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How Your Cup of Coffee May Be Affected By Climate Change

Coffee growers are increasingly concerned about the effects of climate change on their crop production.

NPR's Murray Carpenter recently traveled to Guatemala to report on the World Coffee Conference and spoke with coffee farmers, who said that higher temperatures cause their coffee plants to flower prematurely which is decreasing coffee production rates.

Brazil, Colombia and Guatemala are the largest exporters of coffee and, therefore, the most affected by the decrease in production caused by erratic rainfall and higher temperatures. These countries have begun funding research to develop ways of adapting coffee growing techniques to new, hotter climates.

One way they are changing their growing techniques is to migrate their coffee farms to higher elevations where the temperatures are cooler.

However, according to CABI Bioscience's coffee specialist Peter Baker, there's only so far that growers can move up a mountain.

Coffee Arabica vs. Coffee Robusta

Another way to combat higher temperatures, mentioned in Carpenter's story, is by planting more heat-resistant varieties of coffee plants. This might be good news if you prefer a darker, more robust cup of coffee, but bad news if you tend to reach for a milder coffee blend. Here's why:

  • North American and European consumers of coffee prefer the coffee Arabica variety of coffee recognized for its mild, smooth taste and low caffeine content. About 70% of coffee produced and sold today is of this variety, according to the International Coffee Association. However, while its flavor is the most demanded, it is more costly and laborious to produce and is accustomed to lower temperatures.
  • Coffee growers may ditch coffee Arabica for a more robust, bitter, and caffeine-rich coffee plant. Coffee Robusta is more resistant to disease and has the ability to grow in hotter temperatures. In addition, coffee Robusta is a fairly low maintenance plant; requiring less man-power for its harvesting, therefore, reducing the cost of production. However, coffee Robusta is generally considered of lesser quality and is mostly found in low-cost or instant coffee brands.

So, to all you coffee lovers, climate change may soon be detected down to the taste you love of your daily cup of coffee.

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