Coffee and the Effects of Climate Change

Whether you prefer berry and citrous notes or chocolate and nut notes, dark or light roast, a good cup of coffee can be a simple pleasure. You’re likely to notice if some of the brightness in your morning brew faded, or if the familiar fruity aroma became a little dull. These changes may not be due to the roasting or grinding of the beans, but to growing conditions.

Coffee is grown on over 27 million acres spread across 12.5 million predominantly smallholder farms in over 50 countries. Numerous coffee-producing regions are experiencing changing climate conditions, which have an impact on the taste, aroma, and even nutritional quality of coffee, as well as yields and sustainability.

According to a new review of research, coffee quality is vulnerable to changes in environmental factors caused by climate change. The review, led by researchers at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and Montana State University, also discovers that some current adaptation strategies for mitigating these effects offer hope for success.

“A substandard cup of coffee has economic as well as sensory consequences. “Factors affecting coffee production have a significant impact on buyer interest, the price of coffee, and ultimately the livelihoods of coffee farmers,” says Sean Cash, an economist and the Bergstrom Foundation Professor in Global Nutrition at the Friedman School, and senior author of the study, which was published in Frontiers in Plant Science.

“Climate change’s effects on crops are already wreaking havoc on economies and politics in a number of parts of the world,” he says. “By better understanding the science behind these changes, we may be able to assist farmers and other stakeholders in managing coffee production more effectively in the face of current and future challenges.”

The researchers examined the effects of ten prevalent environmental factors and management conditions associated with climate change and adaptation in 73 peer-reviewed articles.

The team discovered that farms at a higher elevation were associated with improved coffee flavour and aroma, whereas excessive light exposure was associated with a decrease in coffee quality. According to a synthesis of the evidence, coffee quality is also susceptible to changes caused by water stress, increased temperatures, and carbon dioxide, although additional research on these specific factors is necessary.

While some current efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, such as shading to control light exposure, selecting and maintaining climate-resilient wild coffee plants, and pest management, demonstrate promise and feasibility, the team notes that innovative solutions to support bean growth at all elevations must be developed.

“These strategies are giving some hope that coffee quality can be maintained or improved and will ultimately help farmers consider how to design evidence-based interventions to support their farms,” says Selena Ahmed, an ethnobotanist in the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University who had been a postdoctoral scholar in the Tufts IRACDA program. “These effects on crops in general, not just on coffee, are critical to study. Our food systems contribute to our food security, nutritional status, and overall health.”

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