The overwhelming majority of coffee exists within the confines of two species: Arabica and Robusta. While other species, like Eugenioides, have made cameos in the high-end coffee zeitgeist, Arabica and Robusta’s ubiquity are enough to give one the impression that they are the only two species of coffee to exist. But in fact, the number of known coffee species is well over 100. And with a recently study the number is only going up, thanks to the discovery of six new coffee species in Madagascar.
Published recently in the journal Kew Bulletin, coauthors Dr. Aaron Davis and Dr. Franck Rakotonasolo—both of Kew Gardens—state the six species are “new to science.” The new species are: Coffea callmanderi, C. darainensis, C. kalobinonensis, C. microdubardii, C. pustulata, and C. rupicola.
Per the paper, the six species were all found in northern part of the island nation off the southeastern coast of continental Africa: three in Loky Manambato in the Daraina area, two in Galoko-Kalobinono, and one in but not restricted to the Daraina area.
Though not typically thought of for its coffee—at least in terms of what makes it to our mugs every morning—Madagascar is one of the most genetically diverse places on the planet for coffee. With the six new discoveries Madagascar is home to 65 different coffee species, exactly half of the 130 now known. Per the paper, the rest of Africa only has 48 species.
Dr. Davis—whose most recent paper uncovered a wild-grown coffee species in Sierra Leone, Stenophylla, with potential implications for the future of coffee production— says that the qualities of these six new species is largely unknown right now and that it will be “some years before these coffees are evaluated in any way” for any qualities that may be utilized in the fight to protect coffee from climate change.
Still, even without any defined impact on the future of coffee, the discovery of these new species is exciting. Here are six as-yet-unknown species of coffee existing in the wild, without any need for human intervention. One of these species could provide new insight into resiliency in coffee production, perhaps even suitable to hybridize with Arabica. Or maybe the future of coffee isn't in girding Arabica but in diversifying the number of species commercially produced.
Maybe one day we won't be talking about the differences between Bourbon and Typica, but between Arabica and Robusta and Stenophylla and Callmanderi and Rupicola. The truth is we don't really know what the future of coffee looks like, but the continuing discovery of coffee's diversity is better equipping to deal with what may come.