Coffee is one of the most popular luxury foods worldwide. The annual consumption is currently an impressive 9.5 billion kilograms. Some studies also assume that this value will triple again in the next thirty years. This is not entirely unproblematic. On the one hand, coffee beans are often grown under questionable social conditions. On the other hand, production and transport cause not inconsiderable climate emissions. Calculations have shown that one kilogram of roasted and ground coffee causes around 15.3 kilograms of CO2 emissions. The fact that the beans are often flown from the growing countries to Europe or North America by plane also contributes to this high value. For comparison: the bananas, which are also not particularly sustainable, cause only around a twelfth as many climate emissions. Researchers in Finland are therefore working on a much more climate-friendly alternative to coffee production.
The powder from the laboratory also has to be roasted
The focus here is not on huge plantations, but on a large steel tank. This contains a nutrient solution made up of sugar, minerals and proteins. The researchers use this to grow coffee plant cells in it. The highlight: the scientists work with stem cells to a certain extent. The individual cells have not yet specified themselves in specialized functions. As a result, the researchers do not have to grow an entire coffee tree, but only the cells they need. Specifically, a kind of porridge is created within two weeks. This is then filtered and dried until a powder is produced. This is where a more classic process starts again: The powder is roasted so that the desired aromas are created. The powder can then be brewed as normal. In the ideal case, this creates a coffee from the bioreactor that does not differ in taste from the natural variant. Whether this is currently the case, however, can only be assessed to a limited extent. Because the coffee is not yet allowed to be drunk for legal reasons.
The benefits are the same as for laboratory meat
However, the basic procedure may sound familiar to some. Because in principle it does not differ from the attempts to breed meat in the laboratory. However, working with plants has the advantage that the nutrient solution required is not that expensive. So fewer investments are needed to scale production. Otherwise, plants from the laboratory have the same advantages as meat from the laboratory: less space is required, water consumption is reduced and climate emissions are reduced. In addition, the climatic conditions no longer play a role. The bioreactors can therefore be set up close to the end user. Expensive and climate-damaging transports by plane are thus superfluous. As with meat from the laboratory, however, there are still two difficulties to overcome. On the one hand, the production mechanisms have to be scaled. On the other hand, it is important to enable a competitive price level.