Climate Change Could Wipe Out Coffee Beans

The sought-after Arabica coffee bean is becoming scarce, thanks to heat waves

It's not just corn crops that are being affected by climate change: new research shows that coffee beans are at even larger risk of a wipeout, thanks to rising temperatures and scarcer Arabica beans. 

A new look into the coffee bean supply, by North Carolina State professor Meg Lorman, reveals some biological factors that threaten the world's coffee supply. The biggest concern? Bugs. The coffee borer, appropriately called la broca (the drill) in Latin America, now threatens coffee crops in Ethiopia, Lorman says. And for every 1.8 degree-increase in temperature, the coffee borer is 8.5 percent more infectious. And this is a bug that didn't even exist in Ethiopia 50 years ago -- which shows just how prevalent this dangerous bug is to coffee supplies worldwide. 

And in Colombia and Brazil, where the most popular coffee bean, the Arabica bean, is grown, the story is no different. The Wall Street Journal reports that production of the Arabica bean is way down, nearly 36 percent over five years in Colombia. It's forcing some to look for new genetic strains of coffee beans that will survive the heat, said Patrick Criteser, chief executive of Coffee Bean International, to the WSJ, "The holy grail is a heat-resistant varietal that provides quality coffee... If we could develop that, it would solve a lot of our problems."

So what does the future of coffee look like with climate change looming? Shade-grown coffee, says Lorman. Producers are growing beans in the understory of forests, she says, so the coffee beans remain cooler. Although it's a bit pricier than normally grown coffee, "It is more sustainable for the environment, tastes better, and is less susceptible to outbreaks of coffee borers," she says.