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#54 | Re:co Podcast – Hanna Neuschwander on Unlocking Coffee’s Flavor Code (S5, Ep. 1)

#54 | Re:co Podcast – Hanna Neuschwander on Unlocking Coffee’s Flavor Code (S5, Ep. 1)

Today, we’re very happy to present the first episode of “The Role of Innovation and Technical Advancement,” a session recorded at Re:co Symposium this past April. This session explored and evaluated advances in innovation positioned to make an impact within our industry as we work to resolve the coffee price crisis.

How does a living thing get to be the way it is? How does a coffee come to taste the way it tastes? How does the plant’s blueprint for what’s possible—its genetics—interact with complex and changing environments to produce flavor in the cup? In today’s episode, Hanna Neuschwander, Director of Communications at World Coffee Research, describes a major global trial underway designed to help us understand how coffee genetics interact with the environment, and a new study that will let us see how these things impact coffee flavor and chemistry.

You’ll also hear an exciting announcement by SCA’s Chief Research Officer, Peter Guiliano, which ties into the big question this episode explores: How can we harness scientific understanding to “make coffee better” and open up new avenues for farmer profitability?

Special Thanks to Toddy

This talk from Re:co Seattle is supported by Toddy. For over 50 years, Toddy brand cold brew systems have delighted baristas, food critics, and regular folks alike. By extracting all the natural and delicious flavors of coffee and tea, Toddy Cold Brew Systems turn your favorite coffee beans and tea leaves into fresh cold brew concentrates, that are ready to serve and enjoy. Learn more about Toddy at http://www.toddycafe.com.

Related Links
Table of Contents

0:00 Introduction

Peter Giuliano Introduces the Coffee Science Foundation

3:00 The story of how scientific research in mushrooms and communication with the mushroom industry led to increased demand for mushrooms
9:00 Why the specialty coffee industry needs the Coffee Science Foundation
12:00 How the Coffee Science Foundation will function and what it needs from the specialty coffee industry

Hannah Neuschwander on Coffee Flavor

15:45 An explanation of Genetics-by-Environment Interaction (GEI): How the genetic potential of a coffee bean is expressed in its environment and why it matters
21:30 How does GEI interaction affect cup quality?
26:50 Explaining the global GEI trial to get this data
31:30 How the trial will measure flavor differences by measuring volatile organic compounds and by using WCR’s sensory lexicon
34:15 How this trial and the academic research will be coordinated across the world
39:00 Outro

Full Episode Transcript

0:00 Introduction

Peter Giuliano: Hello everybody, I’m Peter Giuliano, SCA’s Chief Research Officer. You’re listening to an episode of the Re:co Podcast, a series of the SCA Podcast. The Re:co podcast is dedicated to new thinking, discussion, and leadership in Specialty Coffee, featuring talks, discussions, and interviews from Re:co Symposium, the SCA’s premier event dedicated to amplifying the voices of those who are driving specialty coffee forward. Check out the show notes for links to our YouTube channel where you can find videos of these talks.

This episode of the Re:co Podcast is supported by Toddy. For over 50 years, Toddy brand cold brew systems have delighted baristas, food critics, and regular folks alike. By extracting all the natural and delicious flavors of coffee and tea, Toddy Cold Brew Systems turn your favorite coffee beans and tea leaves into fresh cold brew concentrates that are ready to serve and enjoy. Learn more about Toddy at toddycafe.com. Toddy: Cold brewed, simply better.

Re:co Symposium and the Specialty Coffee Expo are coming to Portland in April 2020. Don’t miss the forthcoming early-bird ticket release – find us on social media or sign up for our monthly newsletter to keep up-to-date with all our announcements.

Today, we’re very happy to present the first episode of “The Role of Innovation and Technical Advancement,” a session recorded at Re:co Symposium this past April. This session explored and evaluated advances in innovation positioned to make an impact within our industry as we work to resolve the coffee price crisis.

For those of you familiar with this year’s Re:co Program, you may notice that this episode – our first release of the Re:co 2019 Podcast series – comes from the session that closed this year’s event. This year’s event was all about coming together to learn, collaborate, and act to address the coffee price crisis that faces all of us in specialty coffee and, across our two days together, some big projects working to tackle different facets of the crisis were announced. Excitingly, these projects are just getting underway, so we wanted to kick off this year’s series with some clear and concrete calls-to-action!

How does a living thing get to be the way it is? How does a coffee come to taste the way it tastes? How does the plant’s blueprint for what’s possible—its genetics—interact with complex and changing environments to produce flavor in the cup? In today’s episode, Hanna Neuschwander, Director of Communications at World Coffee Research, describes a major global trial underway designed to help us understand how coffee genetics interact with the environment, and a new study that will let us see how these things impact coffee flavor and chemistry.

I also had some exciting things to announce just before Hanna began, which ties into the big question this episode explores: How can we harness scientific understanding to “make coffee better” and open up new avenues for farmer profitability?

To help you follow along in this podcast, I will chime in occasionally to help you visualize what you can’t see.

3:00 The story of how scientific research in mushrooms and communication with the mushroom industry led to increased demand for mushrooms

Peter Giuliano: Okay, so I’m taking off my Re:co hat now, and I’m putting on a different hat which has to do with my, as some of you may know my title with the SCA is the Chief Research Officer and Re:co is part of that initiative, our research initiative, but the research initiative that we have goes farther beyond this conference, but let me start with Re:co itself. So, those of you that joined us last year remember that on this day of the conference in the afternoon we had some conversations and we took some notes of those conversations and we built some word clouds based on what we thought were the important areas of focus required to move forward with coffee sustainability and of course, the question that we were asking ourselves was very much the same question that we’re asking ourselves today. Fiscal sustainability, social sustainability all these things that we’ve been talking about and you can see that the number one thing that this community that was talking about sustainability is the need for research.

In addition, if we’re if we look towards the same discussion that we had about economics and coffee and what we needed in order to make progress on understanding and improving the economics of coffee the number one response was data. So, to this community, there is a deep understanding of the concept that knowledge is important okay, and we get to knowledge through research and scientific investigation and we care about knowledge because we know that knowledge makes things better. So, when problems like this are confronting us like the current coffee crisis, we know that more knowledge can help us make things better. But the other thing about knowledge is that it sometimes it makes things better in unanticipated ways and let’s explore this a little bit, and in order to explore it, I just want to encourage us all to take mushrooms.

I didn’t mean these kinds of mushrooms. I meant these kinds of mushrooms and I mean, let’s take mushrooms for example. So, in the mushroom industry, there’s an organization much like ours. It’s called the Mushroom Council and in 2014 they started a research initiative. They wanted to understand more about one of the properties, the fundamental properties of mushrooms, which is this Umami characteristic. That’s one of the basic five basic tastes that we can perceive in our mouth and it’s a flavor that we associate with meatiness or savoriness and it’s clear that that property exists within mushrooms, but they did a sensory initiative to see if they could understand it better and this led to some scientific publications including this one by Miller et all talking about the flavor enhancing properties of mushrooms in meat-based dishes in which sodium has been reduced and meat has been partially substituted with mushrooms. So, this is a dense sort of scientific sensory scientific treatise, but notice what they’re talking about. They’re talking about understanding a little bit how mushrooms and meat might go together and enhance one another and something about reducing sodium and something about substitutions.

So, what the what that the mushroom council did is they took that scientific output and they put it in to lay language for their community and explained the results of this scientific study. This turned into somebody in the mushroom community said, wait a second, this has taught me something. This teaches us that if we take mushrooms and we chop them up really fine – the same sizes meat the meat particles in ground meat and mix them with ground beef – we’re going to going to get a good result because that’s what the research says and this initiative that was based on coffee on mushroom research, sensory research turned into itself a newsworthy item in the scientific community because now we’re making a marketing initiative called the blend is what they called it and we’re turning the scientific research into something that’s marketable and of use to the mushroom industry.

So, in 2015 a year after the scientific research initiative started and they had that initial publication of the scientific paper they launched this blend initiative and the next year in 2016, the mushroom sales in the United States hit an all-time high and this spike was attributed to the blend initiative. This initiative of mixing mushrooms with ground meat and I don’t know if you’ve noticed it. Now you’ll notice when you go to the supermarket this blend idea is referenced on mushroom containers all over the world and all over the country and in institutions they are substituting mushrooms, which increases vegetable consumption and lowers the carbon footprint of ground meat. So, that’s a success story of how the mushroom industry through a research initiative had this unanticipated consequence of positive market activity for the mushroom industry. Wouldn’t that be cool if we did something like that for coffee?

9:00 Why the specialty coffee industry needs the Coffee Science Foundation

Peter Giuliano: This year the board of the Specialty Coffee Association decided to launch a new initiative called the Coffee Science Foundation and here’s why because we know that in coffee we’re under-researched and under innovated. We’ve heard that over and over today. You heard Vava just describe the situation and specialty coffee is even more under-researched and under innovated than the other kinds of coffee because we’re decentralized were specialized and were somewhat disaggregated. So, what we recognized was we need an institution that can aggregate industry funding towards collaborative and that’s important, collaborative pre-competitive and scientifically rigorous research to benefit the coffee industry and luckily the United States gives us a structure within which we can build such an institution. It’s called a 501c3. It’s a foundation, a charitable foundation that individuals and companies can donate to drive this kind of research. So, we decided to launch exactly this kind of institution and the mission of this institution which was established this year was to advance the understanding of coffee and secure its future through research, knowledge building and most importantly outreach bringing the information out to individuals like you and the rest of the coffee community.

So, I’ve been talking about this to many of my colleagues and I get the number one question and that is didn’t we do this already with WCR and it’s true.  WCR has done an amazing job over the past years driving research, knowledge building and understanding, however, one of the strengths of WCR is their laser focus on understanding genetics and driving that project in coffee and you’re going to hear more about that in just a minute and that’s super important and it is indeed probably the most critical scientific issue facing our community right now. But it’s not the only issue. We just talked in the last session about consumption, so we need to do more consumer research, more consumer understanding, more sensory research and sensory understanding, research on roasting and other kinds of post-harvest agricultural practices that are outside of the scope of WCRs work. So, what we’ve done is we’ve envisioned an institution that can partner with institutions like WCR and help us drive progress in all of the other fields of scientific investigation.

12:00 How the Coffee Science Foundation will function and what it needs from the specialty coffee industry

So, the question then becomes how it works. So, the idea here is that everybody in the room institutions, companies, individuals can contribute both for specific what we call restricted funding projects. So, a specific kind of scientific investigation or unrestricted funding. That’s just to support the scientific enterprise in general and take those funds and we the Coffee Science Foundation puts that to work doing research generally at academic and other kinds of institutions. We manage that research. We help make sure that it’s meeting the goals that we have set out then we take the outputs, we manage them, and we disseminate them back to the community. So, we become essentially a bridge between the coffee community and the academic research community. We’ve already got a number of projects going which I’ll talk to you about in a minute.

Our strategy so we’ve already started this project and I just want to tell you a little bit more about our strategy. We’re doing research already. There’s a number of presentations this week at the SCA Expo on some of the projects that we’re doing in extraction. So, this is physical and sensory research, scientific research into some of the sensory attributes of brewed coffee and some of the dynamics of it and understanding the extraction process better. We’ve also got a stream of sustainability research, working with the SCA Sustainability Center and we’ve just launched a research initiative looking into the relationship between labor practices on coffee farms and quality of the coffee coming from those and finally and very importantly market consumer and economic research. So, this is the numbers that drive our community and we’ve got a number of research initiatives around that. So, I can’t go into much more detail here because of the shortness of the time but I’m eager to talk with you much more about this strategy and what we’re trying to do.

So, at the moment what we’re doing is we’re executing the projects that we’ve already got in the pipeline, but we’re funding new projects and we’re looking for partners. That is research partners and most especially funding partners to help us drive this research forward. So, like many of the speakers before me, I’m also presenting the opportunity for us to get involved and put some of our resources to work driving the scientific enterprise and the research enterprise in coffee. I’ve mentioned WCR already before. There’s another opportunity coming up, which is you’ll hear from Hannah next, but the Coffee Science Foundation will be partnering with World Coffee Research and in order to be able to channel some of the resources from our community towards a specific scientific project, which you’ll hear about in a minute. If you’re interested in getting involved, please reach out to me or any of these four people Vera Espíndola Rafael, Juan-Luis Barrios, Frank Neuhausen, and Mary Tellie.

This is our inaugural founding Board of the Coffee Science Foundation. Please, we’d love to talk to you about how to get involved. So, on behalf of the Coffee Science Foundation. I thank you for your interest and involvement and encourage you to join us. Thank you.

15:45 An explanation of Genetics-by-Environment Interaction (GEI): How the genetic potential of a coffee bean is expressed in its environment and why it matters

Vava Angwenyi: All right. Thank you, Peter and that’s all very exciting stuff. So, coffee genetics and the environment that the coffee thrives in. How does that influence the final flavor of the coffee that we drink? So, up next I’d like to invite Hanna Neuschwander. She is the Communications Director of the WCR to share more on their findings on the research that they’ve been carrying out on this regard. Hanna welcome.

Hanna Neuschwander: Hi everybody. I’m so, so happy to be here. Coffee flavor, where does it come from? There are so many different ways to answer this question and depending on where you sit in the value stream, which is my new favorite term that I’m going to take away from this week. You might be thinking of different answers. How was it processed? How is it roasted? Was it brewed in 24 seconds as espresso or over 24 hours as cold brew and all of these things do have a tremendous impact on how coffee tastes in the cup. But they’re all things that happen to the bean right, the sort of raw material this commodity and before coffee is a bean something I never get tired of contemplating. It’s something else. Every single coffee bean all of the trillions and quadrillions of beans that are moving around the world at any given moment are actually seeds. We know this but it’s easy to forget it. Every single bean at one point had the potential to become a new coffee tree and that leads us to a different kind of lens or answer to this question of where does coffee flavor come from. Inherent in the bean is a genetic potential.

The seed contains the blueprint, the possibilities for what coffee can taste like. We know that that genetic potential can be expressed in different ways. Not every single coffee that’s a Geisha is going to taste the same. Where it’s grown, the environment in which it’s grown matters and has an influence on how that potential is expressed. The same way that all those other downstream things can have an impact on how that potential is expressed roasting, the grinding etcetera. Scientists call this interaction between genetic potential and how that potential is expressed based on different environments the genetics by environment interaction. Most of us have a kind of general, loose understanding of the fact that this existence true and I’m going to show you an example from coffee. So, here you have some data from a trial site in Peru where we’re looking at a number of different varieties and how their early vegetative growth is going.

So, this is things like how tall is the tree, how wide is the stem.

Peter Giuliano: Hannah has a picture of a diagram contrasting differences in coffee plants – the plant’s height, the stem diameter, etc. There are seven varieties pictured and they are being grown in Peru.

Hanna Neuschwander: And we can see, you see the sort of spaghetti soup in the middle. There are lots of varieties but to seem to be doing pretty well here. First, you have the big thick orange lines representing the Mundo Novo variety. This is a variety from Brazil and it’s doing pretty well better than the others but even better than that you have this kind of exciting looking Blue Line way outside the rest and this is an African variety called K7.

Peter Giuliano: The point to note is that most of the coffee varieties shown have minor differences across measures like plant heigh, stem diameter, etc. But, there are two coffee varieties that are higher across all these measures: the Mundo Novo, in orange. And then, even higher is the K7 variety, in blue. The K7, when planted in Peru, is head and shoulders outperforming all the other plant varieties.

Hanna Neuschwander: So, this is really cool. We can clearly see that K7 seems to have a really high genetic potential for at least in early growth good vigor. I should say that the data from this trial is just from very young trees less than a year old so we’re not drawing any firm conclusions yet, but we’re sort of excited by the possibilities we see here. Let’s look at the same varieties though in a different environment.

We’re going to go to Zambia very different environment much hotter, much drier and we can see that the Mundo Novo that orange variety has a kind of similar-looking profile but all of a sudden the K7 looks very, very different.

Peter Giuliano: The K7 variety that was much higher than all the others when planted in Peru, is now much smaller. It’s now in the middle of the pack.

Hanna Neuschwander: It’s not way better than, it’s actually kind of a little bit worse than the K7. When we look at these two things together it shows us very clearly that there is a genetics by environment interaction happening. That K7 has a high genetic potential at least where early growth is concerned, but that it’s not expressed the same in different environments. So, this is cool I guess to understand this. Why does it matter? It matters because looking at this kind of data can help us see very clearly that different varieties can be optimized for different environments. That some varieties are going to perform better in some places. But also, that some varieties are going to have good performance across a large range of environments and that’s important in coffee because we don’t really have the infrastructure and coffee to have very niche specialized varieties for micro-regions yet. I hope that we’ll get there one day but oftentimes we are looking for varieties that will perform well across a large range of environments.

21:30 How does GEI interaction affect cup quality?

Hanna Neuschwander: Okay, so we can see that genetics by environment interaction exists for coffee. We have a sense that it might matter that if we can choose varieties that are optimized for certain environments, not just today but maybe for future environments as well that that could probably help producers a lot.

But one of the other things that we think is probably true, genetics by environment interaction, when we talk about optimizing, we can see, okay, early growth of vegetation measurements? Yes, we can optimize for that. Yield? We can optimize for that. Can we optimize for quality? Is there a genetics by environment interaction for cup quality and how does the genetics by environment interaction impact what a coffee tastes like? The answer is that we have no idea. We have no idea. We barely have any idea what the impact of genetics is on quality. We have virtually no idea what the impact of environment is on quality and we certainly don’t have any idea what the combination of the two is doing to cup quality.

I said, we have no idea, we have like a teeny tiny idea. So, there’s this one really great study from 2012 from some French researchers at CERAD that showed us very clearly that the same genetics can be expressed differently in different environments. They took a single variety called Laurina and they grew it in 16 different environments and actually at 16 different altitudes. Turns out altitude as a really good proxy for temperature and what they found was a pretty clear signal, pretty clear set of relationships between higher temperatures and certain off flavors in particular earthy and green and that those off flavors were associated pretty strongly with certain volatile organic compounds which may have contributed to their development. So, this study gives us a pretty interesting idea that this is a question worth pursuing but it’s just one variety. What if we added a huge fourth dimension to this? What if we looked at lots of varieties in lots of environments and tried to untangle what are the relationships between the underlying chemistry that’s either being expressed or not expressed because of those different environments and then at the end what shows up in the cup. What is the coffee actually tasting like? What are the particular flavors and aromas that are being expressed?

When I think about the sort of magnitude of that problem it brings me to one of my favorite examples of sort of modern mystery solving and sleuthing what you see here is a tablet. An ancient tablet was discovered in 1900. Turns out to be what we now call language called Linear B.

Peter Giuliano: Hannah has a picture of an old clay tablet covered in squiggles and lines.

Hanna Neuschwander: But at the time that these tablets were discovered there were about 200 of them and researchers and archeologists that found them had no idea what language it was, and they had no idea what the script was. It’s what we call sort of a black box or a locked-room mystery. How do you solve a mystery like that. There’s no Rosetta Stone. There’s no translation. There’s nowhere to go to, to figure out what does this symbol translate into? It turned out that the solving of this mystery, of cracking the code what is Linear B is something that took over 50 years and involved dozens of different disciplines, archaeologists, linguists and dedicated amateurs and one of them was this very interesting character named Alice Kober. She was a classics professor at Brooklyn University and in her spare time, she would go home at the end of the day.

She would sit down at her kitchen table and chain smoke. Apparently, she had zero social life. This is literally all she did for 10 years. She wrote down every single character and every combination of characters that could be found on the 200 tablets that had been discovered and she methodically categorized them on a hundred and eighty thousand slips of paper and then she did manual statistical analyses to look at the relationships between these symbols. How often did certain combinations appear in a given order? Unfortunately, she died sort of tragically in a car crash before the full mystery of Linear B could be solved but her work was foundational to its solving. The code was cracked two years later by a guy named Michael Ventris who, of course got all the credit until a really awesome biography of Alice Kober was published a couple of years ago that kind of highlighted her contribution. One of the things I love about this mystery, this sort of the solving, the story of the solving of this locked-room mystery it represents one of the kind of true significant intellectual achievement of the 20th century that’s really underappreciated. It really shows the power of how looking at the relationships between things, using statistics to uncover these relationships can be an incredibly powerful tool.

26:50 Explaining the global GEI trial to get this data

Hanna Neuschwander: Okay, so we’ve got that. So, that brings me back to can we do this for coffee? Can we crack the coffee flavor code and try to uncover and decode what are the relationships between genetics, the environment. The chemistry that’s happening in the bean and the particular flavors that show up in the cup. I think the answer is yes. It’s not going to be easy. We don’t know what region of the genome or what genes are involved in the production of particular flavors. We barely know which chemicals are associated with which flavors and we certainly don’t understand how the environment is interacting with those genetics, but I think we can find out and the really cool thing is we couldn’t have found out until now. We needed a certain set of tools at our disposal that didn’t exist until literally this year. One of them is that if you’re going to look for genetics by environment interaction, you need to have the same genetics in many environments.

Starting in 2015 it was one of the very first things we did at World Coffee Research. We started building this platform. It is called the international multi-location variety trial. We went to 11 countries and partners and we collected a basket of 30 different varieties, some of the best varieties in the world and we took them to 22 countries and our partners at National Coffee Institutes in those 22 countries and we put them on scientifically designed trial sites. So, these are every variety is there’s a row of 10, there are three replicates which are randomized. It doesn’t really matter but I’m telling you this because when you have trial sites like this that are replicated and designed in this way across the entire world you can do statistical analyses and get real results. It’s not just a variety growing on a farmer’s field and you’re not controlling for four other variables. So, this exists now. These trials started going in the ground in 2016. Some of those trees are just beginning to produce their first harvest.

This is a site in Nicaragua. Here’s our most recent trial in Rwanda.

Peter Giuliano: As Hannah cycles through the pictures, what jumps out is how different the environments look. One picture has coffee trees growing on a lush green steep mountain covered in trees, whereas another has coffee seeds growing in less hilly terrain in a hotter environment.

Hanna Neuschwander: Here’s another one. Just showing a couple pictures so you can get a feel for how these trials and how the environments visibly look different. Another Nicaragua, we also have a trial in Kenya, in India and my personal favorite even though it doesn’t look like very much is this trial in Zambia.

Peter Giuliano: The Zambian site shows coffee trees growing on flat ground in light coloured dirt under a bright sky.

Hanna Neuschwander: The reason I’m really fond of this trial in Zambia is because it’s in a very hot, dry place. The environment of this trial in Zambia looks a lot like what we predict the environment will look like for many coffee growing regions in 50 years. So, varieties that do well in this trial may end up being very good bets for farmers who are going to be dealing with the consequences of climate change in the future. I love this trial.

So, as I said, these trees are pretty new. They just are starting to produce their first harvest and at every one of these sites were taking super rigorous data collection together with our partners. So, we have all sorts of weather data, temperature, rainfall. We have meticulous data about how the plants are growing. So, the spider graphs I showed you earlier are plant growth measurements literally counting how many cherries come off of each tree and weighing them out. So, we have a platform for examining genetics by environment interaction that has never existed before in the world and I should also just pause and say that most of these varieties have not been available not just in those environments but in these countries where they’re growing. Most coffee countries have a small handful of varieties that have been tested and are available. This is bringing a huge new basket of genetic diversity to these countries and working together with the formal Partners in those countries the National Coffee Institutes which are really responsible for making new varieties available to farmers. These are not informal, casual trials. They are formal and they involve all the right people.

31:30 How the trial will measure flavor differences by measuring volatile organic compounds and by using WCR’s sensory lexicon

Hanna Neuschwander: Okay. So, we’ve got the platform now we need some tools. So, if we’re going to look at chemistry, the thing that we’re especially interested in is volatile organic compounds. We’re interested in other chemistry too. We’re interested in caffeine content and lipid content and trigonellines but volatile organic chemistry, these compounds are the things that are producing those unique combinations of flavors and aromas, so we’ve known how to measure VOCs for a long time using machines that look like this but it’s not a lot of places in the world that are used to testing coffee in this way. So, that’s one tool we needed our disposal. Another tool that we need is an objective, repeatable, measurable system for looking at what are the actual flavors and aromas present in a given sample of coffee. Cupping is a really wonderful tool, but we now know through good, rigorous research that it’s not very replicable. Different cuppers give different answers. Sensory descriptive analysis is a process where trained tasters, professional tasters who are trained and calibrated on a particular methodology use a tool called the World Coffee Research Center lexicon or other lexicons and they can take a coffee sample and they can evaluate what flavors are present in it and at what intensity level. Ooh blueberry, that’s like a 4.5. It sounds kind of like magic, but it works, and it works because they taste the samples next to reference materials for those different flavors and aromas. Okay, this tool again new, didn’t exist. It was published in 2015. It’s the basis for the new coffee taster flavors wheel, but that’s not why we made it. We made it to do this research, this kind of research. We needed a tool like this to be able to produce the kind of data about what is going on in the cup of coffee to work backwards to what are those causes?

Okay. So, you’ve got the platform, you’ve got the tools. Now, you need a way to link it all up. You need a place that can take those samples of coffee and that under one roof can do the chemical analysis, can do the sensory analysis and ideally can also do an industry relevant analysis. So, yes what does it taste like, but also what value do you assign it?

That could be cupping scores. How do you rate the value of those particular combinations of flavors. Again, a thing that didn’t exist until very, very recently. This is a. schematic drawing of the new UC Davis Coffee Science Center, which is going to have all of these capacities under one roof, which is very rare.

34:15 How this trial and the academic research will be coordinated across the world

Hanna Neuschwander: So, a way to link it all up. Peter previewed this but I’m here to announce I’m very, very excited to be announcing a new collaborative research project from the Specialty Coffee Association, the new Coffee Science Foundation, UC Davis Coffee Center, World Coffee Research and a really significant missing group of logos here that I am chagrined is missing are the logos of all of our country partners. Every single one of those National Coffee Institutes that is helping execute these trials across the world and without whom none of this would be possible.

So, how’s it going to work? We are going to take a subset. We’re not going to look at all 30 varieties. A subset of 12 varieties that have good genetic variation and high potential quality. Some of them are more traditional varieties like Pacamara, a cell 28 Geisha. Some of them are very new varieties F1 hybrids like Centroamericano and Mundo Maya. Growing in 12 countries, it’ll actually be 16 sites so that it’ll end up being closer to 200 coffee samples that we’re looking at from these particular trials. Exhaustive data collection at every trial about different components of the environment. Harvesting, keeping every single lot totally separate. Shipping them to UC Davis Coffee Science Center for storage, careful storage, roasting, sensory evaluation, chemistry evaluation, industry evaluation.

It’s going to generate a tremendous new data set that is going to be looked at by researchers at UC Davis, researchers at World Coffee Research and also the underlying data is going to be made available for any researcher in the world who wants to make use of it. This is the work that we do. It’s pretty competitive and it’s open source.

So, if you’re an aspiring PhD out there who’s interested in genetics or sensory science this could be a really cool project to plug into. So, I think that this truly is the coffee version of Linear B. I don’t know if anyone else out there sees that coffee bean in the middle. I saw that it was like, whoa, that’s pretty cool. How did they know but it’s not just what I want to emphasize especially in the context of the conversation we’ve been having over the last couple days. It’s not just like a cool, shiny project. Where does coffee flavor come from? This actually has the potential to generate tremendous value for roasters. Yes, we’re going to have a data set, a library that’s going to tell you where can you go in the world to find particular combinations of flavors. Which varieties are going to be producing those flavors in which environments? That’s tremendously valuable. But, we’re also going to have the ability to look at which varieties are optimized for flavor in which environments.

I failed to mention this earlier. We’re not just going to be looking at filter coffee. We’re also going to be doing this evaluation on espresso which feels extremely relevant and new. We’re going to be able to see are there particular environments where particular varieties are producing particular qualities that are ideal for espresso. Can you imagine how if you were a farmer in one of those environments and we could kind of home in on that the sort of value it might produce for you? If it’s hard to imagine this just think of an example that you’re probably all aware of which is Geisha and Panama. Geisha is a variety that was out there. It was known, it was grown in farmer fields, but it took finding the exact, right environment for that genetic potential to be expressed in the way that has become lionized in the industry. And think about how much value that has produced for Panamanian coffee farmers. It’s very possible that there would be zero coffee farms in Panama right now if Geisha hadn’t been rediscovered when it was. And think about how we may be able to hone in on and create new opportunities for identifying the right variety in the right environment for producers. So, this isn’t just a shiny fun thing to do.

It really is, I think, has the potential to be transformational for the specialty coffee industry in particular, for farmers, for roasters. As Peter said this kind of work is not work that’s easy or cheap to do and so we are pleased to invite you to join us in making this trial a reality. We have the plan built, but the work has not yet begun, and we really are going to need the help of everyone in this room to make it happen. Also thank you very much.

39:00 Outro

Peter Giuliano: That was Hanna Neuschwander – and me! – at Re:co Symposium this past April.

Remember to check out our show notes to find a link to the YouTube video of this talk, a full episode transcript, and a link to speaker bios on the Re:co website.

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