Here’s how climate change could affect the coffee you drink

Here’s how climate change could affect the coffee you drink
A coffee cup surrounded by coffee beans
Source: Zadorozhna Natalia/Shutterstock
A coffee cup surrounded by coffee beans
Source: Zadorozhna Natalia/Shutterstock

According to a new study published in the journal Nature Plants, climate change could mean major changes ahead in the coffee world. The new research shows that 39–59% of the area where coffee is grown in Ethiopia, could become “unsuitable for coffee farming” because of climate change.

“That is a really significant reduction, and that’s from now until the end of the century,” Aaron Davis, a biologist at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens and a co-author of the study, told Public Radio International on Thursday.

This would have a significant impact not only on Ethiopia, where coffee growing sustains around 15 million farmers, but on the availability of Arabica coffee, the country’s signature crop and one of the most popular coffee beans, PRI reported.

Mohammed Fita, an Ethiopian coffee farmer, picking coffee in his farm near Jimma, 234 miles southwest of Addis Ababa in September, 2002.
Source: Sayyid Azim/AP

Davis told PRI that the issue is both a “steady ... decade-by-decade increase” in Ethiopia’s average temperature and a decrease in rainfall in some of the county’s coffee growing areas.

“The real issue for Ethiopia is that its specialty is Arabica coffee,” Davis told PRI, “and that’s the coffee that gives a wonderful flavor profile, so that’s the coffee we love.”

According to CNN, Ethiopia is the world’s fifth-largest coffee producer, so losing a significant amount of the land where coffee is grown would have major repercussions. However rising temperatures would affect not only the amount of coffee that’s grown but also the quality of the beans.

A group of people train to taste and brand coffees in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in February 2008.
Source: Sayyid Azim/AP

A spokesperson for World Coffee Research told CNN that coffee ripens more slowly in cooler climates, allowing to develop more and deeper flavors. But in warmer weather, the coffee ripens too quickly and the beans are less flavorful.

There are some potential solutions for Ethiopia, however. Davis told PRI that Ethiopian growers could switch to more “more drought-resistant” types of coffee in the future. And, Davis said, as some land in Ethiopia becomes unsuitable for coffee growing, other land might become better suited for growing the crop.

“The coffee-growing landscape of the world, and Ethiopia, is very flexible — it changes over time,” Davis told PRI.