We're running out of coffee? How depresso
Stella Logan | March 2018
Our obsession with coffee is about to come to an end―whether we like it or not.
It's 9:15am in the office and I'm staring blankly at my computer screen with all the brain capacity of a potato. Like many others, I cannot function without at least one cup of coffee. Facing a long and busy day without the assistance of caffeinated goodness is not an option.
But the time is coming where you and I will have nothing but our dull wits to get by on, because, believe it or not, the world is on the brink of a coffee extinction.
Our thirst for coffee is unquenchable. On a daily basis, people worldwide drink over 2.25 billion cups of coffee. On top of that, we consume coffee faster than it can be produced. The global demand for coffee is being pushed to record numbers, while supplies are dwindling.
What's going on with our beloved beverage?
Two words: climate change.
The most commonly grown type of coffee, arabica, only thrives in specific conditions, typically tropical areas in Central America, Brazil, East Africa and Vietnam. However, more warm and extreme weather including drought and heavy rains are making it harder to grow coffee in these regions. The world's largest coffee grower and exporter, Brazil, saw its 2016 crop of robusta (the second most common variety of coffee) shrink to its smallest size ever due to long periods without significant rain.
Australia's Climate Institute predicts that in 30 years' time, global warming will make at least 50 per cent of coffee-producing land unable to produce quality beans. By 2080, blazing temperatures will see coffee plants suffer the same fate as the dinosaurs.
It may as well be the death sentence of our country. It's no secret that we are proud of our reputation as a "caffeination". At any given morning, you'll find a plethora of Instagram posts showing off the beverage adorned with rosetta latte art. Each year, we search for the best coffee in Australia at the Sydney Royal Coffee Competition. We even have an Aroma Festival dedicated entirely to our love of the brown bean. (After spending the day there you'll have drunk so much coffee that you won't even need to sleep for the next three days.)
We've also turned into a nation of coffee snobs. Starbucks found this out the hard way when it cottoned on to our love affair with coffee, opening 85 stores in Australia with much fanfare in 2000, only to close 61 of them years later with the company admitting that it struggled in our "very sophisticated coffee culture". That’s right, we won't just drink any sub-par American coffee with whipped cream and marshmallows. We want a fair-trade, single-origin roast coffee served in a KeepCup by our favourite hipster barista who possesses superhuman memory and tells us our name and order before we can even say hello.
A friend of mine who recently left our shores to go back home to Germany is having violent withdrawal symptoms now that he can't have his three-quarter strong almond flat white. (I'm not even making that up.) Apparently the only offering in Frankfurt is a tragedy he begrudgingly describes as "coffee water".
Coffee isn't just an essential drink that enables us to function. It's part of our culture and lifestyle. An opportunity to socialise. A fashion symbol. The coffee break is the new ciggie break. It's not enough to just drink it on its own now, either. We have it all sorts of ways―in martinis, cream eclairs, hulled avocado shells, even deconstructed in science beakers.
It's no wonder we're running out of the good stuff.
But perhaps not all hope is lost yet. Bloomberg reported some large crops coming from Peru and Honduras, which may help ease the constricted supply. The US has also taken to stockpiling unroasted coffee beans, with inventory levels at its highest last year. Meanwhile, scientists are currently experimenting with coffee plants to create varieties that are more resistant to extreme temperatures and harsher environments.
In the event that the world finally takes its last sip of coffee, we still have other sources of energy to lean on such as tea, lemon water and apples. Apparently.
I gave the alternative a try as a curious experiment. As my colleagues rounded the team up for the customary zombie-like shuffle to the nearest café, I reluctantly stayed put. One of them, Simon, walked over to my desk. "Coffee?" he asked. "No thanks," I replied, "I’ve made myself a green tea." He gave my mug and me a look of utter disgust.
Well, Simon, you'd better wake up and smell the coffee. Because soon we may not have any of it left to smell.
Speaking of waking up, my cup of tea was so pathetic at keeping my eyes open that I ended up buying a soy latte. Sorry world. The apocalypse is inevitable. We need and love our coffee too much.