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Colombia poised to upset Canadian dominance of maple syrup


April 4, 2016
By Associated European Press International

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About two years ago, the Colombian Coffee Federation introduced a hybrid tree to the country’s select plantations which used genes from “acer nigrum”, better known as the Black Maple, melded into “Coffea Arabica Typica”, also known as Arabica Coffee. The idea behind the hybrid was to naturally derive a maple-flavoured coffee. 

Since that time, North American roasters, predominantly in Canada, have been producing maple-flavoured coffee without having to introduce flavour agents into the roasted coffee to achieve the same effect. The project became a small commercial success with the highest demand being in the fall and spring during the maple sugar seasons. 

Indeed, most people who have enjoyed maple-flavoured coffee probably are not aware that no artificial flavouring has been added to the bean. This joint venture between horticultural researchers at the Université de Sherbrooke, located in the province of Quebec and the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, sede Medellín was initially intended to showcase the ability of Colombia’s Coffee Industry to modify its agricultural crops to great effect.  Since the devastating “roya” or coffee rust infestation of 2007-2008, Colombia has been heavily investing in its scientific research pertaining to developing different hybrids of coffee, some to be resistant to disease – others to push the limits of what is botanically possible.

The experiment was to demonstrate what modern science could achieve, but the researchers neither in Medellin nor in Quebec could have foreseen the economic consequences of their actions. As it turns out, the sap of the modified coffee trees have more in common with maple trees than coffee trees. This has lead enterprising Colombian farmers, wishing to cash in on yet another crop, to tap these trees to produce “Colombian Maple Syrup”.  The maple syrup market is soundly dominated by Canada, which produces over 80 per cent of the world’s supply. The market for maple products has a total worth of over $750,000,000 and Colombians want a piece of that pie. Quebec, which represents over 90 per cent of the Canadian production and actually has reserve stocks of maple syrup, was surprised last year to see Colombian farmers on a trade mission to learn about tapping maple trees. Maples do not do well in the tropics so there was much speculation as to what they could possibly do with the technology.  The mystery was revealed when the first Colombian Maple products started to appear this spring.  The weakness of the Colombian trees is that they do not produce as much per tree as a Black or Sugar Maples; their strength is in the sheer numbers of tree possible to put into production.

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It will take many years for the Colombians to catch up to the Canadian levels of production; there are only a few plantations with the “Cafaple” (coffee and maple) hybrids. But with the value of the industry being as profitable as it is, there will no doubt be a challenge to the Canadian Maple Crown.