by R. Miguel Meza
I first heard of USDA 762 from the newly formed Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia in 2007 or 2008. On their website they discussed coffee varieties being grown in Indonesia and had a section discussing Ethiopian lines.
Mentioned are 3 varieties: Abbysinia, Rambung and USDA. The former two I have done plenty of research on but that is another story. The USDA one I have found most interesting as it is being grown by a number of farmers in Bali and likely other areas as well whereas the former I have yet to hear of any large group of farmers who is growing in Indonesia though I suspect they do exist.
I had scoured the internet for references to this varietal on several occasions in the past couple years. The name USDA 762 was mentioned several times in reference to an Ethiopian line introduced by Americans in the 1950’s or early 1960’s. But for a long time that was all the info I could find on this variety. Early 2011 I found another piece of info that held the key to unraveling the origins of this cultivar. I can’t remember the source anymore but I found out that 762 was a shortened form of a longer number – 230762. I had no idea what this number meant but searching that number and the right key words in Google Scholar led to a reference to it. A match was found in a paper published by the USDA July 1960 – ‘Coffee Germplasm Collection and Distribution’
I wasn’t able to read this paper online or order it but I called my friend Dr. Shawn Steiman of Coffea Consulting to see if he might be able to track down this paper for me. I had mostly forgotten about it the past couple months, but then Shawn was visiting the Big Island for the Ka’u Coffee Festival over the weekend and he told me he had the paper I had asked for. Most of the time when looking through loads of information in these papers I don’t find what I’m looking for. But this time I was lucky. A little more information and another clue into finding the exact origins of this variety.
Plant Introduction No: 230762
Name under which seeds or plants were Rec’d: C. arabica Lejeune’s #8 Line 108
Year Received: 1955
CRRC (Coffee Rust Research Center, now CIFC in Portugal) No: 536
Type Resistance (referring to rust): E and C
Finally knowing what the number 230762 was (the USDA plant Introduction #) it only took a couple of late nights searching through information to find out more about this introduction.
230729 to 230780. COFFEA ARABICA L. Rubiaceae. Arabian coffee.
From Ethiopia. Seeds collected by Jean B. H. Lejeune, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Addis Ababa. Received Dec. 20, 1955.
Collected in the forest region of Kaffa Province, about 16 miles from Mizan Tafari.
230759 to 230778. From Mizan Tafari. Elevation 4,700 feet.
230759. Line 0105. 230765. Line 0111.
230760. Line 0106. 230766. Line 0112.
230761. Population 0107. 230767. Line 0113.
230762. Line 0108. 230768. Line 0114.
From 1954 -1956 JBH Lejeune a French researcher was sent by the FAO to collection specimens of wild coffee. Until receiving the paper from the USDA I was unaware of this but the USDA received the seeds from many of these expeditions and then distributed them to the various coffee research gardens/germplasm collections around the world and to the coffee rust research center in Portugal.
I finally found the documentation showing that USDA 762 was an Ethiopian line and where it was collected from. And where it was collected from is quite interesting. Mizan Tafari. To most, that likely means nothing… unless you have spent way too much time researching the history of the Geisha cultivar. (Here is good starting point on Hacienda Esmeralda’s website.) The area in Ethiopia known as Geisha/Gesha gave birth to the varietal Panama is now famous for is very near Mizan Taferi. At first this sounded surprising, but also in the context of what was going on in coffee breeding at the time it makes perfect sense. In the 1950’s breeding programs were underway in Kenya and Tanzania as well as Central America utilizing Geisha for its leaf rust resistance. Geisha was known for having poor yields so it was crossed with other higher yielding varieties. By the late 1950s the USDA already had several introductions of Geisha/Caturra hybrids. That an expedition was sent to look for other wild varieties that might offer similar resistance and other desirable agronomic traits isn’t a surprise. The Kaffa province is also one of the areas of greatest genetic diversity in coffee and larger scale expeditions were launched in the 1960’s by FAO and ORSTROM that also made collections near Mizan Tafari and attempted to reach the site the original Geisha plants were collected from. Rust resistance was in important part of coffee breeding at the time and wild arabica coffee is where people were looking to find it. This was before the Timor hybrid became the main plant material used for rust resistance breeding. Sure enough USDA 230762 is listed as showing the same type of rust resistance as the Geisha. Given rust is a major problem in Indonesia and much of Asia it makes sense that this variety would be introduced to Indonesia. I don’t know yet but I suspect that 230762 was not the only introduction to Indonesia, but that this selection had some other desirable agronomic traits and good field performance there and was introduced to farmers there for that reason. It must have decent yields as it is even recently being recommended for planting.
Like the Geisha and many other Ethiopian lines rust resistance has largely been overcome and these plants never had the kind of resistance the Robusta hybrids exhibit. So it is only recommended now for higher elevations where rust isn’t as big of a problem. This is good news. An Ethiopian cultivar being grown in the highest elevations available at a latitude and altitude similar to its native environment. I haven’t had a chance to cup yet but some others have and I have heard the cup quality is better than other cultivars being grown. I have stumbled onto a Japanese site that suggests it maybe similar (in morphology at least) to the S4 Agaro varietal which I have cupped and can say is quite excellent and exhibits the citrus and floral qualities one generally associates with Ethiopian coffee and the Geisha. Being from very near where the Geisha was collected doesn’t mean it is genetically similar to Geisha. Quite the opposite is likely as this is a center of most of the genetic diversity in arabica.
I still have some unanswered questions. What is the morphology of this plant like? (If anyone who has been to Bali has some good pictures I would love to see them.) Was there any reason why this plant was originally collected in Ethiopia and what traits does it have that led to it being recommended for planting? Many Ethiopian lines have been experimented with around the world but few have ever been distributed to farmers. Some of the answers might be found in this report “Lejeune, J.B.H. 1958. Rapport au Gouvernement Impérial d’Ethiopie sur la production caféière. FAO, Rome, Italy.” … Another paper to try and track down.
Most people don’t think of Indonesia when they think of Ethiopian cultivars but the earliest Ethiopian coffee researched perhaps anywhere occurred there. In 1928 coffee researcher PJS Cramer in Java brought back coffee plants from Ethiopia. (see ‘A Review of Liturature of Coffee research in Indonesia’ page 103 &104)
Simply called Abyssinia (as Ethiopia was then called) Cramer had been looking to other species that might be cross bred with Arabica to produce disease resistant cultivars at the time and happily discovered resistance to rust in the Arabica plant he brought back from Ethiopia. I don’t know where to find this plant in Indonesia, though it is apparently still being recommended for planting in some areas. But it does exist in other parts of the world under a different name. That from which was distributed… Java.