Redefining Coffee for a Changing World

Redefining Coffee for a Changing World

In this space, we’ve looked at the many ways food scientists are innovating alternatives to traditional foods, with the frequent goal of taxing our poor planet less. They’ve done cheese, meat, chocolate – and now coffee!

The massively popular, hot (or cold) caffeinated beverage is traditionally made from beans that thrive at a specific altitude and temperature. With climate change, well, changing climates everywhere, researchers with the American Chemical Society have decided to get ahead of the misery in store for Java addicts and find out if we can do without the real thing. First, they lab-grew cells from the leaves of Coffea arabica plants, rather than beans themselves.

“Then the cells were freeze-dried, ground into a fine powder and roasted under three different conditions. Longer roasting times produced colors similar to dark roast coffee beans; the  researchers mentioned this was important for flavor perception. Additionally, the current lab-grown powders contained twice as much caffeine as previous bioreactor coffee products, although the current powders’ levels were much lower than those in farmed beans. The team brewed beverages with the roasted cell cultures or dark roast C. arabica beans and served them to trained taste-testers.”

The testers reported findings that, depending on how hooked you are on the jitter juice, could be promising, or distressing. Among them: bitterness was similar; aromas of burnt sugar and smoke were more present; and some distinctive flavour was lost simply because the plant cells don’t have the same compounds in them (guaiacol and pyrazines) that coffee beans do. But it is heartening to hear that, no matter what terrible things we persist in doing to our delicately balanced ecosystem, we can still grind up some sort of roasted biological substance, and still get that sweet, sweet burst of caffeine!