After the meat, comes the laboratory coffee

After meat, lab coffee? Finnish scientists have finalized a new technique that allows one of the most consumed beverages on the planet to be manufactured in a more sustainable way.

"It is really coffee, because there is nothing other than coffee matter in the product"Dr. Heko Rischer assures AFP.

This new black gold has not been ground, but it results from a cluster of cells from a coffee plant, under conditions of temperature, light and oxygen controlled in detail in a bioreactor.

Once roasted, the powder is prepared in exactly the same way as classic coffee.

For Rischer’s team, the Finnish technical research institute VTT, this method allows to avoid the current environmental problems of coffee, whose world production is close to 10 million tons of grain.

"Coffee is clearly a problem product", says the specialist, pointing out that climate change reduces the productivity of plantations and pushes farmers to gain land from the tropical forest to expand crops.

"There is also the issue of transportation, the use of fossil fuels (…), therefore it is logical to look for alternatives", insists the scientist.

The coffee they developed is based on the same principles of cellular agriculture that are increasingly used for laboratory-grown meat, which does not involve killing animals.

This product was accepted for sale in 2020 by the Singapore authorities, a world first.

The Finnish team is now developing a deeper analysis of the sustainability of their product if it is manufactured on a large scale.

"We already know that our water consumption, for example, is clearly lower than what is necessary for growth in the fields"Rischer explains. The technique would also require less labor than traditional coffee.

Distrust

The project is of particular importance in Finland, which, according to analysts at the Statista data center, is among the nations with the highest coffee consumption in the world, with an average of ten kilos per person per year.

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For coffee lovers, the key to their success will be taste. So far only one panel of "sensory experts" specially trained received authorization to taste this new drink due to its status as "new food".

"One of the directives of the ethics committee is to only taste and spit, not swallow"Heikki Aisala, who directs the tasters, explains to AFP.

"Compared to ordinary coffee, cellular coffee is less bitter", according to Aisala, who advances the thesis of a slightly lower caffeine content. The fruity taste is also less pronounced.

"That said, we have to admit that we are not professional roasters and that a large part of the creation of aromas originates from the roasting process."says Rischer.

Once the testing and refinement of the process are complete, the team hopes to find a partner to increase production and be able to commercialize their cellular coffee.

Researchers estimate that it will take at least four years for laboratory coffee to reach supermarket shelves.

There are other initiatives underway to find a more sustainable alternative to coffee.

Seattle startup Atomo announced in September that it had raised $ 11.5 million for a "molecular coffee" with the same taste as coffee, but from organic matter from another plant.

Even so, studies carried out in the United States and Canada reveal a distrust of the public, especially the elderly, towards laboratory-grown food substitutes.

Environmental benefits aside, some food policy specialists also warned that the livelihoods of coffee producers may be threatened if these products become widespread.

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