AC1 Coffee Variety: Breakthrough In The Coffee Industry With Naturally Low Caffeine Content

Vietnamese Coffee Exporter
AC1 coffee variety

AC1 coffee variety: In recent years, there has been a noticeable surge in interest surrounding naturally low-caffeine coffee varieties. Laurina and Aamosa are among the varieties gaining prominence, finding their way into high-end coffee shops and auctions, and even securing victory in the 2018 World Brewers Cup.

Specialty coffee enthusiasts are increasingly recognizing the quality potential inherent in these varieties, fueling a gradual yet steady growth in the market for high-quality low-caffeine coffee.

Another naturally low-caffeine variety making waves is AC1, initially discovered in Ethiopia. The Campinas Agronomic Institute (IAC) has undertaken extensive research on AC1 to gauge its market potential, yielding promising results.

To delve deeper into AC1, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Julio Mistro, a researcher at IAC, and Kenean Dukamo, the head of coffee at Ethiopian exporter Daye Bensa. Their insights shed further light on this intriguing coffee variety.

What is the origin of the AC1 variety?

The origins of AC1, a naturally low-caffeine coffee variety, trace back to Ethiopia, renowned for its rich coffee heritage. AC1 coffee variety stands out for its remarkably low caffeine content, averaging about 0.76 mg of caffeine per gram of coffee, in stark contrast to the 8 to 12 mg/g typically found in Arabica varieties.

Approximately six decades ago, a team of agronomists and researchers affiliated with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) embarked on a mission to Ethiopia. During this expedition, they gathered 621 Arabica seed varieties, distributing them to research institutions worldwide, including the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in Costa Rica.

In 1973, Dr. Alcides Carvalho, then a researcher at the Campinas Agronomic Institute (IAC), acquired a portion of the seeds allocated to CATIE. These seeds found a new home at Fazenda Santa Elisa in Campinas, Brazil, under the care of Dr. Carvalho. It was not until 26 years later that Dr. Maria Bernadete Silvarolla, another IAC researcher, identified three Arabica plants among those cultivated at Fazenda Santa Elisa: AC1, AC2, and AC3, distinguished by their exceptionally low caffeine levels.

Dr. Julio Mistro currently oversees the research project at Fazenda Santa Elisa, providing insights into the characteristics of AC1. “AC1 coffee variety exhibits a towering stature with less angular branches compared to other coffee trees, yielding coffee in moderate quantities,” he notes. “While demonstrating moderate tolerance to coffee rust, this variety proves highly sensitive to elevated temperatures and arid climates.”

Investigations into the AC1 variety

In a 2011 study titled “Characterization of AC1 coffee variety: A Naturally Decaffeinated Coffee,” researchers from IAC conducted a comparative analysis between AC1 and Mundo Novo, a popular coffee variety in Brazil known for its relatively low caffeine content (around 1-1.2%).

The study aimed to assess various factors including cherry development, sugars, organic acids, amino acids, and phenolic compounds in both varieties. Despite AC1 cherries being smaller than Mundo Novo, the chemical composition of both showed several similarities, indicating the potential market viability of the AC1 AC1 coffee variety.

Is there a demand for low-caffeine varieties in the market?

While naturally low-caffeine coffee varieties are relatively new to the global coffee scene, decaffeinated coffee holds a significant market share. According to research conducted by SkyQuest, the global decaffeinated coffee market is projected to reach a value of US$28.86 billion by 2030.

Although moderate caffeine consumption is generally safe for most individuals, there are various reasons why consumers opt for decaffeinated coffee. These include allergies and health concerns, particularly regarding the methods employed to extract caffeine from green coffee beans.

Historically, apprehensions have arisen due to the use of methyl chloride, a chemical solvent, in caffeine removal processes. AC1 coffee variety: The potential toxicity associated with methyl chloride consumption in substantial amounts prompted numerous companies to discontinue its use as a solvent.

Various decaffeination techniques

Currently, there are multiple safe approaches to decaffeinating coffee, each exerting its unique influence on the taste and quality of the final product. Among these methods, the Swiss Water process stands out as the most prevalent, having been utilized commercially since the 1970s.

In the Swiss Water process, fresh water, containing soluble compounds from green coffee except caffeine, is employed. This solution, known as green coffee extract (GCE), is used to soak the green coffee beans for up to ten hours. During this period, the caffeine compounds migrate from the beans into the GCE, resulting in a residual caffeine content of approximately 0.01%.

For many aficionados in the specialty coffee realm, the Swiss Water decaffeination method is prized for its ability to maintain the innate characteristics of the coffee. Moreover, it is celebrated as one of the safest and most natural means of extracting caffeine from green coffee beans.

Other notable decaffeination techniques include the Mountain Water Process pioneered by Descamex, the carbon dioxide method, and the Descafecol sugar cane method. AC1 coffee variety: Given that different decaffeination methods can influence coffee quality and flavor profiles diversely, there exists significant market potential for low-caffeine varieties. With their inherent low caffeine content, these coffees obviate the need for chemical alteration or treatment, thereby preserving quality and flavor to the fullest extent possible.

Potential for popularizing the AC1 variety

Amidst the burgeoning interest in low-caffeine varieties such as Laurina and Aamosa within the industry, there arises the question of whether AC1 shares the same potential.

While conclusive findings necessitate further research, it’s evident that the inherently low caffeine levels in AC1 coffee variety and similar coffees pose challenges to their widespread adoption. Caffeine serves as a natural deterrent against insects and pests, implying that coffee plants with reduced caffeine content may face heightened vulnerability and susceptibility to premature demise. Consequently, despite the escalating interest from specialty coffee enthusiasts and consumers, producers may find scant motivation to cultivate low-caffeine varieties.

Julio underscores this sentiment, stating, “The IAC does not advocate for the commercial cultivation of AC1 coffee variety, and we have refrained from distributing seeds for commercial planting.” He elucidates, “AC1 coffee variety necessitates distinct treatment compared to other Brazilian varieties, entailing augmented fertilizer application, irrigation, and intensified weed, pest, and disease control measures.”

“Even with the implementation of these rigorous protocols, which also incur elevated costs, the returns are expected to remain meager,” he elaborates. “To explore sustainable scalability in AC1 coffee variety production, more intricate studies are imperative.”

Utilizing low-caffeine varieties to broaden production

In response to the complexities inherent in cultivating AC1 coffee variety and similar low-caffeine coffees, agronomists are leveraging these varieties to assess prospective market avenues.

“The IAC has undertaken crossbreeding initiatives involving AC1 and prominent Brazilian Arabica cultivars like Catuaí, Mundo Novo, Obatã, and Ouro Verde,” Julio elucidates. “This endeavor has yielded novel varieties characterized by elevated yield potential and caffeine levels ranging from 0.03% to 0.10%.”

Furthermore, Julio divulges that the IAC is currently executing regional trials to discern the optimal candidates for commercial cultivation. “The successful completion of these trials is anticipated within a six to seven-year timeframe,” he remarks. “We remain receptive to collaborations with entities willing to invest in the conclusive phase of this program.”

As of June 2023, the IAC reported the commencement of planting activities for several of these low-caffeine varieties across Brazilian farms, with initial outcomes appearing promising. “Our aim is to develop varieties that surpass Laurina in productivity while maintaining lower caffeine levels,” he underscores. “On average, Laurina boasts a caffeine content of approximately 0.6%, yet its yield potential is minimal, and it is susceptible to various diseases.”

Looking ahead to the future

Kenean Dukamo, the runner-up in the Cup of Excellence Ethiopia 2022, underscores that while he may not currently cultivate AC1 coffee variety or other low-caffeine varieties, there exists a palpable interest in exploring such options.

“We would be amenable to cultivating coffee varieties with naturally low caffeine content to offer as an alternative to decaffeinated options,” he affirms.

The relentless drive for innovation within the specialty coffee sphere necessitates the expansion and diversification of the market for low-caffeine varieties like AC1 coffee variety. Although further research is imperative to elucidate strategies for scaling up the production of these coffees, both roasters and consumers are increasingly demonstrating keen interest.

In order for producers to viably cultivate more low-caffeine varieties, it is imperative that they receive appropriate support and guidance to navigate the complexities of their production and distribution.