​Starbucks' Sustainable Solution: Coffee Seeds Built for Tomorrow's Climate

​Starbucks' Sustainable Solution: Coffee Seeds Built for Tomorrow's Climate

Posted by Stelios on 4th Oct 2023

Starbucks has embarked on a groundbreaking venture to preserve the future of coffee, a beverage deeply rooted in global culture. Through its pioneering research, Starbucks has unveiled six new varieties of coffee seeds designed to withstand climate change, addressing the alarming vulnerability of the arabica bean, which constitutes a staggering 70% of worldwide coffee production.

Starbucks Coffee Mannheim August 2012 Image Source: 4028mdk09, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Coffee Facts

  • Coffee Is The Most Popular Drink Worldwide, With Around Two Billion Cups Consumed Every Day.
  • We now drink approximately 98 million cups of coffee in the UK daily.
  • For an average cup of coffee consumed in the UK, up to 76% of its value is estimated to be produced in the UK.
  • 80% of UK households buy instant coffee for in-home consumption, particularly those aged 65 and older
  • On the high street, café culture has continued to boom; 80% of people who visit coffee shops do so at least once a week, whilst 16% of us see them daily.

With a coffee consumption rate of approximately 517 million cups daily, the US witnesses the average American indulging in three cups daily. Yet, this beloved beverage is at risk as climate change wreaks havoc, exposing coffee crops to diseases, droughts, and erratic weather conditions.

Developed through over a decade of meticulous research and rigorous testing by Starbucks' dedicated agronomy team, these innovative seeds are a beacon of hope for coffee enthusiasts everywhere. They are naturally resistant to the menace of coffee leaf rust and the impacts of our changing climate while not compromising on either taste or yield.

The seeds were nurtured to fruition at Hacienda Alsacia, Starbucks' esteemed research and development hub in Costa Rica. This establishment plays a pivotal role in understanding the multifaceted challenges encountered by coffee farmers and championing sustainable farming practices. The Starbucks agronomy team, since 2005, has been tirelessly experimenting with tree breeding, aiming to cultivate coffee trees that are not just more productive but also resilient against external threats. They have notably refined hundreds of hybrids and varietals during this period.

Starbucks Coffee, 2 2015, by Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and JeepersMedia on YouTube -Starbucks -Coffee (16281370020) Image Source: Mike Mozart from Funny YouTube, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Arabica, unlike its counterpart robusta, is favoured for its smooth and less acidic flavour profile, enriched with fruity undertones. While Starbucks exclusively uses arabica for its almost 37,000 outlets globally, this particular bean's sensitivity to temperature fluctuations renders it susceptible to premature ripening and potential crop loss.

Sarada Krishnan, an experienced coffee scientist and grower, stresses the importance of developing climate-resilient coffee varieties. Arabica's limited genetic diversity makes it prone to diseases like coffee leaf rust, a devastating fungus that thrives in warmer, wetter conditions. Farmers, mainly smallholders, can lose their entire yearly income to this disease. Krishnan herself, an arabica coffee farm owner in Jamaica, is all too familiar with the repercussions of this disease.

However, there's a glimmer of hope as Starbucks' newly-developed arabica seeds have been specifically cultivated to combat this leaf rust. Initial tests have showcased their capability to produce higher yields in comparatively shorter durations. Starbucks further highlighted its dedication to ensuring the longevity of coffee, emphasising its responsibility throughout the entire supply chain, from the dedicated farmer to the ardent coffee drinker.

Starbucks offers its pioneering, climate-resilient coffee tree varieties, free of charge, to global farmers. These farmers are under no obligation to sell their produce exclusively to Starbucks. As a testament to Starbucks' commitment, it has distributed three million climate-resistant seeds annually over the past five years to various countries, aiding their local farmers.

On the occasion of Global Coffee Week, Starbucks emphasised its unwavering commitment to the future of coffee. This encompasses the invaluable contributions of the agronomists at Hacienda Alsacia, their expansive Farmer Support Centers, and their ambitious environmental goals, with aspirations of achieving carbon-neutral green coffee and reducing water usage in green coffee processing by 50% by 2030.

Black Ivory coffee beansBlake Dinkin - blackivorycoffee, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

As per the Inter-American Development Bank, for coffee crops to flourish, they necessitate specific temperature, light, and humidity conditions. These conditions are predominantly met within the coffee belt in parts of Latin America. However, by 2050, due to the rising temperatures, there's a plausible threat that the suitable coffee-growing regions might diminish by nearly half. Hence, Starbucks' endeavour to cultivate new arabica varietals designed to adapt to our warming planet is commendable and crucial.

To aid farmers globally, a comprehensive catalogue detailing Starbucks' six revolutionary varietals is accessible at Hacienda Alsacia, serving as an educational and research beacon.


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