It could soon be possible for Queensland producers to grow premium-quality caffeine-free coffee, tea and cocoa, potentially developing a multi-million dollar market.

The University of Queensland’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) took part in the international research effort that led to today’s announcement that the coffee genome has been successfully sequenced. (the research findings appear in the 5 September edition of Science).

UQ’s Professor Robert Henry contributed much of the DNA sequence data used to assemble the coffee genome.

“It should soon be possible to select and grow coffee with a pre-determined level of caffeine — ranging from zero-caf to jumpstart,” Professor Henry said. “Helping Queensland producers to grow export-quality coffee destined for high-value niche markets is our ultimate goal.”

Australia isn’t really a player in the 7.8 million tonne global coffee market at the moment — we export less than 1000 tonnes a year. Professor Henry sees that changing as a result of today’s announcement.

“Potentially, Queensland could develop a multi-million dollar market for high-quality, premium coffees, ranging from full strength to decaffeinated,” he said.

QAAFI flavour scientist Dr Heather Smyth said traditional methods of minimising caffeine have often led to flavour loss.

“Understanding the origin of caffeine in coffee means that potentially we can develop varieties with low or no caffeine,” she said. “If the decaffeeinating process could be avoided, the beans would retain the full coffee flavour.”

The research findings, The Coffee Genome Provides Insight into the Convergent Evolution of Caffeine Biosynthesis, appear in the 5 September edition of Science.