Potato Taste Affects Coffee in Rwanda – Blame the Bug

A defect in coffee which has been called “potato taste” has surfaced in Rwanda and is threatening the coffee there. It seems pests can cause taste changes in plants. For example, the stink bug, while feeding on the plant, can cause the tomato to change in taste.

The particular culprit theoretically suspected in the Rwandan coffee case is the antestia bug, aka the variegated coffee bug of Eastern Africa. Since that is only a theory, the potato taste is still a mystery. So Professor Thomas Miller from UC Riverside is on his way with a team to find out more. Experts on bugs, the team will search for the source of the problem in an effort to pin down the way in which a bug feeding on a leaf changes the taste of the plant’s fruit. They will also help set up a network with other farmers who are dealing with the same problem.

A press release from the university states that coffee accounts for 25% of Rwanda’s agricultural exports. The potato taste might discourage many coffee importers from buying this coffee, so the answer needs to be found quickly. The Global Knowledge Initiative is organizing a network of scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs who will focus on different aspects of the process and share resources and findings. Indeed it’s a mystery that a bug can affect a fruit’s taste when it eats a leaf far from that fruit.

You have to wonder what it is that is causing a potato taste. It’s a bit reminiscent of the Kopi Luwak, which imparts its own flavor and character to the bean, although it’s a very different process and critter. But it serves as an example of how another kind of critter can impact the bean for better and not worse. Unfortunately, it appears that the potato taste isn’t that good, so a solution will have to be found to remove the bugs, if they are the cause, from the plants. Stay tuned for the resolution of the mystery.

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