FINLAND – A group of scientists from the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) seeking to make coffee production more sustainable has successfully produced coffee cells in a bioreactor through cellular agriculture.  

The move is timely as the global coffee supply has been under threat due to climate change affecting yields in the major growing regions in the world. 

In addition to climate change, a barrage of factors including unsustainable farming methods, exploitation and land rights have made cultivating one of the most beloved drinks more challenging.  

To circumvent challenges facing the crop, the VTT researchers are undertaking coffee production through plant cells in the institutions laboratory in Finland.  

The process is based on the production of undifferentiated coffee cells (biomass) in bioreactors. Cells are subsequently harvested and dried. The final step involves brewing and tasting. 

“In terms of smell and taste, our trained sensory panel and analytical examination found the profile of the brew to bear similarity to ordinary coffee,” Rischer explains. 

The alternative production systems developed based on biotechnology has better outcomes when compared to conventional farming.  

“For example, these solutions have a lower water footprint and less transport is needed due to local production. There isn’t any seasonal dependency either,” Dr. Heiko Rischer, principal scientist and research team leader of plant biotechnology at VTT explains. 

Due to the high demand for coffee, more acreage is required to produce enough coffee beans, leading to deforestation – particularly in sensitive rainforest areas. This threat to forests is eliminated when production is concentrated in the Lab.  

“This project has been part of our overall endeavor to develop the biotechnological production of daily and familiar commodities that are conventionally produced by agriculture. For this, we use many different hosts, such as microbes, but also plant cells,” Rischer details. 

Lab-grown coffee would however take time to come to market due to the regulatory red tape surrounding foods produced through unconventional means. 

The coffee would for instance require regulatory approval by the US Food and Drug Administration to be marketed and sold to consumers in the US.  

Rischer is however hopeful that the product would soon reach the market. He estimates that he and the team are only four years away from ramping up production and having regulatory approval in place. 

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