The coffee you drank this morning could be 600,000 years old

The coffee you drank this morning could be 600,000 years old. Using the genes of coffee plants from around the world, researchers constructed the family tree of the most popular variety in the world — Coffea arabica.

They found that this species emerged about 600,000 years ago as a result of natural hybridization of two other coffee species. «In other words, before any human intervention,» said biologist Victor Albert of the University at Buffalo, as reported by NYP.

These wild coffee plants originated in Ethiopia, but it is believed that they were first roasted and brewed mainly in Yemen starting from the 1400s. According to legend, in the 1600s, Indian monk Baba Budan smuggled seven raw coffee beans to his homeland from Yemen.

Arabica coffee, prized for its smooth and relatively sweet taste, currently occupies 60–70% of the world coffee market. The rest is robusta, a stronger and more bitter coffee.

To piece together the history of arabica coffee, researchers studied the genomes of C. canephora, Coffea eugenioides, and over 30 different arabica plants, including a sample from the 1700s — graciously provided by the Natural History Museum in London.

«The study sheds light on how arabica originated and identifies clues that can help preserve the crop,» said Fabian Echeverria, advisor to the Coffee Research and Education Center at Texas A&M University.

Studying the past and present of arabica can provide insight into how to keep coffee plants healthy.

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