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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Get it while it’s hot: Ethiopian coffee may be in danger due to climate change

By Kenzie Mahoskey

The rich aroma and taste of Ethiopian coffee may not last forever.

 Ethiopia, the fifth-largest producer of coffee in the world, could lose up to 60 percent of its farmland by the end of this century, according to CNN. Low rainfall and rising temperatures caused by climate change have been cited as some of the main culprits for making this land unusable.

 According to Specialty Coffee, a nonprofit association, the rising temperatures make the coffee beans ripen too quickly and lose their rich flavor.

 “Think of it as a cherry that grows on a tree. The coffee bean is really just a pit in the fruit,” Ryan Siu, owner of Black Drop Coffeehouse in downtown Bellingham, said. “It’s an actual agricultural product, which is one of the reasons why climate change is a big deal for coffee plants.”

 The 2016 World Coffee Research report said the demand for coffee will double by 2050, but the land for coffee farming will have shrunk by half.

Thousands of different kinds of coffee plants grow in Ethiopia. The coffee plants can either be processed naturally, where the cherry is dried around the coffee bean before being removed, according to Specialty Coffee’s website. This process gives the coffee a heavy fruit and wine flavor. The other process is where the cherry is stripped from the coffee bean and gives it a floral aroma.

The high-quality Ethiopian coffee found at most coffee shops is Arabica, a coffee plant species. Siu said this plant is the most affected by climate change because it grows at high altitudes.

“Coffee grows in a magical area near the equator,” Siu said. “Some of the best areas that grow coffee in Ethiopia are going to be Yirgacheffe or Harrar regions. It doesn’t get too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter there.”

Ryan Siu, owner of Black Drop Coffee in downtown Bellingham, gets espresso beans ready for early morning customers. // Photo by Kenzie Mahoskey

It’s not just those in the coffee business who will miss Ethiopian coffee, either.

Senior Irena Marx Gelder said she prefers Ethiopian coffee over all other beans.

“Ethiopian coffee is a little richer than other coffee,” she said. “It has more of a cocoa taste, in my opinion. There’s so many big companies that use Ethiopian beans for their coffee, so they’re going to lose a lot.”

One of those companies is local chain Woods Coffee.

Director of Coffee Shea Hagan said Woods buys coffee from various countries, including Ethiopia.

Hagan said representatives from Woods go to the farms and build relationships with the producers. Hagen said they do so because the company wants to make sure what they are buying is having a positive impact on the producer and their community.

 World Coffee Research, a nonprofit research program, is continuing to work to battle the threat  climate change poses to coffee plants by researching the plant and conducting experiments, educating coffee farmers and creating climate and disease-resilient coffee plants.


Shots of Ethiopian coffee drip into an espresso cup. // Photo by Kenzie Mahoskey


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