I guess all that scientific evidence that coffee is good for you was too good be true. Not because the evidence isn't accurate but because, just as we're understanding that coffee is the ultimate super-food, the price of decent cup might through the roof.

The problem is, of course, climate change. It turns out that coffee is a fairly difficult plant to cultivate and can only be grown in a narrow climate band. Unfortunately, according to the New York Times, climate change is shrinking that band, making it more difficult to grow coffee.

Climate change also stresses the coffee plants that manage to survive, making them more susceptible to diseases and beetles. One such beetle, the coffee berry borer, is already causing coffee growers hundreds of millions of dollars. And guess who ends up paying for that in the end? Coffee drinkers, of course.

To understand how this might play out, consider the fate of the banana. The Cavendish bananas you buy in the supermarket are bland and chalky compared to the Gros Michel variety sold in the early 20th century, which environmentally-caused disease almost drove to extinction.

It's still possible to buy Gros Michel bananas but they're frightfully expensive. Cavendish bananas at the grocery store have an average retail price of around $.50 a pound, while Gros Michels run around $10 a pound: 20 times as much.

Something like this could easily happen with coffee, with the flavorful varieties becoming too difficult to grow and being replaced in the stores with junk varieties that are less susceptible to disease and insects.

So let's do the math. Today you can buy a cup of reasonably high-quality coffee at the retail price of $2.50. If something analogous happens to coffee that happened to bananas, a cup of high-quality coffee might end up costing 20 times more, which is roughly $50 a cup.

The sad thing about this is that there's really not much you can do to prevent it. Even if the world took rigorous steps to lessen the effect of climate change, the process is already far enough along that it's affecting coffee growth.

As you can well imagine, coffee growers are doing their best to prevent the approaching disaster but it's unclear whether the more exotic (i.e. super-flavorful) varieties of coffee will survive the now-inevitable environmental stress.

So, really, all you can do today is enjoy the coffee that's available today, especially the unusual varieties that are most likely to disappear. Today we're living in the golden age of coffee. Don't squander it drinking mediocre junk coffee.

You'll have plenty of time to drink that when there's nothing else available.

Published on: Jul 12, 2018
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