Coffee and Climate Change: How Climate Change Affects Your Coffee Quality
Coffee is now grown all around the globe. To be more precise, it grows 25 degrees North and 30 degrees South of the Equator. It is a tropical zone and most affected by climate change.
We all know that there isn’t just one coffee breed from biology’s point of view. Each and every coffee breed has its limits and a habitable zone.
Year 2016 was the hottest year in observation history. Because of the climate change we’ve come to a critical state where oceans don’t flow as they recently did (read more here & here).
The tropical zone is especially sensitive even to smallest temperature changes – it affects wind, precipitation and an overall biology environment that a plant depends on. To understand wind, ocean flow and climate, you can find a good map here. Before we were aware that climate change has influence on coffee quality, we knew about complex weather patterns that caused El Nino and El Nina. These conditions drove coffee quality and prices in different directions (read more here & here). Coffee growing is becoming even tougher. This all means a drop in quality, a drop of crop, price growth for all quality levels of coffee. For locals, a change to other cultivated plants like cacao or tropical fruits (more information here & here). With all of this in nature’s schedule, coffee culture messengers are trying to get attention for this and looking for various ways to save the coffee growing culture and cater the growing demand.
Focusing on coffee quality
Coffee quality is the most important aspect of coffee discussed in recent decades. More than ever we seek for small nuances that impact the end result: by searching for the perfect TDS recipe, water structure, temperature etc. But how that’s going to raise the quality if our product won’t contain the necessary rich ripe?
If we consider high-quality coffee as a must have, the hand and selective picking as a harvesting method could be an even more important feature in the quality chain than it is today. However, there are just a few regions in the world that harvest coffee with mechanical equipment. In these regions, such as in Brazil and in Hawaii, the labour cost is quite high or the produced volumes are enormous.
The idea behind hand picking is to follow ripe time, pick berries at the right time and concentrate on other features of the growing process that raise the overall quality of coffee berries. Hand picking prevents harming the coffee tree so it will last and bring crop longer.
Hand picking also prevents bugs and diseases. Large scale hand picking is one of the tools to ensure quality. Unfortunately, it also adds up to costs and coffee price increases.
The coffee quality depends on the growing process. The quality depends heavily on the altitude where the coffee has grown. The higher the better.
Let’s take Arabica plant for an example, as we see it as a premium breed. The comfort zone for Arabica is between 18 and 21 degrees Centigrade. In Africa it’s most grown in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya. If the temperature changes during the night as little as 1 degree outside the comfort zone the Arabica plant changes its metabolic processes. And that leads to lesser crop, at least 135-140 kilos per hectare less. In comparison, those are about 60 % of smallholder’s production in Tanzania (click for further information).
Since Arabica is hard to handle in low altitudes in terms of quality and amount, the production will move higher in the mountains. Some argue that this could open a speciality bloom for Robusta – more weather and disease resistant coffee breed that tastes way simpler that Arabica.
What are your thoughts on coffee quality in future?
Do you buy certified coffee?