As Promessas e Perigos do Café Cultivado em Laboratório

The Promises and Dangers of Laboratory Grown Coffee

The coffee of the future is already here, but will it be everything we hoped for? You may not have even heard of lab-grown coffee, but it's a growing sector that makes a lot of promises about environmental impact, scalability and taste. Kristine Breminer Isgren, Q Grader Robusta & Arabica and QC at Complete Coffee Limited, helps us explore the potential benefits and drawbacks of lab-grown coffee, including its potential to minimize coffee's environmental impacts, its flavor and potential impacts. in the supply chain.

What is lab coffee?

Lab-grown coffees are relatively newcomers to the coffee industry. At its most basic, lab-grown coffees are coffees that are produced in a laboratory environment, rather than on a tree in a field. They are not growing whole coffees in a laboratory environment, but they are using different methods to isolate the flavors and characteristics of the coffee in a way that goes beyond the need for trees.

The discussion around lab-grown coffee has centered around two intertwined concerns. First, there are some studies that suggest that much of the arable land on which coffee is currently produced will be made incompatible for coffee production in the next 20 to 50 years due to climate change. The fear is that there is less land for coffee production and therefore less coffee. At the same time, there is concern that coffee production itself is a potential contributor to climate change. From the fertilizer used in the fields to the gas used to transport coffee across continents and oceans, the coffee supply chain can pose problems for the climate. In response to these concerns, some companies and scientists have explored lab-grown coffee as an alternative that could emit fewer greenhouse gases and rely on fewer (increasingly scarce) resources.

There are several variations of lab-grown coffee, explains Kristine. There's molecular coffee, which uses agricultural products like date pits to mimic key coffee flavor compounds. Then there's microbial coffee, which uses genetically engineered microbes to produce these coffee flavor compounds as by-products of microbial fermentation. Finally, there is cellular coffee, which uses real coffee cells that are grown in bioreactors. Like lab-grown meat, cellular coffee produces basic coffee cells that can be processed into a powder and treated like coffee.

Since all these types of lab-grown coffees are grown in lab environments, they can be produced anywhere, regardless of weather conditions. This is a big draw both for people looking to shorten the supply chain and for those looking for methods of growing coffee that will not be affected by a changing climate.


What are the advantages?

"The main benefit of lab-grown coffee is price stability," says Kristine. "Laboratory-grown coffee would not be affected by things that impact traditional coffee prices, such as the weather." Lab-grown coffee would also be more scalable than traditional coffee, as it can be grown under laboratory conditions in places where coffee cannot normally be grown.

Much marketing of lab-grown coffee also refers to the environmental benefits of production. Lab-grown coffees would not use fertilizers or need as much fuel input. In addition, laboratory-grown coffees could be produced in the country where they are consumed, shortening the transit from production to the consumer. "They [lab grown brands] say it's deforestation-free, uses less water and is carbon neutral," says Kristine. "However, there's still not a lot of transparency or evidence to support that."


What's your Flavor?

Kristine has tried but failed to get lab-grown coffee to taste herself. "But knowing what I do about how traditional coffee works, I can't see at all how it can match up to it," she says. "There are so many things that affect coffee, and it's so nuanced. There's so much flavor. I can't imagine, given what I've seen of these other coffees, that they are able to imitate it."

Kristine thinks that, initially, at least lab-grown coffee would be used primarily as a flavoring in drinks and foods. Kristine says. "Laboratory-grown coffee is not yet developed enough to properly rival what you get in a real cup of coffee." What she's not sure, says Kristine, is whether the environmental message would be enough to make people ignore the quality shortcomings of lab-grown coffee.


Who can lose?

"Lab-grown coffee marketing talks about making coffee more sustainable, they don't realize the repercussions for everyone in the current coffee supply chain. More importantly, it would impact farmers' livelihoods. people for whom this is 100% their livelihood," says Kristine.


Without coffee as the main cash crop, farmers may choose to plant illicit crops or may need to sell their land. The loss of coffee would also upset the many migratory harvesters who move with the harvest. "We're talking about a loss of land, jobs and generations of agricultural practices and care disappearing. They are the big losers if lab-grown coffee takes off," says Kristine.


Alternatives for Farmers

Part of our responsibility as coffee consumers and traders is to support farmers in our supply chain, even as their goals and capabilities change. "As an industry, we have an obligation to farmers to ensure they get a fair price for their crop. Farmers are the big losers if lab-grown coffee takes off." Dedicating more time and funds to education, securing the supply chain and helping farmers intercrop or transition their land to other cash crops are all essential components of a secure and sustainable supply chain.

In addition, a safer and more sustainable supply chain could address issues such as deforestation and the use of natural resources without completely eliminating coffee production. "Although coffee, in some parts of the world, intersects with deforestation, it can absolutely be an agent of reforestation and preservation of biodiversity", emphasizes Kristine. Agroforestry and interforestry are becoming more popular and demonstrate that coffee farms can be biodiverse environments. In addition, we are already starting to see the application of new technologies such as high resolution satellite images to help reforestation.


Lab-grown coffee is an exciting new technology that could significantly alter the coffee supply chain. The technology for mass production of high-quality lab-grown coffee does not yet exist, nor are the environmental and energy costs truly known, but lab-grown coffee could affect sales of low-quality coffee in the near future. Whether lab-grown coffee takes off as a consumer product remains to be seen, but the effects on farmers and the coffee supply chain could be extensive. It is our responsibility as coffee consumers and professionals to consider how lab-grown coffee might affect our supply chain partners and help mitigate the impacts it could have on livelihoods. Meanwhile, we're keeping our eyes peeled for new lab-grown products that could change the way we think about and experience coffee.



Text fully translated by our partner Sucafina

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