Coffee quality at risk of diminishing due to climate change, new study finds

USA – Climate change has been identified as a significant stressor on the quality of coffee by researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and Montana State University. 

The researchers found that coffee is primarily susceptible to water stress, increased temperatures and larger quantities of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

Coffee’s taste profiles are characterized by the amount of acidity, as well as the overall body and flavor, in a bean.  

As weather patterns change, crops become stressed, putting at risk the once familiar attributes of certain bean varieties. 

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Arabica coffee, in particular, is sensitive to any movement in temperature and even just a change of 1 degree Celsius can hamper growth. 

The researchers found out that the affects of climate change are so pronounced that 60% of wild coffee plants are under threat of extinction with 13 species critically endangered. 

Adopting sustainable practices could help 

Still, researchers with the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy pointed out that changes in crop quality may be offset by climate adaptation strategies and other management conditions.  

Some practices that show promise include shade management to control light exposure, selection and maintenance of climate-resilient wild coffee plants, and pest management. 

To mitigate the effects of climate change, some farmers are moving their crops higher into the mountains and considering ways to more effectively irrigate.  

Others are planting trees with higher density in hopes of offsetting the inevitable reduced production from each plant. 

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Despite this, there will still need to be additional strategies to help offset the impending loss of agricultural land for coffee production.  

Half of the world’s coffee growing regions will be lost by 2050 if climate change remains unchecked, according to a report from The Climate Institute of Australia. 

Demand poise to outpace supply  

As the future of coffee still hangs in the balance, demand continues to grow to levels that prompted the International Coffee Organization to predict that demand will outpace supply.  

Americans are leading the jump in global demand, drinking about 400 million cups per day. Demand is also rapidly rising in China and South Korea, putting further stress on supply.  

Researchers further note that as  flavor and aroma quality begin to decline, people may begin to search elsewhere for the taste they desire.  

This has the potential to affect the price of coffee and ultimately the livelihood of the millions of farmers who grow it. 

To maintain quality, coffee growers will need to look toward mitigation strategies. Coffee users such as Olam Coffee, Starbucks, and Nestlé will also be required to come in and support their agricultural suppliers in integrating sustainable practices on their farms. 

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