DENVER — Coffee — America’s most popular beverage — could be in hot water, so to speak. Grown only in limited tropical locales around the globe, Coffea plants are vulnerable due to numerous factors: a lack of genetic diversity, increasingly extreme weather ranging from droughts to hurricanes and floods, as well as destructive pests and devastating agricultural diseases that threaten coffee crops.
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Sarada Krishnan, director of Horticulture and the Center for Global Initiatives at Denver Botanic Gardens, leads scientific research to ensure that coffee is still available for future generations to enjoy. Growing up in South India, Krishnan began drinking coffee from her family’s coffee plantations as a girl of 7 or 8 years old.
“We’d get coffee beans from the farms. My mom roasted them herself. We would grind the beans every night with a little wall-mounted hand-grinder,” Krishnan said. “Indian coffee is made very thick, like espresso. We drank it with milk and sugar.”
The caffeine evidently kicked in. Krishnan, a Plant Kingdom Wonder Woman, earned her bachelor’s degree in horticulture in India. She completed her master’s degree in horticulture at Colorado State University and holds a doctorate from the University of Colorado Boulder Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Her doctoral dissertation concentrated on conservation genetics of wild coffee in Madagascar, and she provided a crash course on the plants.
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