Countries close to the equator are renowned for growing the most delicious coffee on Earth.
But with surging temperatures across the globe, the zones which are currently ideal for growing coffee land may soon shift, Sam Lewontin, a KRUPS ambassador and champion barista told Tech Insider.
Eventually, the regions we typically think of as gold-standard coffee growing areas – including parts of Colombia, Costa Rica, and Brazil – may become so ravaged by sweltering temperatures and warm-weather diseases that they may no longer be able to harvest delicious, nutty, bold cups of java.
Shifting zones of viability
Coffee plants are finicky about where they grow best. The best crops typically come from the “Bean Belt” – a band of tropical regions that sit close to the equator.
High altitude and mountainous terrain is typical of these regions, which boast warm days and cold nights that are a boon for these delectable plants.
But once-productive coffee plantations along this belt are falling victim to the nasty effects of climate change.
Plant-killing diseases like “roya,” which thrive in warm weather, are eating coffee plants from the inside out. At the same time, intense heat is shrinking the zones of arable land best suited to grow coffee.
High-altitude land produces the best coffee plants because the warm days and cool nights “shock” natural chemicals into beans that make your brew taste extra delicious.
Yet as temperatures in high-altitude coffee-growing regions warm, Lewontin said, the range of altitude in places that have been considered to be strong coffee origins narrows: “So lower altitudes are staying the same, and the band in which you can grow tasty coffee is sort of moving up the mountain.”
As we see warmer weather push beyond the equatorial tropics, the best coffee-growing climates will follow and expand farther away from the belt.
This may seem like a good thing, but with the growing girth of the band, the regions in the center – those that once harbored ideal coffee growing conditions – will become too hot. This means that specific regions that are now perfect, such as those in Colombia, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Kenya, may soon become fallow.
In the future, the tropics may no longer be the best spot to grow tasty coffee.
So where will farmers grow the best coffee in the future?
Lewontin said if you look at the location of the current bean belt, regions expanding north and south of the equator will likely begin to see serious coffee cultivation (though it’s hard to say precisely where).
At the same time, many regions that currently produce commodity coffee, called robusta – a more disease-and-weather-resistant yet less-tasty variety, compared to delicate arabica coffee plants – will start putting resources into producing delicious specialty coffee. This includes regions of Vietnam, India, parts of East Africa such as Uganda, and Mexico.
This extra attention to detail in regions not traditionally known for their tasty beans is driven in part by climate change, but also by recent interest in specialty coffee from buyers and exporters looking to increase the production of quality brews there.
“It’s more a combination of different environmental and economic circumstances, which extend at least partially from the reality of climate change,” Lewontin said.
And if you’re worried that coffee is going to be wiped off the face of the planet entirely by rising temperatures, have hope.
Some regions are shifting the zones in which they cultivate coffee, and others are experimenting with new coffee hybrids that are delicious yet resistant to some of the nastiest warm-weather diseases.
It’s going to be challenging to thwart the – dare I say – “coffeepocalypse,” but Lewontin believes that we’ll have this delicious drink for years to come.
“We’re in kind of a tricky spot,” he says, “but I remain optimistic that these things will see us through and that we will still, in 20 years, have coffee.”