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Ethnobotanist In Search Of New Australian Coffee Species

Updated on October 27, 2011

Ethnobotanist may chance upon a new species or they may be on a hunting expedition. In their scientific study of traditional, cultural, medicinal and even religious knowledge and customs of populations and their relationship to the plants in their environment, they may chance upon a new species. Recent investigations have turned up a surprising find.

Ethnobotanist learn a lot about ancient societies based upon environmental plants and their use as foods, nutritionals, medicines, cosmetics, tools, textiles, currency, clothing, in religious rites and every social aspect.

At a time in history when all the world concerns itself with preservation of species, while so many go extinct daily, we delight in news of new species in unusual places.

A previous article spoke about the loss of indigenous animal habitats due to the change from shade growing to sun growing coffee plantations. This topic, species loss and awareness, remains fresh in our minds from EarthDay in April. When provided a means to maintain and encourage biodiversity, we take a closer look.

People travel the world to find a good coffee bean and taste a good cup of coffee.

Loss of indigenous plant knowledge among native populations cause concern for ethnobotanists. This news brings a rare find, indeed. We do not know whether important cultural practices will provide healing information or new technology to the world.

Australian Coffee Harvest

World Coffee Map

Coffee As Diverse As Wine

Australia may be known for their beer drinking, but they also have a flair for the drinking of coffee. I read that you should not even try to import the run of the mill varieties like chain coffee shops. Every culture has their favorites. In fact, the more types of coffee you try, the more you become attuned to their different flavors. You might turn into a wine connoisseur. The earth properties determine the flavor, texture, taste, sweetness, body, acidity, bitterness and smoothness of the cup. You could travel around the world searching and tasting unique coffee.

Here is the surprise! In this world map of coffee growing regions Australia does not appear to be mentioned. But, it does have a history of coffee production.

  • Brazilian
  • Canary Islands
  • Columbian
  • Dominican Republic
  • El Salvador
  • Ethiopian
  • Gal├ípagos
  • Guatamalan
  • Hawaii
  • Honduran
  • Indonesian
  • Jacu
  • Jamaican
  • Kenyan
  • Malawi
  • Maui
  • Mexico
  • New Caledonia
  • New Guinea
  • Panamanian
  • Sumatran
  • Tanzanian
  • Uganda
  • Venezuela
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Coffee in Australia?

Coffee production only came into vogue in Australia after mechanical harvesters made it more economically feasible, even though coffee was grown there in the early 1900s. Coffee from select regions of Australia is grown by a small number of farmers at much lower elevations than beans grown in tropical regions of the world.

Not a tweet about this peep.

Not even one tweet on this story about a new species of coffee found on Cape York, Australia makes me wonder whether anyone read this report?

Well, the ethnobotanists plan an expedition to collect these native species, and, I suppose to verify its identity. Will this coffee give them the buzz of other beans? Not known for its particularly flavorful and rich taste, they will determine the coffee content and decide its flavor comparisons to other coffees.

Ethnobotanists are in contact with Cape York Aboriginal medicine men like Tommy George, of Laura, to see if the plant was known to Kuku Thaipan and other tribes that inhabit the region, famous for its 38,000-year-old Quinkan rock art.

They hope to learn more from the Aborigines if they brewed, crushed or ate the native coffee beans as a bush tonic for heightened alertness or energy, as an appetite suppressant or for its medicinal qualities. These facts help the scientists understand the culture and make future predictions whether plants can be used for healing, socializing, religious ceremonies and how the chemicals in the plants interact with the mind/body. Future research may include genetic studies to improve commercial strains of coffee in Australia as well as tests on the quality and flavour of the coffee bean as a homegrown beverage.

We know almost nothing about it," Professor Darren Crayn, director of the Cairns-based Australian Tropical Herbarium at James Cook University, said yesterday.

"It is the very first and only native species of coffee found in the wild in Australia.

"As far as we know it is not growing anywhere in cultivation, the specimens we have are preserved and archived.

The newly discovered species has been named, Coffea brassii. was introduced to New Guinea and north Australia by the ancient human transmigrations out of Africa over the Gondwanaland period, he said.

Taxonomy scientists under Dr Aaron Davis in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the United Kingdom identified the plant, previously known under the genus Psilanthus, as belonging to the coffea genus.

DNA sequencing in molecular studies found the plants are much more closely related to coffea genus.

There are 150 different species of coffee in the ancient plant group that has become one of the most traded agricultural commodities in the world.

The latest discovery is symbolic of the vast unknown biodiversity of the state's north, with Australian botanists discovering up to 200 new species of plants every year.

Australian Harvest

A Little Coffee History

As indicated, ethnobotanist have studied the interrelationship between coffee and cultures. As a stimulant, the coffee plays an important role in daily habits and rituals. Coffee provides energy at low points in the day, to wake people up, to sit and chat and get people to open up.

Coffee has played a major role in the economics of cultures and countries. In fact, we will be seeing the price of coffee on the rise. Researchers think coffee use as a stimulating beverage may have originated in the northeast region of Ethiopia, while its cultivation expanded in the Arab world. The earliest credible evidence of coffee drinking appears in the middle of the 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen in southern Arabia, and spread to Italy, then all over Europe, to Indonesia, and finally to the Americas.

Used in religious ceremonies in East Africa and Yemen, coffee drinking was banned by for secular use by the Ethiopian Church until reign of Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. It was banned in Ottoman Turkey during the 17th century for political reasons, and was associated with rebellious political activities in Europe. Today, people all over the world crave their coffee.

About the Author

Debby Bruck, CHOM founded Homeopathy World Community social network. Debby believes that homeopathy is the wave of the future that provides hope and healing to those who have tried every other approach. Follow Debby on Twitter.

Reflections On 30-Day Hubpages Challenge

Day 27 Reflections: Do you remember the feelings of senioritis? That describes the feeling to want to be finished with the challenge. The last seven days developed into a subproject with a theme, which has actually been a very educational process. By investigation one subject you can learn much more than you imagined.

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    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 6 years ago

      Hello friends. Did everyone have a late night cup of coffee? Well, we shall be waiting for that Australian bean. I'm not expecting much, but I imagine they will do some hybridization and who-knows-what kind of genetic manipulation. A sad world when we can find something pristine in nature.

      Giggle, Ian. I think everyone is set in their ways. That's why we call it a "habit." Ain't gonna change no one, except yourself.

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Debby, I love your coffee hubs. I still can't convince my Doctor Niece and her Doctor Husband to drink it, but I'm working on it.

      "Nag nag nag", they go.

      Marked useful!

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 6 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      I love coffee, I have to drink halfcalf though otherwise it makes my heart beat too fast! It would be great to taste the new coffee bean from Australia!