Get used to expensive coffee. And it’ll probably taste worse too

Coffee connoisseurs have a lot to be concerned about right now. Global bean shortages are already threatening to increase prices in cafes and supermarkets. Now, your morning cappuccino or latte may begin to taste bitter for other reasons as well.

The world is experiencing a severe shortage of arabica coffee, the variety that produces the smoothest flavour and accounts for approximately 60% of global production. Supplies have been depleted as a result of extreme weather, and with a La Nina pattern forecast through early 2022 expected to further reduce yields, the market could take years to recover. Arabica prices are increasing in response to the escalating crisis, while global shipping congestion makes it even more difficult to get beans to where they are needed.

“This is not a short-term issue,” said Kona Haque, head of research at London-based commodity trader ED&F Man. “It is something that we will be considering for the next couple of years.”

Coffee roasters and retailers are now faced with the decision of whether to raise their own prices. However, they have another option: robusta, arabica’s more abrasive cousin. Several companies are already increasing their use of the less expensive variety, which is typically consumed in instant coffees and contains more caffeine, imparting a bitter flavour.

The crisis began in Brazil, the world’s largest producer of arabica, where once-in-a-generation frosts followed droughts, wreaking havoc on crops. Crucially, farmers are not only concerned about the current harvest; some have been “stumping” or removing severely damaged trees; newly planted trees will take several years to mature. Additionally, they are contending with rising fertiliser costs and labour shortages.

Arabica bean prices have increased by approximately 80% this year. While researchers and analysts continue to survey the ruins of Brazil’s damaged coffee harvest, initial reports are not encouraging.

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