• A new review has analyzed risks facing the coffee industry due to climate change.
  • The study suggested that coffee flavor is susceptible to changes in its environment.
  • For example, factors such as water stress, increased temperatures and carbon dioxide can reduce its quality.
  • Understanding more about the science of these changes can help farmers adapt and improve their coffee production.

Coffee quality is vulnerable to shifts in environmental factors associated with climate change, a research review finds.

Coffee grows on more than 27 million acres across 12.5 million largely smallholder farms in more than 50 countries. Many coffee-producing regions are increasingly experiencing changing climate conditions, whose impact on coffee’s taste, aroma, and even dietary quality is as much a concern as yields and sustainability.

The review, led by researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and Montana State University, also finds that some current adaptation strategies to combat these effects provide hope. The findings appear in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.

“A subpar cup of coffee has economic implications as well as sensory ones. Factors that influence coffee production have great impacts on buyers’ interest, the price of coffee, and ultimately the livelihoods of the farmers who grow it,” says Sean Cash, an economist and the Bergstrom Foundation Professor in Global Nutrition at the Friedman School and senior author on the study.

a chart showing the effects climate change has on coffee variation
Coffee flavor is susceptible to changes in its environment.
Image: Climate Change and Coffee Quality, (Ahmed et al. 2021)

“Climate change impacts on crops are already causing economic and political disruption in many parts of the world,” he says. “If we can understand the science of these changes, we might help farmers and other stakeholders better manage coffee production in the face of this and future challenges.”

In their analysis, the researchers looked at the effects of 10 prevalent environmental factors and management conditions associated with climate change and climate adaptation, respectively, across 73 published articles.

The most consistent trends the team found links farms at higher altitudes with better coffee flavor and aroma, and too much light exposure with a decrease in coffee quality. A synthesis of the evidence found that coffee quality is also susceptible to changes due to water stress and increased temperatures and carbon dioxide, although more research on these specific factors is necessary.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

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Some current efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, including shade management to control light exposure, selection and maintenance of climate-resilient wild coffee plants, and pest management, show promise and feasibility, but innovative solutions to support bean growth at all elevations are necessary, say the researchers.

“These strategies are giving some hope that coffee quality can be maintained or improved and will ultimately help farmers consider how to design evidence-based interventions to support their farms,” says Selena Ahmed, an ethnobotanist in the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University. “These impacts on crops are important to study in general, not just for coffee. Our food systems support our food security, nutrition, and health.”