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Make Mine Decaf, With Flavor

Plant found that yields high-quality beans without the buzz

WEDNESDAY, June 23, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- If you've given up caffeine but find the taste of decaffeinated coffee wanting, then a new discovery may perk you up: Scientists have found a coffee plant in Africa that grows naturally decaffeinated arabica beans.

Coffea arabica is by far the most widely grown and consumed coffee in the world. Attempts to transfer the caffeine-free characteristic from wild coffee species found in Madagascar have failed.

But researchers believe that, using this new plant from Ethiopia, they can transfer its low-caffeine trait to regular arabica plants and produce a high-quality, good-tasting, decaffeinated coffee.

Decaffeinated coffee makes up about 10 percent of the world's coffee market, even though the decaffeination process results in the loss of important flavor compounds, according to the report in the June 24 issue of Nature.

"This coffee plant has approximately 20 times less caffeine then regular coffee, and double the caffeine of industrially produced decaf coffee," said lead researcher Paulo Mazzafera, a professor of vegetal physiology at the Institute of Biology of the State University of Campinas in Brazil, a country that is no stranger to coffee production.

Mazzafera believes that this coffee, once developed, will compete with processed decaf coffee. And it will have an improved flavor, because this naturally decaffeinated coffee will bring back some flavor compounds that are removed during the decaffeination process.

"These plants are not ready to be cultivated," he said. "We have first to grow them with proper fertilization and other agricultural practices to check their productivity," Mazzafera said.

Mazzafera believes that the new plants will not be as productive as commercial varieties. But by crossing them with highly productive varieties, the researchers hope to increase production, he noted.

Coffee from these plants has not been tasted yet, Mazzafera said. "But there are no reports in the literature that arabica coffee tastes bad," he said. "We are very optimistic about the quality of the beans coming from these plants."

Using special but costly breeding techniques, coffee from plants that have been crossed with regular plants could be on the market in about five years. "But if we have to go through conventional breeding, this will take approximately 15 years," Mazzafera said.

More information

The National Library of Medicine can tell you about caffeine.

SOURCES: Paulo Mazzafera, Ph.D., professor, Department of Vegetal Physiology, Institute of Biology, State University of Campinas, Brazil; June 24, 2004 Nature
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