In Food + Drink

Single O Releases Range Of Climate Change-Resistant Coffee

It’s not often that scientists and baristas work together. But with climate change threatening the worldwide coffee industry, Sydney roaster Single O has done just that, partnering with an international coffee research body to save the future of coffee, and releasing a range of roasted coffee beans which have been grown to be climate change-resistant.

The three new coffee varieties have been grown in Mexico, as part of an extensive experiment by World Coffee Research (WCR), a not-for-profit organisation that’s spearheading the move to future-proof coffee.

“Demand for coffee is expected to double by the year 2050, and if nothing is done, more than half of the world’s suitable coffee land will be pushed into unsuitability due to climate change,” says Greg Meenahan, partnership director of World Coffee Research.

Single O climate change coffee

Australians love a good flat white, and our coffee market alone is worth some $2 billion dollars. Yet, despite high consumer demand, coffee farmers are doing it tough. El Salvador is still reeling from a 2012 leaf rust epidemic, a fungal disease that wiped out 80 per cent of the country’s coffee plantations; while in other major coffee-growing regions like Kenya, Ethiopia and Colombia, farmers have struggled to adapt to changing environmental conditions caused by global warming.

Compounding the problem is coffee’s “orphan crop” status. It’s grown in specific parts of the world (mainly along the equator), receives next-to-no scientific research attention, and has limited genetic diversity, making it more susceptible to plant diseases.

If this continues, scientists warn that coffee could soon become a luxury item, commanding retail prices of up to $10 for a cappuccino from your local cafe.

So, what’s being done? Single O is a big cheerleader for WCR’s current coffee-growing trials, raising awareness through its No Death to Coffee campaign. The Botany-based roaster is also the first Australian company to import a shipping container of the specially-grown beans, sourced from successful new coffee crops in Mexico.

Single O climate change coffee

In WCR’s trials, coffee varieties are cross-bred to create crops that are high-yield, disease-free and climate-resistant. Scientists extract samples from the leaves of baby coffee plants, and compare them to genetic data of other plants with “desirable” coffee plants. Rather than waiting for plants to mature, successful coffee cross-breeds are identified early in the growing process. It’s an accelerated, efficient form of coffee research and experimentation, with the WCR currently testing 31 varieties in 23 locations around the world.

The Starmaya coffee, Single O’s star coffee from its new range, has been grown in Chipas, on the southern-east tip of Mexico. As a leaf rust-resistant crop that can be grown at multiple altitudes, it ticks all the boxes to be part of the new wave of sustainable coffee varieties.

“After one and a half years, the plant already had cherries [the fruit that contains the coffee bean inside] … it normally takes two to three years to yield fruit,” says Aida Battle, an award-winning coffee producer and trader who sold Single O its first batch of future-proof coffees.

But importantly, the Starmaya still produces a good cup of coffee. “It’s not just about yield and disease resistance. It’s also about quality, flavour and flavour profile,” says Meenaham.

Single O climate change coffee

The Starmaya and the rich Centroamericano varietal – both released for public sale in October – have since sold out at Single O’s cafes and online store. But you can get the sweet-tasting Marsellesa as a single origin coffee, or as part of the Killerbee blend. As the name suggests, its got a nectar-like flavour profile, with notes of honey and tropical fruit sweetness.

“We’re passionate about supporting all innovations that will lead to more stability for coffee producers,” says Wendy de Jong, director of coffee at Single O. “Future-friendly varieties … are set to enhance farmer livelihoods. We can’t wait to share it with the Australian coffee community.”

Published 05 December, 2018