I am in Costa Rica, visiting Lisi as she finishes up her final field placement, and we took the opportunity to make the trip to Turrialba, home of the Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza, or CATIE. Along with the Instituto Agronomico de Campinas, or IAC, (featured in a previous blog), CATIE is home to a large genoplasm bank of coffee varietals, many of which came from the same 1954 FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) mission that fostered an exchange between producing countries. Due to the way in which the history of coffee unfolded, the lack of plant diversity from which the majority of the world’s arabica coffee was derived has led to an imaginable dearth of plant variety, especially in terms of flavor profile. Coffee plants were initially heavily guarded by producing countries, and plants were smuggled out and eventually added to the botanical gardens of Amsterdam and Paris. The plants in these gardens formed the basis for the planting of coffee in the various European colonies (Bourbon, Haiti, French Guiana, etc). Furthermore, since coffee quality historically was viewed as pass/fail, or drinkable/not drinkable, with few distinctions, the development of the plant by research institutions focused far more on vigor, disease resistance, and productivity than on unique flavors or other cup quality attributes. The majority of the cultivars currently used – Mundo Novo, Catuai, Caturra, etc. offer very similar flavor/cup profiles. Institutions such as the IAC and CATIE, as well as exploratory/categorizing trips back to the African homeland of coffee, will perhaps determine the future of specialty coffee and provide us with flavor profiles we never could have imagined.