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How old is the coffee bean? Researchers investigate

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The coffee bean that we know and love may be over 600,000 years old. That's according to a new study.

PATRICK DESCOMBES: Arabica is actually coming from the mating of two parents, robusta and eugenioides, much like we are coming from our parents.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

That's Patrick Descombes of Nestle. He was one of the researchers involved in the study. He says arabica is the result of a natural crossbreeding of plants that happened long before humans got involved. Descombes likes to use an analogy to describe his research into the origins of coffee.

DESCOMBES: Let's imagine that you have multiple translations of the same book, and you would like to know how similar or different they are. In order to do so, you will need to compare all of them to the same reference book.

FADEL: And that's what the researchers helped create, a high-quality reference book for the most popular coffee out there. They analyzed the family trees of more than 30 different types of arabica, including a sample from the 1700s.

MARTÍNEZ: Their research can be used to help develop better-tasting coffee. Descombes does work for Nestle, after all, a company that owns several coffee brands, but it can also help scientists with another important mission.

DESCOMBES: We could use this information to, for example, develop new coffee varieties that would be resistant to climate changes.

FADEL: And research like that will hopefully keep your cup of Joe full for years to come. Coffee - it fuels MORNING EDITION.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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