Coffee, tea and cocoa soon becoming a luxury good again?

In the past, enjoying chocolate, coffee or tea was considered a luxury. Noble and exquisite scents from faraway countries were expensive and rare in this country. Today, in times of globalization, you can buy chocolate, coffee and tea for little money from the supermarket. However, in the future climate change could ensure that time could turn back and that our comrades of today would once again become a rare and expensive commodity. Unexpected weather, too much or too little rain, too early or too late, too high or too low temperatures threaten our dorms today.

sensitive to each other

Coffee, tea and cocoa are particularly affected by climate change because they all have one thing in common: they are very sensitive. Therefore, the external conditions must be perfectly suitable for the growth of young plants. For centuries, its cultivation has been adapted to weather conditions, soil and micronutrients in order to achieve a specific yield and good quality. If these conditions were changed now due to climate change, plants would not handle them well at all.

Coffee, for example, needs shade. Too much sunlight and heat can cause a lot of damage, as can very low temperatures. The maximum temperature is ten degrees minimum and 30 degrees maximum. If the temperatures deviate, in the worst case frost occurs, this can lead to the destruction of the entire crop.

The same applies to cocoa and tea: cocoa is very sensitive to heat, but at the same time the temperature should not fall below 16 degrees. In addition, these plants require huge amounts of water. According to the Nature Conservancy WWF, you need about 1,700 liters of water for one bar of chocolate. Tea also does not like to be too hot or sunny and it is very important that the right amount of rain falls at the right time. Otherwise it looks bad for the harvest here too.

For Brazilian coffee growers, 2021 was a precursor to what was to come: First, the developing regions suffered severe drought, then frost came. Both are harmful to sensitive coffee plants.

Optimal conditions are disappearing

Fortunately, there are still areas on our planet where these conditions can be met. Coffee and cocoa grow mainly in the higher elevations of the tropics around the equator, and tea thrives best near the equator.

The main coffee growing region is Brazil, which together with Central America constitutes the largest coffee growing region in the world. In addition, coffee is also grown in Africa, for example in Ethiopia, and in parts of Asia. About 70 percent of cocoa comes from West Africa, mainly from Ivory Coast and Ghana. The tea mainly comes from China, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya.

However, all these growing areas with their ideal conditions are clearly disappearing due to climate change. Last year, for example, there was a severe drought in Brazil and then a frost in mid-July, which made it difficult to have coffee. Plants died and there were major crop failures. In Ethiopia, on the other hand, the other extreme prevailed: the coffee here suffered from chaotic, highly volatile rain. Because it rains too often, too early or too little, the fruit cannot ripen and dry properly.

Cocoa is also suffering from increasingly unpredictable climate change: in Ghana it rained so heavily in 2016 that most of the cocoa could not be harvested, and the following year, droughts with the same effect occurred in Ghana and Ivory Coast. The famous Darjeeling tea from the Himalayas in India and tea from Sri Lanka have recently struggled with less and less rain in increasingly volatile times. China has the opposite problem, with heavy rainfall increasingly damaging crops. Another limitation occurs in Kenya, where tea leaves are burnt in abundance.

Effects become more visible

So climate change is ensuring that farming areas are no longer what they used to be, and are therefore less suitable for farming. And since climate change won’t stop just like this, the situation is likely to get worse rather than improve in the future.

Scientists agree: Researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research have found that the global planted area of ​​the main coffee species, arabica beans, could shrink by 40 percent by 2090. For tea, researchers predict that by 2050 it can only be grown in quarter of the previous area. According to NOAA’s US Weather and Oceanography Agency, cocoa from Ghana and Ivory Coast could suffer even more: the climate here is said to have changed so much by 2050 that nearly 90 percent of growing areas are no longer suitable.

Cocoa cultivation in Ghana

Ghana and Ivory Coast are the main sources of cocoa. If climate change is not stopped, it could be too hot by 2050 for heat-sensitive cocoa plants.

William Burnie, Getty Images

The consequences for developing countries and for us

It also affects us the shrinkage of agricultural areas and low yields. As a result of lower yields, for example, prices began to rise. During the bad coffee harvest in Brazil last year, for example, a strong increase in the world market price could be observed.

Another consequence of poor growing conditions is poor quality. Climate change can literally be tasted in the products. With coffee, the temperature ensures the proper growth rate and fruit ripening. If these are grown too quickly, the coffee will have less flavor afterwards. The same with tea: it loses a lot of its aroma if it rains a lot. The tea leaves absorb a lot of water and the tea literally “drops the water”.

However, climate change has really dire consequences, especially for small local farmers, whose livelihood is growing coffee, cocoa or tea. Small farmers earn their money on high-quality varieties of these products, which are especially difficult to grow and the area under cultivation is rapidly declining.

Even if we haven’t felt the immediate effects yet, long-term change is likely to happen in the world of coffee, chocolate and tea. The less we do about climate change, the worse it gets. However, scientists are already looking for alternative varieties that are more robust in the face of harsh weather conditions and with good taste. So that we can continue to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and a delicious piece of chocolate in the future.

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