Research concludes that climate change affects coffee quality, not just yields
Nick Brown | November 19, 2021
The ripe arabica coffee cherry. Daily Coffee News photo by Nick Brown
A new study has concluded that environmental changes associated with climate change and climate adaptation can indeed affect coffee quality. The findings have implications for consumers who prefer higher quality coffees, farmers and producers who depend on both volume and quality of yield, and all other actors in the seed-to-cup nexus.
The team of researchers behind the study analyzed nearly 1,600 scientific peer review articles published this century, identifying 73, for a comprehensive review around the question:
What are the effects of climate change related environmental factors and management conditions linked to climate adaptation on coffee quality based on secondary metabolites and sensory attributes?
In layman's terms, this can be read: How does climate change affect coffee quality?
The researchers found two clear trends:
1) Coffee flavor and aroma are improved when coffee is grown at higher altitudes;
2) Increased exposure to light is associated with decreased sensory attributes.
Brewed coffee. Daily Coffee News photo by Nick Brown.
"A better understanding of the relationship between climate and coffee quality is overdue and will be essential for the specialty coffee industry to adapt to the challenges we face and thrive in the future," said Peter Giuliano, Executive Director of the Coffee Science Foundation , a the non-profit research arm of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), in a joint statement publishing the study last month.
The authors of the work came from Montana State University, Tufts University , the Coffee Science Foundation and SCA, and Bozeman , a Montana-based treeline coffee roasting company.
While a good deal of past research has been devoted to the effects that climate change and adaptation can have on coffee production, much of that research has focused on coffee growing land suitability and crop yields/volumes.
The researchers warned that the higher quality but sensitive coffee plant species from Arabia tend to be at greater risk for climate change than the more climate resistant but lower quality robust species.
In this article, the researchers claim, based on their analysis, that both Arabica and Robust coffees are prone to quality changes based on climate change.
"For years, coffee growers have told buyers that the climate is changing and complicating their work," wrote SCA's Director of Sustainability and Knowledge Development Kim Elena Ionescu, "but the impacts of these changes on the flavor of the coffee have been based on anecdotal evidence and sometimes speculation."
Montana State University associate professor Selena Ahmed, one of the paper's lead authors, suggested that the biochemical composition of coffee could have far-reaching implications at both ends of the coffee value chain.
" Changes in the biochemical composition of the coffee loop go back into the food system as it affects how consumers experience the taste of coffee and their decisions about purchasing coffee , " Ahmed said . _ "In turn, consumer decision - making impacts farmers ' livelihoods as well as the way they manage their farms , with tremendous implications for sustainability ."
The article, “Climate Change and Coffee Quality: Systematic Review on the Effects of Environmental and Management Variation on Secondary Metabolites and Sensory Attributes of Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora” was published in the journal "Frontiers in Plant Science".