Latin America​’s premium coffee growers branch out to cheaper robusta beans

A growing number of farmers in Latin American nations renowned for their high-quality arabica coffee are starting to plant cheaper robusta – a crop still frowned upon or even outlawed in some countries. In locales such as Colombia and Costa Rica, many in the industry have feared the low-brow bean will spoil their reputation as suppliers of the world’s best coffee. Costa Rica bans robusta farming entirely, while coffee trade organizations in Colombia and elsewhere have historically discouraged it. But a growing number of Latin American farmers are warming up to the bitter bean as a cash crop. “It has good productivity and a good price,” said Evelio Matamoros, a farmer in Nicaragua who first planted robusta in 2010. Robusta “has better yields and it doesn’t need shade. That matters.” Robusta, which thrives at lower elevations, is typically processed into instant coffee or added to brewed blends as a cheaper ingredient. It’s also used to create the froth in some espressos. Coffee producers from Colombia to Guatemala are dedicating more land to robusta, and it has even spread to Panama, a small country renowned for growing exceptionally high-quality arabica beans that fetch steep premiums. In Nicaragua and Guatemala, the industry has targeted robusta expansions that would increase their combined harvest by five times, to about 540,000 60-kg bags. That would account for nearly 1 percent of global output, and bring supplies closer to North American coffee makers, cutting freight costs and shipping time compared to major robusta-growing nations such as… [Read full story]

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