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Discovery May Lead to Better-Tasting Decaf Coffees

June 24, 2004 -- A better tasting cup of decaf may be just a genetic switch away.

Researchers have discovered a naturally decaffeinated variety of the popular arabica coffee bean that may be able to pass on its low-caffeine trait to other arabica coffee bean plants through breeding.

Decaffeinated coffee accounts for about 10% of the world coffee market and is popular among those who want the taste of coffee without the caffeine buzz. But taste is rarely a selling point for the low-caffeine brews because many important flavor compounds are lost in the decaffeination process.

A Natural Decaf Coffee?

In a letter appearing in the June 24 issue of Nature, researchers in Brazil report that after studying 3,000 coffee trees, they have discovered a variety of arabica that is almost completely free of caffeine.

Coffee made from the Coffee arabica plant is the most consumed coffee in the world. But until now all arabica beans were thought to be naturally high in caffeine.

Previous attempts to transfer the low-caffeine trait to arabica coffee beans from other wild coffee species from Madagascar have been unsuccessful.

But researchers say all Coffee arabica plants belong to the same genetic family, which means developing a caffeine-free hybrid could be achieved using regular breeding techniques to produce a high-quality commercial bean.

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