Amazonian Canephoras

Coffee Processing Innovation Species
Matthew Hill

The specialty coffee world is an innovative and diverse environment. As both professionals and consumers increase their knowledge and appreciation for quality and variety it’s high time Canephoras Coffea had its moment in the sunlight.

Robusta, the more commonly known canephora strain, has long been seen as the less elegant coffee varietal, with aficionados preferring the perceived higher-quality arabica beans. Robusta is a hardier crop, naturally higher in caffeine, ripens more uniformly and typically dominates the blends of instant coffee. Comparisons to arabica diminishes robusta’s reputation and thus it is rarely appreciated for its unique, and, in the case of Amazonian Canephoras, truly wonderful potential.

The state of Rondônia sits in the west of Brazil, bordering Bolivia to the South and the Amazon rainforest to the North. Due to its proximity to the Amazon, coffee production in Rondônia demands responsible and sustainable growing strategies sympathetic to the rainforest’s biome. Working with limited space, Rondônian coffee growers instead reclaim and rehabilitate old farm and pasture lands to increase production.

Coffee growing, when managed correctly, is an excellent method of soil rehabilitation, providing natural ground cover, efficient nutrient recycling and optimised carbon capture. The coffee plants’ perennial nature is well suited for native macro and microfauna, creating favourable conservation conditions for birds and small mammals.

Rondônia is the second largest producer of both strains of coffea canephora, robusta and conilon. In the past few years, the coffee breeding program active in Rondônia has invested in developing hybridised crosses between robusta and conilon. The goal has been to maximise the prized characteristics of each strain in a hybrid plant.

InterAmerican Coffee has provided 18 different varieties of conilon and robusta seeds via its Active Germplasm Bank to assist in the project. The intention was to develop clones with higher yields, better pest resistance and most importantly assemble plant architecture that is better suited to mechanisation and beverage production. Plant spacing was also a key focus, a ground-breaking approach that directly involved the coffee growers of the region to make sure the hybrid crops suit local management and production conditions. .

As Rondônian canephora increases in quality there are a multitude of upsides for the wider coffee industry. Improved yield and higher caffeine content are attributes universally desired by coffee roasters when selecting robusta and conilon beans for their blends. But beyond the larger commercial coffee sector, the development of fine robusta coffee holds the potential to introduce a completely new chapter of specialty coffee.

Latitude Coffee’s Founder, Edgard Bressani, worked closely with Ona’s Director of Coffee, Sam Corra, in the presentation of this special canephora release. Edgard feels that, “when we talk about canephoras, we should come without prejudices, stating that they deserve a lower price just because they are canephoras. They should be rewarded by the quality of the cup. If it is an 88-point coffee, it deserves the same price as an 88-point arabica”.

The robustas and hybrids now growing in the fields of Rondônia have exciting nuances like pleasant acidity, subtle sweetness, richer aromas and flavours from dark chocolate to lighter fruits. Such attributes should encourage commercial roasters to use higher percentages of canephora in their blends. Further still, these fine robustas of Rondônian can stand on their own, in their own cup, and be celebrated alongside great arabica single-origins.

As Edgar notes, “only by supporting these producers of Rondônia will we be able to stimulate them to continue trying to improve and offer us amazing coffees and flavours we’ve never tasted before”.

Here at Ona Coffee we are privileged to present six wonderful Rondônian clones in a special, two-part, release. Each hybrid has been produced by a different Rondônian grower who have combined varying conditions and terroir to produce superb coffees. Sam and Edgar then collaborated to identify the perfect fermentation processes of each clone. All six clones have undergone an extended fermentation process, seen as key in extracting all canephora has to offer. The beans were then roasted by Sam on Nucleus Tools’ new LINK Roaster specifically for this release.

At the moment, the specialty coffee scene sits firmly in arabica-based coffees, but there is a whole world of coffee out there to enjoy and explore. This special release of robusta coffee is designed to open up your experience and open up your horizons. Without exploring, without tasting, without looking for what's new, we will fall into complacency. The coffee world is just too diverse for that, and we hope you’ll join us on our journey.

Author Bio

Matthew Hill

Matt has been working in coffee since 2016, starting out with Truth Coffee in Cape Town, South Africa, before moving into consulting, editing and product development.