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WaPost: The Desperate Search for Climate Change Resistant Coffee Plants

Essay by Eric Worrall

Our heroic coffee explorers trekking through remote African wilderness, searching for species which can withstand global warming.

To survive climate change, coffee must embrace new and resilient beans

By Marissa Garcia
June 9, 2022 at 8:00 a.m. EDT

The research team’s task was as lofty as the mountains they scaled in December 2018. Their mission? To find a coffee species not seen for nearly 70 years in Sierra Leone.

The species, though lost to the wild, lived on in textbooks. Daniel Sarmu, a local researcher on the team, had searched from “field to field” for four years. If any peculiar plant caught his eye, he’d collect a sample, hoping it’d be the lost species. But each genetic test came back negative; the search carried onward.

Until the expedition in 2018, when researchers found one plant of Coffea stenophylla in the largely deforested Kasewe Hills.

The moment was bittersweet. To regrow the elusive species, they needed to cross this plant with another — but a second stenophylla plant was not in sight. A few days later, they ventured to Kambui Hills. After just an hour of hiking — a drop in the bucket compared with Sarmu’s four-year search — they uncovered 20 plants. At all life stages, stenophylla was flourishing: seedlings, saplings and trees.

“Then, we knew we had something to build upon in terms of rescuing the species,” recalls Jeremy Haggar, a researcher on the team and a professor of agroecology at the University of Greenwich.

Read more:

Let us hope our intrepid explorers discover their magic beans.

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Tom Halla
June 10, 2022 10:03 am

All the losses in coffee growing regions I am aware of were due to frost

Reply to  Tom Halla
June 10, 2022 11:41 am

That’s why they call it “climate change.” Anything counts and is eligible for funding. Global warming was too narrow a focus.

June 10, 2022 10:04 am

All you need to know about coffee:

Coffea is a genus of flowering plants in the family RubiaceaeCoffea species are shrubs or small trees native to tropical and southern Africa and tropical Asia

June 10, 2022 10:11 am

They will find it right next to the ivory-billed woodpecker and probably ahead of a pending enviro court date.

Reply to  ResourceGuy
June 10, 2022 7:30 pm

After the kill every last Gorilla to get access to it 🙂

June 10, 2022 10:12 am

Would this be the famous Lost Dutchman Coffee tin?

Steve Case
June 10, 2022 10:23 am

The research team’s task was as lofty as the mountains they scaled in December 2018. Their mission? To find a coffee species not seen for nearly 70 years in Sierra Leone.

Maybe they will discover the East Pole hefalumps and woozles.

Reply to  Steve Case
June 10, 2022 10:55 am

Well, if you’re going to be First To Trek To The East Pole, you’re probably gonna need some coffee. It’s a long, long way away.

Ben Vorlich
June 10, 2022 10:25 am

Wouldn’t it be simpler to extend the area in which Coffee is grown? Probably cheaper too

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
June 10, 2022 2:14 pm

That has happened. Aribica was originally indigenous to Ethiopian highland forests, but now produces none because of deforestation. The main commercial Aribica grow regions are now moderately mountainous regions of Columbia, Brazil, and Indonesia.
Robusta was indigenous to SE Asia, and Vietnam is still the main commercial grower.

Reply to  Ben Vorlich
June 10, 2022 7:33 pm

They are looking for hot air surely planting it on every Parliament, UN and Green NGO headquarters would be the go.

June 10, 2022 10:34 am

Never mind the magic beans, I think they have been eating too many magic mushrooms.

Flash Chemtrail
Reply to  Oldseadog
June 10, 2022 11:16 am

Magic mushrooms do not make one stupid, self righteous nor devout.

Reply to  Flash Chemtrail
June 11, 2022 6:31 am

But they do make one do stupid things.

Dave Fair
June 10, 2022 10:37 am

I just can’t get used to saying “gimme a cuppa Brandon.”

Downscaling unverified climate models is a no-no.

Rud Istvan
June 10, 2022 10:42 am

The climate change/coffee alarm pops up again. I covered a 2012 version of the alarm in essay ‘Last Cup of Coffee’ in ebook Blowing Smoke. Wait a decade, recycle the faux alarm.
As if the internet has no memory and books specifically debunking such nonsense do not exist.

The only reason the rediscovery is important is genetic diversity, to insure against coffea disease in aribica (the more valuable of two commercially grown coffees). The newly rediscovered ‘highland coffee’ isn’t grown commercially because of low yield and small berry size. The name is a misnomer—it grows on hilltops in low lying rain forest at 200-500 meters. The flavor is similar to arabica, hence the potential future genetic utility. Aribica was originally found from 1000-2000 meters altitude but now extirpated in severely deforested Ethiopia.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 11, 2022 1:06 am

The rediscoveries they’re talking about are stenophylla and affinis. Nothing to do with arabica or robusta.

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Loydo
June 11, 2022 3:38 am

As rud stated:

The only reason the rediscovery is important is genetic diversity, to insure against coffea disease in aribica

Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
June 11, 2022 4:05 am

Nope, nothing to do with genetic diversity in arabica. These are two different species, distinct from arabica and robusta. They are being investigated because they are more tolerant of warmer conditions than arabica and may produce a cup of the same quality, thus potentially overcoming arabica’s limitaions due to AGW.

And as far as coffee being “extirpated” in Ethiopia, thats just more hogwash. Its the world’s third largest arabica producer behind Brazil and Columbia.

Reply to  Loydo
June 11, 2022 6:51 am

Why are you pretending not to understand what he said? “Insure against disease in Arabica” not “biodiversity in Aribica”
You autistic, pedantic Asperger.

Reply to  Matt
June 11, 2022 3:04 pm

Stay obstinately wrong. This story has nothing to do with “Insuring against disease in Arabica”.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Loydo
June 11, 2022 8:41 am

Loy’doh, you’re such a drip.

June 10, 2022 11:00 am

More hubris

“…rescuing the species,”

Reply to  fretslider
June 10, 2022 8:52 pm

99.9 % of all species that ever lived are already extinct. I would think that trend is hard to change regardless of any effort.

June 10, 2022 11:05 am

Isn’t COLD the climate problem for coffee? Wouldn’t global warming boost the amount of coffee growing acreage?

Bob boder
Reply to  Art
June 10, 2022 11:40 am


Ed Zuiderwijk
June 10, 2022 11:07 am

Wasn’t there an awful lot of coffee in Brazil?

Bob boder
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
June 10, 2022 11:41 am

Yep and a lot of it got damaged last year in a big frost.

R Taylor
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
June 10, 2022 12:22 pm

Yes, among the Brazilians coffee beans grow by the billions!

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
June 10, 2022 2:14 pm

June 10, 2022 11:16 am

Hmm yes a climate warrior expedition. The list of elusive prey is extensive, magic coffee beans, leprechauns, bigfoot, unicorns, winged pegasus, global warming. Will our intrepid hero’s make it out alive.

Reply to  DPP
June 10, 2022 11:25 am

Will our intrepid hero’s make it out alive.”

I hope not.

June 10, 2022 11:22 am

More CO2, less Green.

Joe Gordon
June 10, 2022 11:24 am

It’s an unusual hobby. Glad he found his plant. Next up: collecting all the tea in China.

Pete Bonk
June 10, 2022 11:43 am

Kasewe Hills and Kambui Hills; are these the famous coffee purveyors found in US markets known as the Hills Brothers? 🙂

June 10, 2022 12:19 pm

If the coffee was economically viable and tasted okay it wouldn’t be hard to find at all. Global warming (if it was actually warming) should expand the coffee zones.

Rainer Bensch
Reply to  Brian
June 11, 2022 5:13 am

Yes, but they prepare for the future when we were successful to cool down the globe using windmills and solar panels. Surely they look for plants that stand cooler temps.

June 10, 2022 12:37 pm

You think people are hard to get along with after COVID, lockdowns, Biden, inflation, The EU, Ukraine and all the rest?
Hold onto your hats. If anything harms the coffee crops and there is shortages then LOOK OUT.
All Hell breaks loose.

It will be a good thing to have lots of varieties in the gene banks.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  TonyL
June 10, 2022 2:27 pm

Actually, the 2012 MSM coffee scare was similar misreporting of an otherwise scientifically legitimate project. Aribica was originally indigenous to Ethiopia forest highlands, now 95% deforested. The misreported 2012 project scoured the remaining 5% looking for aribica varietals or related species. They eventually found about 50 remaining Coffea plant varieties from which they took multiple cuttings for propagation in the UK in a ‘Coffea’ gene bank of live plants. The concern was and is Coffea plant disease, since commercial aribica is NOT genetically diverse. Same potential disease problem as with commercial banana plantations, and for the same reasons.

Even MSM figures banana’s are NOT threatened by AGW, while coffee is.

Bruce Cobb
June 10, 2022 12:48 pm

I suggest they call the beans –



Reply to  Bruce Cobb
June 10, 2022 5:57 pm

I bet Jesus could make a good cup of coffee, something to do with Hebrews.

June 10, 2022 1:17 pm

Seems as if coffee plants made it through the Medieval Warm Period, so they should make it now.

Reply to  Eric-ji
June 10, 2022 2:11 pm

Haven’t you heard? The MWP really only happened in a few low lying valleys and seaports. Including those would have been using bad data and scientists don’t use bad data. Just ask Mann.

Last edited 11 months ago by AndyHce
June 10, 2022 2:07 pm

A few years ago there was a doomsday story about the possible loss, or rise to unaffordability, of your morning coffee due to the fact that so many South American coffee plantations were being purchased, bulldozed down, and turned into luxury suburbs (a la prime farmland in the US?). I guess that is a climate change of a sort.

June 10, 2022 2:26 pm

I think the variety that grows in ETHIOPIA will do just fine…

June 10, 2022 2:45 pm

Until the expedition in 2018, when researchers found one plant of Coffea stenophylla in the largely deforested Kasewe Hills.”

Sierra Leone ranges from 7°N to 10°N Latitude; Côte d’Ivoire is a little east of Sierra Leone around 7° 32’N Latitude-wise; Republic of Guinea wraps around Sierra Leone to the North and East around 10°N to 11°N Latitude.

Apparently, these characters ignored the memo that tropics are largely unaffected by the alleged CO₂ caused global warming.

Nor have they identified exactly what qualities they expect tropical growing ‘Coffea stenophylla’ to have that they must conduct a desperate search…

Daniel Sarmu, a local researcher on the team, had searched from “field to field” for four years…

…A few days later, they ventured to Kambui Hills. After just an hour of hiking — a drop in the bucket compared with Sarmu’s four-year search — they uncovered 20 plants.”

One gets the distinct impression that they did not know what they were looking for nor any concept what the plant looks like.

Four years and no lost coffee plants. A couple of weeks in different locations and they suddenly find 21 plants.
Last dollars of their grant, perhaps?

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  ATheoK
June 11, 2022 10:33 pm

Maybe if they are desparate for money, they should stop looking for coffee and look for diamonds instead. Like, you know, old time adventure of some sort, as in maybe, say:

June 10, 2022 3:52 pm

“Climate change” isn’t anthropogenic. Climate activism is.

June 10, 2022 11:27 pm

Surely Greens should be banning the production of coffee and shipping it around the world to prevent climate change not hunting it in the wild?

Oh, wait, where would they get their morning long brewed, breve-long macchiato-mocha-latte from?

June 11, 2022 2:29 am

even more daft when the biggest ruination of coffee crops for the last 2 or 3 seasons is

Mark BLR
June 11, 2022 4:56 am

The FAOSTAT website only provides data from 1961, but this includes the roughly 1°C rise observed in GMST since the mid-1970s … which is a full half of the “dangerous” +2°C “global warming” that will [ definitely, absolutely, 100% guaranteed certain … because the climate models say so … ] wreak havoc on mankind in the near future.

As the graph below “clearly” demonstrates, this +1°C of warming has a definite negative correlation with the FAO’s official “World : Coffee, green” production numbers, and has already resulted in an absolutely devastating drop in production …

… Oh ! … Wait …

June 11, 2022 6:29 am

This as I enjoy my 2nd cup of freshly brewed Tim Hortons. I don’t think I could be a truck driver without coffee!

June 11, 2022 6:40 am

Nonsense. Unusual cold hurt the coffee market most recently.
Its time these “journalist” (propagandist) start getting outed for lying.

PS. Don’t start dreaming of growing coffee in VT just yet.

Nicholas McGinley
June 13, 2022 11:13 am

Am I the only one that had to look up and watch this episode of South Park?

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