1 May 2016

The Genetic Diversity of Yeasts in Coffee Processing

Yeast. It's used for many, many things. Including fermentation in wine, cacao and coffee. It's the distinguishing element between grape juice and wine. It is part of the process of creating alcohol, but also has a huge influence on the flavour. Using starter cultures of yeast have been common in the wine industry for a very long time and this is one of the reasons all vineyard-yeast strains are so similar.

Coffee and cacao farmers do not use starter cultures, but often rely on their local surroundings. So interestingly enough, although the coffee tree is very homogeneous as most plants around the world share the same origin, the yeasts found in the green bean end product differ completely.
At least this is what Aimée Dudley of the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute and Justin Fay of the University of Washington found. They were even able to use DNA sequences of the yeast strains to determine origin. 

According to the researchers this diversity of coffee yeasts opens up the possibility to create new flavours of coffee, by using a yeast from a certain region, in the fermentation process in a different location. Who knows what this would taste like?

As a coffee cupper and q grader myself, this sounds very interesting. At the same time my mind immediately flew to one of the most thought provoking and inspiring Reco talks of Gothenburg on what lessons coffee can draw from the 'natural wine' movement.

Are starting yeasts and yeasts for sale really something we want to invest in? Or would we be stepping away from a product we love. If we start adding yeasts from the Panama Geisha from Esmeralda to all coffees from all over the world, we might in theory create more floral and perfumed coffees, but we might also be destroying local yeasts and culture that have been in use for centuries.

What do you guys think? Am I too conservative? 

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