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Coffea Canephora: the "R" word.

In the 20 year history of the re-birth of coffee in America, those who have fueled the new growth with their toil and championed the idea of varietal and Arabica-blend coffees have steadfastly stood by the maxim that C. Canephora species coffee did not belong in specialty coffee or in the specialty lexicon other than as a pejorative term. It was beneath contempt for a coffee merchant to offer any product blended with 'You know what' and still claim to be a gourmet roaster. Those who practiced on both sides of the coffee fence were considered opportunists and worse.

At a panel discussion on espresso, chaired by Bill Mohrweis (Veneto's Coffee, Seattle WA) at the well attended 1990 Specialty Coffee Conference in Oakland, the question of the use of "Those" kind of beans in much of the espresso produced in Italy and France arose for a few moments. The mention of the "R" word was brief, still the temperature in the room rose perceptively during the exchange of views. Later several panelists including the well respected Jerry Baldwin (Peet's Emeryville, CA) mentioned that they were not happy that the topic had even arisen. There was a perception by others that even the mention of the "R" Word had compromised the discussion group.

I did not hear the "R" Word once at the 1991 Specialty Coffee Conference in Orlando, which fact I found interesting. We should not gravely avoid the discussion of a hot topic. We should each research, think, and draw our own conclusions; then discuss openly every issue.

I have discouraged the acceptance of C. Canephora because, like Mr. Baldwin, to my mind, the specie is incompatible with the spirit of virtue that our coffee should represent to the world. The gospel according to David Weinstein (My teacher at the cupping table, and the teacher of my father) calls for uncompromisable coffees. Coffea Canephora is a compromise. No coffeeman adds Canephora to a blend based on the taste qualities it brings to the table.

On historical principles, the American trade should abstain from use of the coffee as an atonement for the C. Canephora excesses of the last generation. It would be best to scrupulously avoid its use except in the very narrowest drawn circumstances and applications. This is prudent. It is sometimes not unwise to be overly cautious, even to err on the side of caution. We in the United States should understand, though, that "Gourmet" blends containing C. Canephora are accepted in polite European coffee society. Indeed many Americans prefer blends which include these coffees.

Suffice to say the above are not the last words on the subject. The topic continues to be red hot, so beginning today and continuing for the next three issues of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal we will be taking an in depth look at ROBUSTA.

There are about 3.5 billion C. canephora trees yielding fruit today. Much of this production is in Central and Western Africa; Ivory Coast, Uganda, Cameroon and Zaire where virtually all of production is given over to canephora cultivation.

Producing areas of the Pacific particularly Indonesia have been marketing large quantities of Robusta since its introduction to its islands in 1901. An epidemic of Hemileia Vastatrix (leaf rust disease) begun in 1878 had decimated almost all C. Arabica Javas in districts below 3,500 ft. by that time. The rubber business was booming at the close of the 19th century so rubber was planted in place of the lost coffee. Hearty and fast growing Robusta coffee was planted to provide shade for the rubber trees. When the rubber boom collapsed and the planters went back to coffee they cultivated Robusta groves, as the shade trees had proven to be resistant to the dreaded leaf rust.

For generations the accepted American market name for all coffees of Indonesian (Netherlands East Indies) origin was "Java." Prior to the 20th century this appellation was applied to all the coffees of Java, Sumatra, Bali, Timor and their sister islands.

Eight years after C. Canephora's botanical classification as a new (read 'different') specie of coffee the U.S. government had yet to recognize Robusta coffee. In 190?, with the passage of the first Pure Food laws in the United States, the Department of Agriculture ruled that coffee was the seed of the Coffea Arabica or Coffea Liberica plant only. Only Arabica from the island of Java was "Java." .By U.S. government standards of the day Robusta Coffee wasn't coffee at all. It was something else. Something less.

As the young 20th century emerged the U.S. trade found that more and more Robusta coffee from the East was delivered against contracts calling for "Java" to the chagrin and dismay of American roasters. U.S. Government agencies and industry groups took action to protect American coffee roasters from this fraud masquerading as coffee. The New York Coffee & Sugar Exchange forbade the delivery of Robusta coffees against exchange contracts after March 1, 1912. In 1921, the U.S. Bureau of Chemistry ruled that Robusta could not be sold under any name which tended to convey the impression by direction or indirection that the beans were Coffea Arabica.

Commerce will out however, and under new rules the trading of Robustas, under their own contract, began on The New York Coffee & Sugar Exchange in 1925. Still, only Arabica beans from the island of Java may be marketed as "Javas" in the United States. Robusta beans from the Island of Java or any other Indonesian island must be marketed in the United States as Indonesian Robusta.

In the generation following World War II Indonesia became well known for Robusta coffee. The EK-1 and 20/25 grades of INDO Robustas became almost synonymous with the poor world-wide reputation of the American cup in the 1960's and 70's. Indonesia grows about 6.2 million bags (370,000 tons) of Robusta coffee every year.

Much to Indonesia's credit, there is a big push on there to improve the export position of their coffees by cultivating the good name of Indonesia's traditional Arabica specialties which are so well regarded and bring such healthy foreign exchange premiums in the trade. AEKI (Indonesian Coffee Exporters Association) and the Department of Agriculture of the Jakarta government have begun efforts to increase the availability of Indonesia's great coffee assets of Java, Sumatra, and Celebes by encouraging the cultivation of Arabica trees in the highlands to replace Robusta. About 500,000 bags (30,000 tons) of Arabica coffees are now produced in Indonesia each year.

There are tertiary production areas for Robustas in the Philippines and other Pacific islands. India and other nations of the Asian sub-continent also grow Robusta coffee, as does Ecuador and others in the Americas.
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Title Annotation:part 1; Robusta coffee
Author:Schoenholt, Donald N.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:East European markets are undergoing structural changes.
Next Article:For espresso lovers only.

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