Getting to know Robusta through Genetic Mapping

Examining the past history of the Robusta coffee bean using genetics, in order to ensure its long-lasting future.

The first place to look for a story is in writing: books, articles, perhaps magazine publications. When that fails, you track cultural markers: legends, myths, rituals, even behaviours. But what if the story lies deep beneath all of that--down to the very core of its being? This is what led us to the challenging but exciting process of mapping the Robusta bean’s origins using genetics. Now this is the stuff coffee geeks like us dream of.

We get it. Not everyone is motivated by the chromosomal makeup of Robusta versus Arabica. But by studying the genetic makeup of a coffee bean, we can further understand its origins. By understanding where coffee comes from, we can determine more about its quality...and don’t you want to feel confident that you’re drinking the best coffee when you pick out your Nespresso capsule?

But what if the story lies deep beneath all of that--down to the very core of its being? This is what led us to the challenging but exciting process of mapping the Robusta bean’s origins using genetics. Now this is the stuff coffee geeks like us dream of.
Robusta's origins have always been much more unclear than Arabica's, until now image

Robusta’s origins have always been much more unclear than Arabica’s, until now

We are lucky enough to have a coffee geneticist working on our team (yes, that’s a real profession). Dr. Florent Lefebvre has given us the opportunity to roll up our sleeves and find the story behind Robusta ourselves. When we couldn’t find written proof of Robusta’s origins, we asked Dr Lefebvre to trace its genetics and help us write the storyline.

Nestle Research and Development Centre of Tours, together with Dr. Lefebvre, worked on the genetic mapping and the results were quite exciting: a coffee tree which includes more comprehensive data for Robusta than previously available, plus the cultivated (as opposed to wild) Arabica varieties.

When we couldn’t find written proof of Robusta’s origins, we asked Dr Lefebvre to trace its genetics and help us write the storyline.

We also unveiled some pretty interesting details about Robusta along the way. Indulge us here, we promise it’s actually pretty cool. Apparently Robusta has half the chromosomes of Arabica, and Robusta is not self-pollinating, meaning it takes two plants to breed a new variety. What does this mean? Basically every new Robusta tree has the potential to become a new variety, unlike Arabica who theoretically can clone itself over and over. With that in mind, why is Arabica so ‘diverse’ and beloved and Robusta not?

Nespresso coffee geneticist working image

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a coffee geneticist working on their team. Dr. Florent Lefebvre used DNA genotyping to help us write the storyline for Robusta

It really comes down to interest. As consumers, we just like Arabica more, so we put more effort into learning about it. Until recently, the Robusta species hasn’t been heavily researched or funded, so we didn’t know as much about its origins. But now we know something fascinating: Robusta is one of the two parents of our beloved Arabica species. So although the specialty coffee industry has dismissed Robusta for all too long, it is an undeniable part of Arabica’s pedigree. Without Robusta, there would be no Arabica.

Perhaps the history of Robusta and Arabica isn’t an integral part of your enjoyment of coffee, but we know that coffee quality is. This, and much more, is the key of coffee expertise at Nespresso. We choose our coffees on cup quality, and in doing so, we also go a long-reaching step beyond. Our passion is to know coffee; and sometimes that means tracing it back to its roots to ensure its long-lasting future.

Discover here our coffee blends with Robusta, Ristretto, Kazaar, Roma, Capriccio, Indriya from India.