale in the laboratory and researchers have been able to work across a wide variety of coffees to create the desired quality and properties.

With regard to hybrid coffee planting, the results of hybrids can be seen in a very short period of time through asexual reproduction.

Hybrids are an effective way to achieve greater improvements in yield, quality, and appearance, and can survive in areas that suffer from drought or frequent rainfall.

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F1 hybrids are often stronger and healthier than naturally bred ones. This allows F1 hybrids to survive in harsh environmental conditions, says William, although it is unlikely that natural varieties will have the same level of diversity and therefore the same hardiness as F1 hybrids.

Is It Possible To Create The Perfect Coffee Variety By Hand?

Talking about 'creating' the perfect variety can be a bit misleading: researchers can't just imagine a variety and then create it. What can be done, however, is to breed new varieties from hybrids with the same characteristics.

William says that at their research institute, CATIE, the aim of their research is to expand the genetic base of Arabica. By crossing commercial varieties such as Kadura, Kadouai, and CR95 with the wild coffee varieties in the CATIE range. (Remember the wild varieties in Ethiopia?)

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The team has successfully developed over 100 hybrids. Of these, 20 have been selected and replicated through biotechnology. The next stage is six to seven years of field research to further narrow down which hybrids should be commercially available. The team is looking for coffees with high productivity, disease resistance, and flavour quality.

In previous years, five of these 20 hybrids were marketed in Central America, and there are plans to test them in parts of South America, Africa, and Asia.

In recent years, the hybrids have proved successful and Centroamericano, a variety that scored 90.5 points in the Nicaraguan Cup of Excellence, is an exceptional result and a bright spot for the future prospects of the F1 hybrids, a cross between Sultan Rumet and a rust-proof variety called T5296. In addition to its potential for high quality coffee, it also has high yield and disease resistance.

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Is It Possible For A Hybrid To Be Better Than A Natural Variety?

The hybrids sound like the perfect choice, and Jose and William say that most of these coffees are of high quality, with disease resistance and exceptional flavour qualities. The flavour and aroma can be more pleasing than many traditional varieties. In Costa Rica, some F1 hybrids can double the productivity of the widely grown Kadura and Kadouai.

However, the quality of coffee can be attributed to a number of factors, including altitude, equatorial distance, and growing temperature, all of which affect the rate of ripening of the fruit, and the slower the ripening rate, the better the flavour. The soil provides the nutrients that allow the coffee tree to grow healthier and thus produce better coffee beans. Volcanic soils, for example, have a high level of nitrogen.

For example, the World Coffee Research Laboratory (WCR) recommends that Centroamericano be grown at altitudes of over 1,500 meters, with some varieties growing at even higher altitudes.

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Planting, harvesting, and handling methods all affect flavour quality, for example, a farmer only harvests the ripe fruit and dries it on a trellis. Specific treatments can also amplify the flavour characteristics of the coffee: sun or honey treatments, for example, can intensify the sweetness of the coffee, while washing can bring out a cleaner and brighter taste. Certain coffees and regions of origin are better suited to certain treatments.

Pedro Gomez, a Barista lecturer at the Colombian National Learning Service (SENA), reminds us that in the end, consumers will judge their choice based on preference, and not everyone's preference is subjective.

There are many reasons why producers can choose to produce non-hybrid varieties on their farms, as consumers are still interested in varieties such as Cuisinart, Bourbon, and Cardura.

However, F1 hybrids are an exciting development for the coffee industry and may be the answer to problems such as poor genetic diversity in Arabica, climate change, and leaf rust. Perhaps we can look forward to their development in the future.

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