A first-generation (F1) hybrid originating from a cross between Marsellesa and a male-sterile Ethiopian or Sudanese landrace variety. Starmaya is the only F1 hybrid in the world propagated by seed, rather than through costly biotechnology. Before Starmaya, the only way to efficiently reproduce F1 hybrids for farmers has been through cloning (tissue culture cloning/somatic embryogenesis) or manual pollination of the mother and father plants, both of which methods are costly and have limited capacity.
Typically, F1 hybrid parents are chosen to be genetically distant from one another; this distance maximizes hybrid vigor, which translates into high yields and overall vigor (for example, tolerance to frost), without losses in cup quality or disease resistance. There are only a handful of F1 hybrid coffee varieties in the world, most developed in the last 10 years, and only recently commercially available to farmers.
As early as 1998, coffee breeders recognized that it would be theoretically possible to propagate F1 hybrids via seed if one of the parent plants were sterile. If you place two different fertile coffee varieties—your desired hybrid Mother and Father varieties—together in a typical field of coffee, some offspring would be the result of Mother to Mother crossing (resulting in offspring that look like the Mother), some Father to Father (offspring like the Father), and only some would be Mother to Father (offspring hybrids of the two). This is obviously an inefficient way to produce hybrid seed.
However, if one of the varieties in the field is sterile (meaning it does not produce pollen), then any offspring (e.g., coffee cherries, the product of sexual reproduction of the Mother and Father) that appear on male sterile plants must be hybrids between Mother x Father. Wind or pollinators would carry the pollen from the pollen-producing variety onto the sterile variety, and the resulting cherries would necessarily be hybrids. The challenge was to find a naturally male sterile plant that could be a suitable breeding parent.
In 2001, researchers from Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD) collaborating in a public-private coffee breeding project with ECOM, noticed a male-sterile Arabica plant growing in a population of wild Ethiopian and Sudanese coffees on the La Cumplida farm in Nicaragua. Breeders crossed it with Marsellesa, a newer-generation rust-resistant variety (Timor Hybrid 832/2 x Villa Sarchi CIFC 971/10). After observing good performance in field trials in Nicaragua, ECOM released the variety, naming it Starmaya.