Cellular agriculture has given us hope about the future of sustainable meat production, but what about coffee? After all, many of us (this author included) would happily give up that great steak or burger to make sure we get that first cup of coffee in the morning.
Well good news, caffeine addicts: A research lab in Finland announced they have made coffee using cellular agriculture techniques. According to an article today in Phys.org, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland “is developing coffee production through plant cells in its laboratory in Finland. In the process, cell cultures floating in bioreactors filled with nutrient medium are used to produce various animal- and plant-based products.”
The process by VTT includes establishing the cell lines in the lab and then transferring the cell cultures to a bioreactor where they produce biomass. Once harvested, the biomass is roasted into something resembling the coffee we purchase from the store.
“In terms of smell and taste, our trained sensory panel and analytical examination found the profile of the brew to bear similarity to ordinary coffee,” said VTT Research Team Leader Dr. Heiko Rischer. “However, coffee making is an art and involves iterative optimization under the supervision of specialists with dedicated equipment. Our work marks the basis for such work.”
While we’ve seen a few startups such as Atomo working on building “molecular” coffee, those approaches use upcycled plant-based ingredients with similar compounds to coffee beans. VTT’s research project is the first example we’ve seen of cellular agriculture techniques used to replicate coffee bean cells in a bioreactor.
Whether it’s cell-ag coffee beans or derived using molecular magic, discovering new approaches to create coffee is urgent given the state of traditional crop farming. Mega-producers like Brazil face severe droughts due to climate change, which has resulted in big jumps in coffee bean prices.
But don’t expect coffee from a bioreactor to show up on store shelves anytime soon. First, researchers must figure out how to scale the process, and regulatory approval would be needed.
You can see the full article on Phys.org here.