Coffee Bean Extinction Could Actually Happen

The end of java as you know it.

Pour yourself a latte and weep: your favourite coffee bean could be at risk of extinction. UK researches have warned that of the 124 wild coffee species worldwide, at least 60 per cent of them are in danger of dying out.

As we don’t drink wild coffee—why is this a problem? Because the ones we do drink depend on their wild relatives to, as the ABC puts it, “Shore up (the) genetic resistance,” protecting them from diseases and insects, and allowing them to, “Thrive in warmer climes.”

Most worryingly for coffee drinkers, the wild relative of the world’s most popular coffee species, Coffea arabica, is an endangered species. As most of the world’s coffee trade rests on this species (along with C. canephora, also known as robusta), it is a distinct possibility that our descendants may never taste a melt-in-mouth Macchiato or flavoursome flat white.

On Wednesday, Science Advances published new research warning the conservation plans we currently have in place are “inadequate,” and that to prevent extinction more investment is needed.

“Ultimately, we need to reverse deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Aaron Davis, coffee researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and lead author of the paper.

However, in the meantime, in order to protect our coffee while the powers that be get their act together on global warming, you’d think there would be a viable, temporary solution. But you’d be wrong. As Dr Davis explains, you can’t just store good tasting strains of coffee in a seed bank.

“It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to conserve coffee using conventional seed storage methods,” (Dr Davis).

This is because—even at -20 degrees Celsius—seed bank storage freezers cannot effectively preserve coffee beans, which need to be chilled by liquid nitrogen (a highly expensive process) to even have a chance at being useable in the future.

In light of this, to conserve the genetic diversity of the wild species of coffee that our favourite Arabica bean relies on, Dr Davis recommends we “devise and manage the world’s protected areas more efficiently.”

Is this likely to happen soon? Judging by Paris 2017: probably not. On the bright-side: the (potential) extinction is unlikely to happen real soon either: so it’s your great grandkids—not you—who’ll miss out on the twitchy eyelids, artificially heightened sense of well being and permanent dehydration you’ve grown to know and love.

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