Help could soon be on the way for coffee lovers who crave the aroma and taste but can’t handle the caffeine.
Brazilian scientists have discovered a naturally decaffeinated coffee plant that won’t keep them awake at night. “We have found the first decaffeinated Coffea arabica,” Paulo Mazzafera, of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas in Brazil, said in an interview.
Decaffeinated coffee accounts for about 10 percent of world consumption but key flavors are sacrificed when the caffeine is removed.
Coffea arabica is the most cultivated and consumed coffee and represents about 70 percent of the world’s coffee production. Scientists had tried to cross arabica with wild species of caffeine-free plants from Madagascar but it produced an inferior drink, according to Mazzafera, who reported the research in the science journal Nature on Wednesday.
The decaf arabica plant, which is from Ethiopia, has not been grown commercially so he and his colleagues do not know how productive it will be.
But they plan to test productivity with a view to developing a crop and will also try to transfer its low caffeine trait by crossing it with highly productive commercial arabica varieties.
“We believe that by using a conventional breeding approach this trait could be successfully transferred,” he said.
Levels of caffeine depend on the type of coffee and how it is brewed. Robusta coffees have about twice as much caffeine as arabicas.
Last year Japanese scientists announced that they had produced genetically modified coffee plants that have less caffeine than normal plants but Mazzafera said they are not arabica.
If the decaffeinated arabica is commercially productive, naturally decaffeinated coffee could be on the market in five or six years. If it isn’t, coffee from a cross with other arabicas could take up to 15 years.
Revision date: June 11, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD