UT student and Colombian native presents research on coffee


Sam Ortega

Mozart’s barista Daniel Glenn pours freshly made mocha Thursday evening. In 2012 the world consumption of coffee was 142 million bags of coffee with an annual growth rate of 2.4 percent during the last four years.

Nicole Cobler

Coffee is more than a tool students use to get up for that 8 a.m. class. It’s also an important commodity in international trade, Alejandro Berrio, native Colombian and an ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student, told his audience at a talk on Thursday.

Students sat outside the Brackenridge Field Laboratory on empty burlap coffee sacks and folding chairs spread across the grass to hear Berrio present his research on coffee and discuss how Colombians have produced what he called the best coffee in the world.

Berrio said there are many benefits of coffee, such as sustained attention, increased alertness, lowered risk of Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson‘s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancer.

Although there are many benefits, coffee also impairs hand steadiness and may increase blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol, Berrio said.

World consumption in 2012 was 142 million bags of coffee, according to the International Coffee Organization. Consumption has had an average annual growth rate of 2.4 percent during the last four years.

Coffee is one of the most valuable resources exported from developing countries, according to the organization’s website, and nonprofit fair trade organizations were established to keep coffee growers from being exploited.

Generally grown in an area known as the coffee belt that wraps around the southern part of the world, coffee is consumed primarily by residents of the United States, Canada and Europe, Berrio said.

Mike Hasler, a UT business analytics program director, said if consumers believe a fair trade certification is important, they should research the organization that is providing the certification. He said this is especially important because revenue from coffee sales may not make its way to growers.

“If you’re going to be an educated consumer, just buying because of a label is not sufficient enough,” Hasler said. “The key is to find who is funding that organization and who is benefitting from it.”

During the lecture Thursday, a part of the Science Under The Stars lecture series, Berrio said Colombia makes such high quality coffee because of excellent growing conditions and rich water reserves.

The largest problem in coffee production in Colombia is a small beetle called Hypothenemus Hampei or the “coffee berry borer.” The insects show interesting chromosome segregation patterns that led to Berrio’s work at the National Coffee Research Center in Colombia to study the segregation of genetic markers in the insects.

“These pests can cause a loss from 40-80 percent when the beans exhibit H. Hampei damage,” Berrio said.

Berrio said his research concluded that pest genetic control strategies for reducing the effect of the coffee berry borer might be difficult to implement.

“Coffee growers have to continue developing their sustainable strategies to control the pest to be more reliable and environmentally friendly,” Berrio said.