Future of the great British cuppa is under threat as climate change could slash tea production

Future of the great British cuppa is under threat as climate change could slash tea production in Kenya by a QUARTER, report warns

  • Climate change is putting the traditional British cup of tea at risk, says a report
  • Kenya, which produces half the black tea drunk in UK, faces floods and droughts
  • Optimal conditions for producing tea will be reduced by 26 per cent by 2050 
  • Other tea-producing countries including India, Sri Lanka, face extreme weather 

The British cuppa is at grave risk from climate change, a report warns.

Kenya, which produces half the black tea drunk in Britain, faces more floods, droughts and rising temperatures, Christian Aid says.

Beyond ruining the lives of countless tea growers, the report says optimal conditions for Kenyan tea production will be slashed by 26 per cent by 2050. 

The traditional British cup of tea is at risk because of climate change, according to a report

Richard Koskei, 72, a tea farmer from Kenya’s Western Highlands, said: ‘We cannot predict seasons anymore… if this continues then it will make growing tea much harder.’

Other major tea-producing countries including India, Sri Lanka and China, the world’s largest producer whose green tea is growing in popularity in the UK, also face rising temperatures and new weather extremes, the report said.

A changing climate could hit the taste of tea, as increasing amounts of rain produce inferior quality leaves, and reduce the compounds that make the brew beneficial to health, the report warned.

Big British tea brands and the Fairtrade Foundation have also raised concerns about the impact climate change is having on tea growers and the future of production.

The warning comes as the UK prepares to host the G7 meeting of major economies next month – where Boris Johnson has said climate, and finance for poor countries to cope with global warming, will be centre stage – and key UN Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow in November.

Dr Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s climate policy lead, said: “This year the UK Government has a key role in overseeing the global response to the climate emergency.

Big British tea brands and the Fairtrade Foundation have also raised concerns about the impact climate change is having on tea growers

Big British tea brands and the Fairtrade Foundation have also raised concerns about the impact climate change is having on tea growers

“As host of both the G7 in June and the Cop26 climate summit in November, the UK can ensure that countries on the front line of this crisis can adapt and respond to the impacts of climate change.

“With countries starting to announce improved climate plans, there is a unique opportunity to accelerate cuts in emissions and boost the finance needed to help countries adapt to the changing climate.”

Fiachra Moloney, of PG Tips maker Unilever, said: “The climate crisis affects people all over the world.

“In East Africa, where so much of our tea comes from, climate change is putting the livelihoods of the people who grow tea for us at risk.

“As Unilever, we call on governments to bring forward ambitious climate targets, policies and plans ahead of Cop26 that will help us all work together to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5C.”

Under the international Paris Agreement, countries have committed to action to try to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels because beyond that level climate impacts will become increasingly severe.

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David Attenborough warns of ‘crippling problems’ caused by climate change ahead of Cop26

David Attenborough warns of ‘crippling problems’ caused by climate change in his role at this year’s Cop26 summit

  • Sir David Attenborough, 95, has been named the People’s Advocate of this year’s Cop26 summit
  • In a video message, Attenborough said the coronavirus pandemic had shown how important collaboration between nations was to solving global problems
  • The UN’s Cop26 climate change conference will take place in Glasgow in November  

Sir David Attenborough has warned the world faces ‘crippling problems’ because of climate change after being given a role at this year’s Cop26 summit.

The broadcaster, 95, said it was ‘crucial’ that global leaders find a solution to worsening environmental problems. 

The UN’s Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow in November will bring together world leaders to try to agree a plan to tackle climate change.

Sir David has been named the summit’s People’s Advocate and will address political leaders at the event. 

In a video message, Sir David said: ‘The epidemic has shown us how crucial it is to find agreement among nations if we are to solve such worldwide problems. But the problems that await us within the next five, ten years are even greater.

Sir David Attenborough has warned the world faces ‘crippling problems’ because of climate change after being given a role at this year’s Cop26 summit

‘It is crucial that these meetings in Glasgow, Cop26, have success, and that at last the nations will come together to solve the crippling problems that the world faces.’

He will also speak at next month’s G7 leaders’ summit in Cornwall. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: ‘Sir David Attenborough has already inspired millions of people in the UK and around the world with his passion and knowledge to act on climate change and protect the planet for future generations.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured left with Attenborough in February 2020) said there was 'no better person to build momentum for further change' than Attenborough [File photo]

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured left with Attenborough in February 2020) said there was ‘no better person to build momentum for further change’ than Attenborough [File photo]

‘There is no better person to build momentum for further change as we approach the Cop26 climate summit in November. I am hugely grateful to Sir David for agreeing to be our People’s Advocate.’

Cop26 president-designate Alok Sharma, the former business secretary, said: ‘Climate change is the greatest threat facing humanity and the stakes could not be higher for our planet.

‘The next decade will be make, or break, for cutting global emissions sufficiently to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

‘That is why I am delighted to be working with Sir David, a hero for our country and our planet, to inspire action ahead of Cop26.’

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Scientists say ‘forgotten’ coffee with superior flavour is climate change-proof

A ‘forgotten’ African species of coffee that grows at higher temperatures could save the coffee industry, scientists believe. 

Coffea stenophylla from Sierra Leone can tolerate higher temperatures than Arabica, the world’s most popular coffee, according to climate change experts. 

But the species also has a superior flavour, with notes of peach, blackcurrant, mandarin, chocolate, caramel and elderflower syrup. 

According to professional tasters from Nespresso & Jacobs Douwe Egbert (JDE), its flavour is a bit like ‘high-end Arabica’. 

C. stenophylla, also known as the ‘highland coffee of Sierra Leone’, is a rare and threatened species that was rediscovered in the wild in the West African country back in 2018. 

Following the successful round of professional tastings, scientists are hopeful it will soon be grown commercially to ‘futureproof’ the drink from climate change. 

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Coffea stenophylla (pictured) has the unique combination of tolerance to high temperatures and a superior flavour, and could soon be grown commercially, scientists believe

BUT WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?  

According to independent panellists from Nespresso & Jacobs Douwe Egbert (JDE), the flavour of stenophylla is like ‘high-end Arabica’. 

The panel blind tested two Arabica samples (one high quality and one low grade), one high-quality robusta sample, and the Ivory Coast stenophylla.  

Judges noted its ‘complex flavour profile’ with a natural sweetness, medium-high acidity, fruitiness, and good body. 

Desirable tasting notes included peach, blackcurrant, mandarin, honey, light black tea, jasmine, spice, floral, chocolate, caramel, nuts, and elderflower syrup, as one might find in high-quality Arabica.  

The multibillion dollar coffee industry that supplies the likes of Starbucks and Costa is plagued with challenges like extreme weather and pests, as well as warmer temperatures. 

Worryingly for caffeine addicts, experts had not identified any robust means of protecting coffee farming from the climate crisis before now. 

The project is led by scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the University of Greenwich, CIRAD (the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development) and Sierra Leone 

‘This is a once in a lifetime scientific discovery – stenophylla could ensure the future of high-quality coffee,’ said Dr Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 

‘Future-proofing the coffee supply chain to deal with climate change is vital – coffee drives a multibillion dollar global industry, supports the economy of several tropical countries, and provides livelihoods for more than 100 million coffee farmers. 

‘To find a coffee species that flourishes at higher temperatures and has an excellent flavour is a once in a lifetime scientific discovery – this species could be essential for the future of high-quality coffee.’  

Previously suggested solutions to improving resilience include relocating coffee farming areas and adapting the farming environment – but these options are too costly and have negative impacts on livelihoods and communities.  

C. stenophylla (pictured) is classified on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as ¿vulnerable¿

C. stenophylla (pictured) is classified on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as ‘vulnerable’ 

Rediscovering C. Stenophylla - also known as highland coffee of Sierra Leone - in the wild in Sierra Leone

Rediscovering C. Stenophylla – also known as highland coffee of Sierra Leone – in the wild in Sierra Leone

There are 124 species of coffee, but the coffee market currently relies on just two for 99 per cent of worldwide coffee consumption – Arabica and Robusta, each of which make up 56 per cent and 43 per cent of global production, respectively. 

Arabica, originating from the highlands of Ethiopia and South Sudan, is a cool-tropical plant with a mean annual temperature requirement of around 19⁰C. 

But it is vulnerable to increasing global temperatures and ‘coffee leaf rust’ – a fungal disease that has severely impacted coffee plantations in Central and South America. 

Robusta fares slightly better – the species grows at low elevations across much of wet-tropical Africa, requires a mean annual temperature of around 23⁰C and is resistant to certain strains of coffee leaf rust. 

However, Robusta falls short in its flavour and is widely regarded as inferior to Arabica – the reason why the majority of Robusta’s production used for instant coffee.      

Harvesting the species at CRB Coffea, Reunion Island. Previously suggested solutions to improving resilience include relocating coffee farming areas and adapting the farming environment ¿ but these options are too costly and have negative impacts on livelihoods and communities

Harvesting the species at CRB Coffea, Reunion Island. Previously suggested solutions to improving resilience include relocating coffee farming areas and adapting the farming environment – but these options are too costly and have negative impacts on livelihoods and communities

Until late 2018, C. stenophylla – once widely farmed in Upper West Africa – had not been seen in the wild since 1954, and there had been no recorded sensory information for C. stenophylla for 100 years.

Today, its use as a crop species is non-existent, and only a few examples exist in coffee research collections. 

In December 2018, Dr Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at the Royal Botanic Gardens and Dr Jeremy Haggar, Professor of Agroecology at the University of Greenwich) travelled to Sierra Leone.

There, they worked with development specialist Daniel Sarmu, to try and locate the species in the wild, by using historical specimens from RBG Kew to provide details of the last known locality of the coffee. 

After visiting the main target location, they found only a single C. stenophylla plant, but after visiting another forest area further east – and after several hours of trekking through dense forest – they finally located a healthy population.  

Rediscovering the species in the wild in Sierra Leone. There had been no recorded sensory information for stenophylla for 100 years, due to its scarcity in cultivation and rarity in the wild

Rediscovering the species in the wild in Sierra Leone. There had been no recorded sensory information for stenophylla for 100 years, due to its scarcity in cultivation and rarity in the wild

C. Stenophylla was commercialised a century ago, but production was limited. It had not been seen in the wild since 1954

C. Stenophylla was commercialised a century ago, but production was limited. It had not been seen in the wild since 1954

A small sample of C. stenophylla was brought back to the UK, roasted and then assessed by an expert tasting panel at Union Hand-Roasted Coffee – a coffee shop in London – in August 2020.

Based on protocol of the Specialty Coffee Association, the panel awarded the coffee 80.25 out of 100 – defined as a ‘speciality score’.

To reach ‘speciality’ status, a coffee needs a score of 80 points or higher. 

‘Arabica is currently our only speciality coffee species, and so this score, particularly from such a small sample, was surprising and remarkable,’ said Jeremy Torz from Union Coffee.  

After this initial tasting in London, a more substantial sample from Ivory Coast was obtained from the Coffea Biological Resources Center on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. 

The sample was evaluated at CIRAD’s sensorial analysis laboratory in Montpellier, France by a panel of judges, and then by coffee experts from companies including JDE, Nespresso and Belco. 

The brewed beverage ready for tasting at the CIRAD sensory analysis laboratory in Montpellier, France

The brewed beverage ready for tasting at the CIRAD sensory analysis laboratory in Montpellier, France

Sorting of Stenophylla green beans before roasting at CIRAD's sensory analysis laboratory (© C. Cornu, Cirad)

Sorting of Stenophylla green beans before roasting at CIRAD’s sensory analysis laboratory (© C. Cornu, Cirad)

Roasting at CIRAD. CIRAD is a French research centre working with developing countries 'to tackle international agricultural and development issues'

Roasting at CIRAD. CIRAD is a French research centre working with developing countries ‘to tackle international agricultural and development issues’

The 15-strong panel blind tested two Arabica samples (one high quality and one low grade), one high-quality robusta sample and the Ivory Coast C. stenophylla.  

Judges noted its ‘complex flavour profile’ with a natural sweetness, medium-high acidity, fruitiness and good body. 

Desirable tasting notes included peach, blackcurrant, mandarin, honey, light black tea, jasmine, spice, floral, chocolate, caramel, nuts and elderflower syrup – similar to a high-quality Arabica. 

When asked if the stenophylla sample was an Arabica, 81 per cent of the judges said yes (compared to 98 per cent and 44 per cent for the two Arabica samples, and 7 per cent for the robusta sample). 

Despite the high ‘Arabica-like’ score for stenophylla, 47 per cent of the judges identified the sample as something new, suggesting ‘a market niche’ for the rediscovered coffee, according to Royal Botanic Gardens.

The species has a superior flavour, with notes of peach, blackcurrant, mandarin, chocolate, caramel and elderflower syrup, say professional tasters

The species has a superior flavour, with notes of peach, blackcurrant, mandarin, chocolate, caramel and elderflower syrup, say professional tasters

Tasting Stenophylla at Union Coffee in London. Based on protocol of the Specialty Coffee Association, the panel awarded the coffee 80.25 out of 100 ¿ defined as a 'speciality score'

Tasting Stenophylla at Union Coffee in London. Based on protocol of the Specialty Coffee Association, the panel awarded the coffee 80.25 out of 100 – defined as a ‘speciality score’

‘These results provide the first credible sensory evaluation for stenophylla coffee, from which we are able to corroborate historical reports of a superior taste,’ said Dr Delphine Mieulet, scientist at CIRAD, who led the tasting.

‘The sensory analysis of stenophylla reveals a complex and unusual flavour profile that the judges unanimously found worthy of interest. 

‘For me, as a breeder, this new species is full of hope and allows us to imagine a bright future for quality coffee, despite climate change.’  

C. stenophylla is classified on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as ‘vulnerable’, so the future of the species in the wild will itself need to be ‘safeguarded’.  

Further work is now required to fully evaluate its potential as a climate resilient, high-value crop species and breeding resource, including its drought tolerance and resistance to coffee leaf rust. 

The scientists now plan to plant C. stenophylla seedlings in Sierra Leone and CIRAD on Reunion Island sometime this year, to assess its potential under different environmental conditions.  

‘We hope that stenophylla coffee will become a flagship export crop for our beloved Sierra Leone, providing wealth creation for our country’s coffee farmers,’ said Daniel Sarmu, development specialist from Sierra Leone.

‘It would be wonderful to see this coffee reinstated as part of our cultural heritage.’ 

C. stenophylla also has the potential to be used as a breeding resource, to produce new, climate resilient coffee crops for global consumption, according to the team. 

The research has been published today in Nature Plants

Climate change is making it harder to get a good cup of COFFEE: Rising temperatures could result in bland tasting varieties, study warns 

Coffee could become more bland tasting in future as rising temperatures due to climate change could result in less intense varieties of beans, study shows. Stock image

Coffee could become more bland tasting in future as rising temperatures due to climate change could result in less intense varieties of beans, study shows. Stock image

Coffee could become more bland tasting in the future as rising temperatures due to climate change could result in less intense varieties of beans, scientists have warned.

A team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) created computer simulations to examine the effects of ‘climatic’ factors on coffee growing areas in Ethiopia, the largest producer in Africa.

They found that changes in temperature, rainfall and length of seasons could quality and rich tasting beans more scarce, but bland beans more plentiful. 

Warmer temperatures and lower rainfall, for instance, means that the beans that develop into some of the highest grade coffee mature too early. 

The experts modelled 19 ‘climatic’ factors on the growing areas in Ethiopia, said to be responsible for some of the finest quality beans in the world.

Warmer temperatures and lower rainfall, for instance, means that the beans that develop into some of the highest grade coffee mature too early.

This means that particular coffee is used for more everyday varieties that go to make generic lattes, cappuccinos and espressos.

That, in turn, will make the more exclusive varieties rarer and more expensive and, like the finest vintage wines, out of reach to ordinary consumers, they said.         

Read more: Climate change is making it harder to get a good cup of coffee