Saving coffee from extinction. Кофе bbc

BBC Learning English - 6 Minute English / Ethical coffee

It's one of the most popular drinks on the planet and something many people have for breakfast. Coffee is a widely exported product. However, how much of that money does the coffee farmer actually see? And is there a way to make things a little fairer for everyone? A new report from the UN suggests so. Dan and Catherine discuss the issue and teach you six items of vocabulary.

This week's question:

The specialty coffee, Kopi luwak, is made from coffee beans which have already passed through an animal’s digestive system. But which animal?

a) an elephant

b) a cat

c) a weasel

Listen to the programme to find out the answer.


dasha small amount of something, usually a liquid

aficionadosomeone who is very interested in or enthusiastic about a subject

as cheap as chipsvery cheap

ethicalmorally right

roastedcooked in an oven

premiumlarger than usual payment, usually for better quality service


Note: This is not a word for word transcript

DanHello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Dan and joining me today is Catherine. Hey Catherine.

CatherineHey Dan.

DanSo Catherine, do you prefer a brew or a cup of joe in the morning?

CatherineWell, if you are referring to whether I prefer a cup of tea, which we sometimes call ‘a brew’, or a cup of coffee, sometimes called ‘a cup of joe’, I prefer my coffee in the morning.

DanI only drink coffee when I really need to wake up quickly.  

CatherineAnd, why are you asking, Dan?

DanBecause it’s part of this 6 Minute English.

CatherineCoffee. I see. So how do you take it then, Dan?

DanWell, I’m an instant coffee kind of guy. And I like mine with a dash of milk. How about you?

CatherineA dash of something is a small amount of something, especially liquid. Personally, I prefer freshly-ground coffee beans, and I like my coffee dark and strong -  preferably Colombian or maybe Brazilian.

DanWow. A coffee aficionado, eh?

CatherineAn aficionado is a person who’s very enthusiastic about, or interested in, a particular subject.

DanWell, let me test your knowledge with this week’s quiz question. The specialty coffee, Kopi luwak, is made from coffee beans which have already passed through an animal’s digestive system. But which animal?

a)    an elephant

b)    a cat

c)    a weasel

CatherineI’m always going to answer b) a cat. Did you say this coffee actually goes through the animal? As in, it eats it and then it comes out the other end, and that’s what we use for the coffee?

DanWell, yes. It is actually one of the most expensive coffees in the world. Anyway, we’ll find out if you’re right or not later on. So, talking of expensive, do you tend to pay more for your coffee or are you happy with the cheap as chips stuff?

CatherineCheap as chips means very cheap. And personally, I do actually like a quality product, and I am willing to pay a bit more for it.

DanWould you be willing to pay even more than you already do if it meant that the farmer who grew the beans was getting a fairer price?

CatherineI would because I think that that sort of thing is important.

DanAnd you aren’t alone.  There is a growing trend among many Western customers of artisan cafes to be willing to pay more for ethically produced coffee.

CatherineEthical means morally right. So, Dan, why is this trend happening at the moment? 

DanWell, it’s probably been going on for a while, but a new report from the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organisation has observed the effect that smarter processing, branding and marketing has had on the farmers and their communities.

CatherineAnd because of this, coffee drinkers are better able to choose ethically produced coffee that puts more money in the hands of the farmers. But, Dan, do the farmers actually see any of this money?

DanWell, it’s complicated. The price of the coffee is relatively cheap until it’s been roasted – or cooked in an oven. As a result, roasters take most of the profits. But there is still a difference. I’ll let Johnathan Josephs, a business reporter for the BBC News explain.

INSERTJonathan Josephs , Business reporter, BBC NewsFor a pound of coffee beans that end up in the instants (section) sold in supermarkets, the roaster can get over $4. But the export price is just $1.45. The farmer gets most of that. But when the new wave of socially-aware customer pays a premium for higher standards, the roaster can get $17.45, but the export price also rises to $5.14.

CatherineA premium is an amount that’s more than usual. So the farmer makes three-and-a-half times as much money.

DanWhich means a better quality of life for the farmer, their family and their community.

CatherineThat’s good news! I will definitely look for the ethically produced coffee from now on. As long as, Dan, it doesn’t come out of some animal!

DanYes, actually that reminds me. Our quiz question. I asked you which animal the speciality coffee Kopi luwak comes from.

a)    an elephant

b)    a cat

c)    a weasel

CatherineAnd I said a cat.

DanAnd you are wrong I’m afraid. Kopi luwak comes from a type of weasel.

CatherineI’m kind of relieved about that.

DanLet’s try not to think about it, and have a look at the vocabulary instead.

CatherineOK. So, first we had dash. A dash of something is a small amount of something, usually a liquid. Where might we talk about a dash of something, Dan?

DanWell, I like my tea with a dash of milk. My gin with a dash of tonic, and my soup with a dash of salt. Then we had aficionado. An aficionado is someone who is very interested or enthusiastic about a subject. What are you an aficionado of?

CatherineI’m working on becoming a bit of an accordion aficionado actually, Dan.

Dan Wow, cool!

CatherineYeah! After that, we had as cheap as chips. Is something as cheap as chips? Then it is very cheap indeed.

DanLike my shoes! I bought them at a market for next to nothing. They were as cheap as chips. Then we had ethical. Something which is ethical is morally right. Do you consider yourself to be an ethical person, Catherine?

CatherineWell, I try, Dan. I don’t always get it right, but I do attempt to be. After that we heard roasted. Roasted means cooked in an oven. Like our coffee beans!

DanAnd of course our very famous English roast. Finally, we had a premium. If you pay a premium, you pay more than usual - usually for a better quality or service. Can you think of an example?

CatherineIf you’re going to the cinema, you might pay a premium to get more comfortable seats.

DanAnd that’s the end of this 6 Minute English. Don’t forget to check out our YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, and we’ll see you next time. Goodbye.


BBC Learning English - 6 Minute English / The story behind coffee

Coffee is now the most popular drink in the world – even for the English, long-known as a nation of tea drinkers. And we are becoming more choosy about the coffee we drink - the focus is very much on quality. But what about the economics and politics of coffee production? It's as complicated as getting the right flavour in your cup.

This week's question:How many cups of coffee are drunk worldwide each year? Is it:a) 38 billionb) 400 billionc) 950 billion

Listen to the programme to find out the answer. 


commoditysomething that can be bought and sold 

speculatemake a guess about something based on experience or limited information

fluctuationschanges in prices

vulnerableeasy to change

makes waveshave a big effect

provides forhave enough income to live comfortably

labour intensiveemploying a lot of people

packageput a product in a packet or box before selling

profitableto have enough income to live comfortably


Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript 

RobHello, I'm Rob. Welcome to 6 Minute English. With me today is Neil. Hello, Neil.

NeilHello Rob!

RobIn this programme we're going to be talking about coffee.

NeilCoffee? I've actually got one here in front of me, Rob.

RobWhat kind of coffee are you drinking?

NeilIt's a skinny latte. And what's that that you've got?

RobI've gone for a flat white today. (Sound of sipping) Mmm. That tastes good.

NeilLooks good too! The market for the world's most popular drink has come a long way since the days of instant coffee, when we just added boiling water to some brown powder.

RobYes, that's very true, Neil. After that came the giants like Starbucks and Costa Coffee who made coffee drinking trendy and a lifestyle statement. People are far more aware of what they're drinking these days.

NeilBut Rob, I don't think we should forget what lies behind the coffee we enjoy every day. It's a hugely complicated business.

RobYes, it's the second biggest commodity in the world, after oil. That means the price of coffee is changing every day, every hour even, as traders speculate about the price.

NeilIt means farmers in countries like Ethiopia, Costa Rica and Brazil are dependent on the deals that are made in commodity markets thousands of miles from their farms. It makes them extremely vulnerable.

RobLet's listen to food journalist Sheila Dillon as she explains the impact of coffee markets on local growers. She uses an expression that means "has a big effect". Can you tell me what it is?

INSERTSheila Dillon, Food JournalistWhat happens in the coffee markets makes waves around the globe. Entire national economies depend on the price of coffee. It's the key to whether individual farmers can provide for their families, face unemployment and ultimately whether whole communities stay on the land or trek to the cities.

NeilShe said "makes waves". This means "have a big effect".

RobShe also used the expression "provide for" their families. This means the farmer's family have enough income to live comfortably. Good. Right. So what about our quiz question today? Neil do you know many cups of coffee are drunk worldwide each year? Is it:

a)           38 billion

b)          400 billion

c)           950 billion

NeilWell, it's going to be a huge number, of course. But I still think I'll go for the lowest figure, which is 38 billion.

RobWell, we'll see if you got the right answer at the end of the programme.

NeilNow, the price of coffee has soared – that means gone up quickly – in recent years, Rob. Surely that's good for everyone involved in the business? I believe the profit margins for coffee are among the highest in the world. I can't see what all the fuss is about.

RobWell, Neil, just because the price is high, it doesn't mean that everyone benefits. It all depends on how the profits are distributed. You see there are countless transactions between the grower and the drinker. A grower can have a really good crop, but the amount he makes stays the same – or can even fall.

NeilMmm, I see the problem. I expect most of the profits go to the commodity traders and very little to the individual growers of the bean. It sounds like the growers have no control. That's what happens in other agricultural sectors.

RobI'm afraid so. Of course, some people are trying to distribute the profits more widely and they have been having some success.

NeilYes, I heard about some small-scale projects where the company takes charge of the whole process from field to shop.

RobYes, these organisations tend to farm organically. This is very labour intensive – that means a lot of people are employed – and it creates a lot of jobs for people within the local community. In this way they are not victims of market fluctuations. Let's listen to Leo Virmani, who runs a small plantation like this in Costa Rica. What's the verb he uses for putting the coffee in a box before selling it?

INSERTLeo Virmani, Coffee producerFor our plantation, the approach we have is to go through every step of the way - every step of the process - so that we grow it, we pick it, and we process it in the mill. Then eventually we'll roast it, we'll package it, and we'll sell it as the small plantation we are. And that would allow us to stay or be profitable at the end of the day.

NeilSo, he used the verb "package", which means "put a product in a packet or box before selling" it. 

RobAnd he said his community can stay "profitable" – this means they can always maintain profits – or make money.

NeilWell, it's good to know that small growers can live reasonably comfortably despite what the world markets are doing. The next time I grab a takeaway coffee I'll try to remember all the politics involved in the production process.

RobYes, me too. So, shall we have the answer to the quiz question now?

NeilYes. You asked me how many cups of coffee are drunk worldwide each year – 38 billion, 400 billion or 950 billion. And I guessed 38 billion.

RobI'm afraid you're wrong – the answer is actually 400 billion.

NeilNo way.That's incredible.

RobYes, it's an extraordinary statistic. Well, we're almost out of time. So, let's remind ourselves of some of the words we've said today, Neil.





make waves

provides for

labour intensive



RobWell, that's it for today. Do visit to find more 6 Minute English programmes. Until next time. Goodbye!


Coffee and qahwa: How a drink for Arab mystics went global

Image copyright Thinkstock

The Arab world has given birth to many thinkers and many inventions - among them the three-course meal, alcohol and coffee. The best coffee bean is still known as Arabica, but it's come a long way from the Muslim mystics who treasured it centuries ago, to the chains that line our high streets.

Think coffee, and you probably think of an Italian espresso, a French cafe au lait, or an American double grande latte with cinnamon.

Perhaps you learned at school that the USA became a nation of coffee drinkers because of the excise duty King George placed on tea? Today ubiquitous chains like Starbucks, Cafe Nero and Costa grace every international airport, and follow the now much humbler Nescafe as symbols of globalisation.

Coffee is produced in hot climates like Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, Vietnam and Indonesia, and you could be forgiven if you thought it is a product from the New World like tobacco and chocolate. After all, all three became popular in Europe at more or less the same time, in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

In fact, coffee comes from the highland areas of the countries at the southern end of the Red Sea - Yemen and Ethiopia.

Image copyright Getty Images

Although a beverage made from the wild coffee plant seems to have been first drunk by a legendary shepherd on the Ethiopian plateau, the earliest cultivation of coffee was in Yemen and Yemenis gave it the Arabic name qahwa, from which our words coffee and cafe both derive.

Qahwa originally meant wine, and Sufi mystics in Yemen used coffee as an aid to concentration and even spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God.

Three courses, and alcohol

Image copyright Getty Images
  • The Arabs invented the concept of the three-course meal, with soup followed by fish or meat, then fruit and nuts - the habit was brought across to Moorish Spain in the 9th Century from Iraq
  • Alcohol may have been distilled in c800AD by Jabir Ibn Hayyan in Kufa in Iraq, and our word "alcohol" derives from the Arabic "al kuhul"... many Arab countries, like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Morocco, make wines and beers, even though Islam does not permit the drinking of alcohol

Try some indulgent coffee recipes

Find out about buying and using coffee beans

By 1414, it was known in Mecca and in the early 1500s was spreading to Egypt from the Yemeni port of Mocha. It was still associated with Sufis, and a cluster of coffee houses grew up in Cairo around the religious university of the Azhar. They also opened in Syria, especially in the cosmopolitan city of Aleppo, and then in Istanbul, the capital of the vast Ottoman Turkish Empire, in 1554.

In Mecca, Cairo and Istanbul attempts were made to ban it by religious authorities. Learned shaykhs discussed whether the effects of coffee were similar to those of alcohol, and some remarked that passing round the coffee pot had something in common with the circulation of a pitcher of wine, a drink forbidden in Islam.

Coffee houses were a new institution in which men met together to talk, listen to poets and play games like chess and backgammon. They became a focus for intellectual life and could be seen as an implicit rival to the mosque as a meeting place.

Some scholars opined that the coffee house was "even worse than the wine room", and the authorities noted how these places could easily become dens of sedition. However, all attempts at banning coffee failed, even though the death penalty was used during the reign of Murad IV (1623-40). The religious scholars eventually came to a sensible consensus that coffee was, in principle, permissible.

Coffee spread to Europe by two routes - from the Ottoman Empire, and by sea from the original coffee port of Mocha.

Image copyright Getty Images

Both the English and Dutch East India Companies were major purchasers at Mocha in the early 17th Century, and their cargoes were brought home via the Cape of Good Hope or exported to India and beyond. They seem, however, to have only taken a fraction of Yemeni coffee production - as the rest went north to the rest of the Middle East.

Image copyright Getty Images The coffee which is native to the Gulf is bitter and sometimes flavoured with cardamom or other spices

Coffee also arrived in Europe through trade across the Mediterranean and was carried by the Turkish armies as they marched up the Danube. As in the Middle East, the coffee house became a place for men to talk, read, share their opinions on the issues of the day and play games.

Another similarity was that they could harbour gatherings for subversive elements. Charles II denounced them in 1675 as "places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers".

A century later Procope, the famous Parisian coffee house, had such habitues as Marat, Danton and Robespierre who conspired together there during the Revolution.

At first, coffee had been viewed with suspicion in Europe as a Muslim drink, but around 1600 Pope Clement VIII is reported to have so enjoyed a cup that he said it would be wrong to permit Muslims to monopolise it, and that it should therefore be baptised.

Austrian coffee drinking is said to have received a big boost when the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 was broken, and the European victors captured huge coffee supplies from the vanquished.

Perhaps that is why, to this day, coffee is served in Vienna with a glass of water - just like the tiny cups of powerful Turkish coffee with its heavy sediment in Istanbul, Damascus or Cairo. Is this just a coincidence, or a long forgotten cultural borrowing?

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Viennese cafes serve it with a glass of water

The beverage we call "Turkish coffee" is actually a partial misnomer, as Turkey is just one of the countries where it is drunk. In Greece they call it "Greek coffee", although Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, Jordanians and others do not seem to care overmuch about the name.

10 borrowed Arabic words

  • The word cheque comes from the Arabic word saqq, and reflects the sophistication of finance in Arab countries in the early middle ages
  • The word algorithm is derived from the name of Abū Abdallah Muḥammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi whose name (al-Khwarizmi) is, in Latin, Algoritmi
  • Cipher comes from Arabic sifr, meaning "zero, naught, nothing"
  • The word for cotton derives from the Arabic qutn
  • Ghoul is an Arabic word for "a desert demon which can appear in different forms and shapes; an ogre or cannibal"
  • The English magazine is a word borrowed from the Arabic makhzan, meaning "storehouse"
  • Nadir has its origin in Arabic nazir, indicating "opposite, facing, parallel"
  • Tamarind refers to Arabic tamr hindi, literally meaning "Indian date"
  • The word safari has its root in the Arabic word safar, which means "journey"
  • Tariff comes from Arabic ta'rif, which means "notification" or "definition"

But there are other coffee drinking traditions in the Arab world. The coffee which is native to the Gulf is bitter and sometimes flavoured with cardamom or other spices.

It is often served a decent interval after a guest has arrived - to serve it too soon might be an impolite suggestion of haste - and then once again before departure.

It often comes just before or after a small glass cup of black, sweet tea. The order in which the two beverages are served varies, and seems to have no significance. What is remarkable for a Western visitor is the idea that the two very different drinks should be offered in such quick succession.

Sadly, however, while coffee has gone truly global production has declined in Yemen, the victim of cheap imports and rival crops like the narcotic qat.

In 2011, Yemen exported a mere 2,500 tonnes although there are attempts to revive cultivation of the best coffee in its original home. Today, none of the Arab countries is listed among the world's significant producers.

John McHugo is author of A Concise History of The Arabs

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook.

Saving coffee from extinction - BBC News

Image copyright Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image caption Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew

Two billion cups of coffee are drunk around the world every day and 25 million families rely on growing coffee for a living. Over the past 15 years, consumption of the drink has risen by 43% - but researchers are warning that the world's most popular coffee, Arabica, is under threat.

Although there are 124 known species of coffee, most of the coffee that's grown comes from just two - Arabica and Robusta.

Robusta makes up about 30% of global coffee production, and is mainly used for instant coffee. As the name implies, it is a strong plant - but for many, its taste cannot compare to the smooth and complex flavours of Arabica.

It is Arabica that drives the industry and accounts for the majority of coffee grown worldwide, but it is a more fragile plant and only tolerates a narrow band of environmental conditions. It is particularly sensitive to changes in temperature and rainfall.

In 2012, research by a team from the UK's Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, revealed a bleak picture for wild coffee in Ethiopia, where Arabica originated. They did a computer modelling exercise to predict how environmental changes would affect Arabica for the rest of the century. They forecast that the number of locations where wild Arabica coffee grows could decrease by 85% by 2080 - the worst-case outcome was a 99.7% reduction.

Image copyright Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image caption Coffee leaves feeling the heat Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew

"If we don't do anything now and over the next 20 years, by end of the century, wild Arabica in Ethiopia could be extinct - that's in the worst-case scenario," says Dr Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at Kew, who led the project.

The report made headlines around the world and spurred the industry into action. Since then, the team from Kew and their partners in Ethiopia have covered 25,000km in Ethiopia, visiting coffee producing areas to compare their predictions with what is happening in reality. "It's important to see what's happening on the ground, observing what influence climate change is having on coffee now, and talking to farmers. They can tell us what has happened, sometimes taking us back many decades, with several generations of farmers involved," says Davis.

Image copyright Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image caption Ripe red coffee cherries, ready for harvest. Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image copyright Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image caption On average 32 hands touch the coffee beans before reaching your cup - these are number six in the chain. Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image copyright Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image caption Night-time sorting - coffee cherries can arrive at the sorting house any time of day or night. Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew

The team is now working with the Ethiopian government to find ways to safeguard the coffee industry. Moving production to higher ground - where it's cooler - might be part of the solution. Some areas currently unsuitable for coffee growing may become suitable in the future. "It's jeopardy and threat in some areas, but opportunity in others," says Davis.

Little was known about wild Arabica until quite recently - it was not until the end of the 19th Century that scientists confirmed it as an Ethiopian plant, rather than Arabian, as the name suggested. Dr Tadesse Woldermariam Gole, an Ethiopian wild coffee specialist, only completed his work on mapping wild Arabica a few years ago. It is now known that wild Arabica coffee grows only in southern Ethiopia, on either side of the Rift Valley, and on the Boma plateau in South Sudan.

Kew's research has wide-ranging implications, not just for Ethiopia's many small-scale coffee producers, but also for the rest of the world. Anything that poses a threat to the indigenous, wild varieties of Arabica grown in Ethiopia is likely to affect commercial varieties even more. Environment is a key factor, but there is another reason too - genetics.

"Wild species have much greater genetic diversity - anything happening in the wild populations is usually amplified in commercial varieties where the genetic diversity is so much less," says Justin Moat, Kew's head of spatial analysis.

Commercial coffee, grown in plantations, is thought to have no more than 10% of the genetic variety of wild Arabica. Put simply, it is in-bred.

The reasons for this lack of genetic diversity are partly historical. Many plantations were established from single plants, shipped out to various colonies - a single plant was taken from Amsterdam's botanical gardens to Surinam in 1718, another was sent to Martinique in 1720, and so on.

Image copyright Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image caption Dr Aaron Davis with some coffee samples at Kew. Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew

And since then, very few new varieties have been developed. "Unlike many other crop species, coffee has had very little research behind it, says Dr Timothy Schilling, executive director of the World Coffee Research institute (WCR).

Schilling says coffee is "an orphan crop", meaning it has been grown in tropical countries that did not have the resources to invest in research. Coffee only has about 40 plant breeders, compared to thousands in crops like corn, rice or wheat.

Image copyright Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image caption Coffee growing in a shaded plantation in Gesha, Ethiopia. Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew

"Richer countries buy it, roast it and drink it, but have not paid for the agronomy. Only now is the industry waking up and seeing the need for it. The coffee industry has realised no-one else is doing it - it's going to have to be us," says Schilling. "But there is a big gap in our knowledge. For example we didn't know the genetic base was so small."

Just how small became clear earlier this year.

In 2013 WCR thought it had found a gold mine of genetic variation - 870 strains of wild Arabica coffee, growing in Costa Rica's Center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Education. The plants had been collected in Ethiopia the 1960s by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and distributed to more than a dozen countries in an effort to increase diversity - this was one of the only collections to survive.

"We took every one of those strains and sequenced the DNA strands and matched them one by one to see what diversity there was," says Schilling. "We got the results back in the beginning of the year and there was amazingly little diversity. It was a big shock. We knew it was small, but not that small."

"As a result, we don't have the diversity in available Arabica coffees that we need for the next 200 years."

Lack of diversity in crops can have disastrous consequences - it makes them more susceptible to disease. And coffee has a foe - coffee leaf rust. The fungus wiped out Sri Lanka's coffee plantations entirely in the late 1800s, and there was a bad outbreak in 2013 in Central America. The coffee grown there had no resistance to the disease - the crop relied on the protection of low temperatures at higher altitudes.

Image copyright Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image caption Older coffee farmers remember when the harvest was good every year - not any more. Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew

This is why Schilling is embarking on an ambitious plan - "to recreate Arabica, but with better breeding."

The origins of Arabica are pretty extraordinary. It is a hybrid of two types of coffee, C eugenioides and C canephora (Robusta coffee).

"It's a love story actually," says Schilling. "Arabica has two parents that met some 10-15,000 years ago and combined to create Arabica. It was a one-time-only event, a one-night stand, if you will.

"So even from the get-go, the genetic base was not that big, just one C eugenioides getting it on with one C canephora."

He now intends to recreate that hybrid and improve on it. "What we aim to do is to get a bunch of highly diverse C eugenioides and C canephora and cross them, to recreate C arabica but better - more diverse."

Schilling points out that this is not genetic engineering, but old-fashioned breeding, using modern techniques - and that it could take decades.

In the shorter term, WCR has decided to start another breeding programme, too. "We need to take all the good things of Robusta and combine them with Arabica," he says. "Robusta is hardy and produces a lot, but it has a notoriously awful taste."

Image copyright Courtesy of RBG Kew Image caption A disease-stricken Arabica coffee plant next to a towering Liberica. Illustration from a 1878 book by GA Cruwell, courtesy of RBG Kew

It may seem obvious, but taste is the critical factor in any breeding programme. This aspect has been ignored in the past, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

In the late 1800s, after coffee leaf rust devastated the Arabica plantations in Sri Lanka, the British government decided to grow a new type of coffee: Liberica. They tried in vain to convince the public that it would be a good substitute. "Liberica is a strong grower and a prolific cropper but it just doesn't taste very good, and for many tastes a bit like vegetable soup," says Davis.

The Ceylon Observer recorded the venture's dismal failure in a series of articles. "They start off saying it is great coffee. Then, five years later: 'Well it will be good for the US market, they like strong coffee,' to: 'Will anybody drink this coffee?'" says Davis.

So does nothing taste as good as Arabica? "Coffea stenophylla, sometimes known as the highland coffee of Sierra Leone, is supposed to be incredible," says Schilling. Drunk locally, in 1896 it was described by Kew as one of the two species of coffee which could "prove a formidable rival of the Arabian coffee" - the other was Liberica. Who knows, if the British had opted for C stenophylla instead, what coffee would taste like today.

Image copyright Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image caption Coffee cherries at various stages in the ripening process. Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew

Davis is not sure the answer lies in using different species of coffee. "Most wild coffee species either don't taste very good or produce small crops, although there are some species that could have potential, either as crops themselves or as part of breeding programmes. But this won't happen overnight," he says.

This is why the work of Kew and its partners, especially those in Ethiopia, to safeguard the existing indigenous population of wild Arabica is so vital - the hope is that this will provide the tools to ensure coffee's survival.

Image copyright Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image caption Ethiopia is the fifth-largest producer of coffee in the world, and a major consumer of its own coffee. Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew


Perhaps the country that has historically been most closely associated with coffee is Colombia. Half a century ago, coffee accounted for 80% of Colombia's exports although it's a lot less now. Coffee exports were helped by a global marketing campaign based on a fictional character known as Juan Valdez. He was a caricature of a typical Colombian coffee farmer.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionCarlos Castaneda is the current face of Juan Valdez


Other countries are trying to make their mark on the world coffee market too. Burundi is one of them. Following the end of its civil war in 2006, coffee now accounts for the bulk of its foreign exports.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionFabrice is one of dozens of "coffee scouts" who are on the lookout for the bugs killing the coffee beans.


Global coffee consumption is even rising in India, the home of tea.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionShashank and Prerna met over coffee and started dating

Listen to The Food Chain on Coffee: Globalisation's drink of choice.

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Image copyright Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew Image caption Ethiopia is a major consumer of its own coffee - there are coffee shops everywhere. Photo: Jenny Williams/RBG Kew

BBC Learning English - 6 Minute English / How do you like your coffee?

How different are cafes of the 21st century from the very first coffee houses? Cafes have become free wifi hotspots. Has the internet replaced the lively debate and intellectual discussions that used to be their main feature in the past? Rob and Catherine discuss this over a coffee and teach you new vocabulary.

This week's question 

How many cups of coffee do we consume in coffee shops or stores in the UK every year? Is it...

a) 2.3 million

b) 23 million or

c) 23 billion?

Listen to the programme to find out the answer.


debatea discussion that a lot of people take part in

stimulating encouraging new ideas and enthusiasm

consumeeat or drink, (also) use

vibe the mood or atmosphere in a place

squatter someone who lives in an empty building without paying rent

hoguse all or most of something in a selfish way


Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript 

CatherineHello, I'm Catherine. Welcome to Six Minute English where we engage in some lively debate and discuss six stimulating items of vocabulary! And let's start. Here's your cup of coffee, Rob.

RobThanks! But what took you so long, Catherine?

CatherineSorry Rob. I bumped into somebody I knew in the café and stopped for a chat.

RobOK, well, that fits well with today's show where we're talking about cafés or coffee houses. Did you know, Catherine, that coffee houses were originally a meeting place for lively debate and intellectual discussion?

CatherineReally. I didn't know that, Rob. A debate, by the way, means a discussion that a lot of people take part in. So how long ago was this debating society?

RobThe first coffee house was set up in Oxford in 1650. But they quickly became popular and soon they were all over London too. You paid a penny to get in, and this included access to newspapers – and stimulating conversation!

CatherineIf something is stimulating it encourages ideas and enthusiasm. I expect the coffee helped with that a bit did it?

RobIt certainly helps me first thing in the morning.

CatherineWhich brings me on to today's question, Rob! How many cups of coffee do we consume in coffee shops or stores in the UK every year? Consume, by the way, is another word for eat or drink. Is it…a) 2.3 millionb) 23 million orc) 23 billion?

RobOh I don't know but it's got to be a lot so I'm going to go for c) 23 billion? That sounds like a lot of coffee, but I buy several cups a week – and I expect you do too, Catherine?

CatherineI do indeed. But I have to say, while I was getting our coffees earlier, there was nobody else in the café talking except me and my friend. Everybody was sitting on their own, tapping away on their laptops. Let's listen now to Douglas Fraser, BBC Scotland's Business and Economy Editor, describing the vibe – or atmosphere – in a typical 21st century café…

Douglas Fraser, BBC Scotland's Business and Economy EditorTen or so in the morning, the café has five people at tables with their backs to the wall, each staring into a screen, plugged in, ears plugged. The flow of bytes through this coffee shop's free wifi is transporting these customers to diverse destinations far from the person beside them. Collaborative working, a research grant application, a potential blockbuster novel, and inevitably, someone distracted by kitten pictures on social media.

RobSo the spirit of those 17th century coffee houses has disappeared then? No more lively debate and intellectual discussion?

CatherineIt seems so Rob. As Douglas Fraser says, many people sit alone plugged into their laptops – and they're all doing different things – working, writing, messing about on social media.

RobI think the café owners should turn off the free wifi and force these café squatters to move on! I don't think people should be allowed to sit all day using the internet – hogging tables – and not talking to anybody! Especially when some of them don't even buy a coffee!

CatherineThat's a bit extreme, Rob. Café owners need customers – and they encourage people to stay by having comfy sofas and newspapers to read and the free wifi! A squatter, by the way, is someone who lives in an empty building without paying rent. And if you hog something you use most or all of it in a selfish way.

RobI suppose you're right. Now, how about telling us the answer to today's question then?

CatherineI asked: How many cups of coffee do we consume in cafés or stores in the UK every year? Is it… a) 2.3 million b) 23 million or c) 23 billion?

RobI could sit in a cafe and use their free wifi to research the answer but I had a guess and said 23 billion.

CatherineWell you didn't need that free wifi Rob because you were absolutely right! 23 billion coffees per year works out on average as 45 cups per adult in the UK.

RobOK, I think it's time we looked back at the words we learned today. Our first word is 'debate' – a discussion that a lot of people take part in.

CatherineFor example, 'I took part in a number of stimulating debates at school.' Number two – if something is 'stimulating', it encourages new ideas and enthusiasm. For example, 'It's hard to have a stimulating conversation with someone who's looking at their phone all the time.'

RobThat's very true – let me just slide my phone into my pocket… there! Our next word is 'consume' – another word for eating or drinking – but it can also mean 'to use'. For example, 'My car consumes a lot of petrol.'

CatherineOr, 'How do I calculate my car's fuel consumption?' So 'consumption' there is the noun.Number four is – 'vibe' – which means the mood or atmosphere in a place. For example, 'Oxford is a city but it has a small-town vibe.'

RobI'm getting bad vibes from our next word – which is 'squatter' – that's someone who lives in an empty building without paying rent. The building is called a 'squat' so for example, 'I lived in a squat for two years.'

CatherineReally? You squatted in a squat, Rob?

RobNo, it was just an example. I'm not a squatter.

CatherineYou've never squatted?

RobNo I haven't. Look we're wasting time here! We need to move on to our final word – hog. If you 'hog' something, you use all or most of it in a selfish way.

CatherineFor example, 'Rob! You've hogged the only comfy chair! That is so selfish!'

RobI admit it, Catherine. I'm a chair hog. That's the noun. OK, before we head off for another cup of coffee please remember to check out our Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages.


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