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Coffee And Climate Change: Is Your Cheap Java Disappearing?

Submitted by on November 30, 2011 – 11:42 am2 Comments

A few months ago, I noticed my daily cup of coffee was costing more than I expected for  a basic morning staple, available for a buck at every corner bodega. I assumed I had always been paying that much, and just hadn’t been paying attention. (I mean, I’m not really conscious before that first cup.)

But it turns out the change was very real; and if you buy coffee anywhere from the supermarket to a gourmet cafe, then you’ve probably noticed the same thing. Since last spring, major retailers have had to increase coffee prices anywhere from 10-20% as coffee supplies decrease all around the world. And according to Zak Stone at the Daily GOOD, this change might be permanent and getting worse.

Stone writes that coffee may soon be a luxury item, not a daily fix:

The price of a cup of coffee—whether it be a $6 pour-over, a $2.50 dark roast at Starbucks, or a $1.50 mug of diner swill—is being driven up by a complex combination of weather events, pest and fungus outbreaks, speculation on commodities exchanges, an unstable labor market in the developing world, and an unprecedented thirst for good coffee among a growing global middle class. The problem, in simple economic terms, is that supply has gone down and demand has gone up.

More specifically, Stone finds that global climate change accounts for new major obstacles to worldwide coffee production. He speaks to scientists and coffee buyers who note that in the developing world, far from debates over man-made weather effects, growers are almost universally fighting increased average temperatures and unusual rainfall patterns. These wreak havoc on coffee plants, which require extremely specific growing conditions.

In addition, Stone notes, growers also face a contraction of the market after major overproduction in the early 2000s, leading to investor speculation. (And we all know how well speculation turned out for dot-coms, real estate, and credit…)

To counteract increasing prices, the article suggests coffee shops like Starbucks might try to increase the price of other items before increasing coffee prices again. But it also illuminates their move to build a Starbucks “experience,” with additions like “Starbucks Reserve” coffees, and the experimental trials of some locations that serve wine and beer.

What do you think? What would you do if coffee prices go up: pay more, cut back, switch brands, or something else?

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