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Arabica & Robusta, meet your new friend Brassii

From the August 2011 issue.

The discovery of Australia’s first indigenous coffee bean species is an important step for the long-term future of coffee production.

Brassii Australian indigenous coffee genusIn 1801 botanist, Robert Brown, joined Commander Matthew Flinders on the HMS Investigator for the first circumnavigation of Australia. On 2 November, 1802 the Investigator weighed anchor at Goods Island (Palilug Island) in the Torres Strait, allowing Brown to collect a rather insignificant and unknown plant belonging to the coffee family (Rubiaceae). 

This same plant was collected again in 1821 by botanist and explorer, Allan Cunningham, from Sunday Island.  It was not seen again on Australian soil for 150 years until 1971 on the island of Dauan in the Torres Strait. Three years later, rainforest botanists, Len Webb and Geoff Tracey, found the same plant growing on a remote headland on the east coast of the Cape York Peninsula, near the mouth of the Pascoe River. In the meantime, this unknown plant was finally named as a new species, Paracoffea brassii, which later changed to Psilanthus brassii.

Nearly four decades later, this plant would find itself the subject of discussion among the coffee industry at large, after taxonomic research undertaken earlier this year – led by Dr Aaron Davis at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the United Kingdom - confirmed a close relationship between the coffee genus, Coffea and the genus Psilanthus. As it turns out, what Brown had discovered 209 years ago, was Australia’s first and only known indigenous coffee species.

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