Coffee May Not Survive The Century: Global Warming May Wipe Out The Plant Species Or Alter Its Taste

Your beloved coffee may not survive this century. Rapidly-changing climates or global warming may wipe out the crops or, at the very least, significantly alter its taste.

Coffee as we know and relish it may not taste the same a 100 years from today. At the worst, there may not be any coffee plantations left to ensure you have a hot piping cup of Joe sitting on your desk. One of the most widely-consumed coffees has its plantations under threat from climate change. Though there are about 124 known species of coffee, most of the coffee that ends up in stores, offices, and homes comes from just two — Arabica and Robusta.

Robusta, as the name suggests, offers a very strong brew and is the main ingredient in instant coffee. However, its taste pales for many in comparison to the smooth and complex flavors of Arabica. It is this subspecies that goes into the major coffee productions of the world. Unfortunately, it is a very delicate plant that’s also very sensitive to environmental conditions. A slight change in rainfall or regional temperature significantly affects the plant and ultimately coffee production.

A computer model checked the impact of changing climatic conditions on the Arabica plantations. The results showed that the number of locations where wild Arabica coffee grows could decrease by 85 percent by 2080. If the parameters were a little harsher, the outcome could result in a reduction in cultivable regions by a devastating 99.7 percent.

Although the forecast is for the wild varieties of Arabica, anything that poses a threat to the indigenous, wild varieties of Arabica grown in Ethiopia is likely to affect commercial varieties even more, cautioned Justin Moat, Kew’s head of spatial analysis.

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“Wild species have much greater genetic diversity – anything happening in the wild populations is usually amplified in commercial varieties where the genetic diversity is so much less.”

What’s even more alarming is the fact that commercial coffee, grown in plantations, is thought to have no more than 10 percent of the genetic variety of wild Arabica. In other words, these coffee plantations are a great risk of being wiped out if its ideal cultivation parameters are significantly altered.

Researchers are now working on finding newer regions or developing them to ensure coffee plantations can survive the century. Infusing genetic diversity is another route. However, apart from such piecemeal attempts at saving coffee, perhaps it would be wise to consider the bigger picture and tackle global warming.

[Image Credit | Getty Images]