Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Scientists create ‘sustainable’ coffee

Scientists create ‘sustainable’ coffee

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Research Scientist Heikki Aisala goes through the process of tasting and smelling the sustainably grown coffee at the VTT research lab on October 25. AFP

Scientists create ‘sustainable’ coffee

Latte drinkers may in the future be sipping on java sourced from a petri dish rather than a plantation, say scientists behind a new technique to grow what they hope to be sustainable coffee in a lab.

“It’s really coffee, because there is nothing else than coffee material in the product,” Heiko Rischer said, pointing to a dish of light brown powder.

His team of researchers at the Finnish technical research institute VTT believe their coffee would avoid many of the environmental pitfalls associated with the mass production of one of the world’s favourite drinks.

The coffee is not ground from beans, but instead grown from a cluster of coffee plant cells under closely controlled temperature, light and oxygen conditions in a bioreactor.

Once roasted, the powder can be brewed in exactly the same way as conventional coffee.

Rischer’s team used the same principles of cellular agriculture that are used to produce lab-grown meat, which does not involve the slaughter of livestock and which last year was given approval by Singapore authorities to go on sale for the first time.

“Coffee is of course a problematic product,” Rischer said, in part because rising global temperatures are making existing plantations less productive, driving farmers to clear ever larger areas of rainforest for new crops.

“There is the transport issue, the fossil fuel use . . . so it totally makes sense to look for alternatives,” Rischer said.

Taste test

The team is carrying out a fuller analysis of how sustainable their product would be if manufactured on a large scale, but believe it would use less labour and fewer resources than conventional coffee.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Senior research technician Jaana Rikkinen prepares a bio reactor where the sustainably grown coffee cells will be placed to keep growing at the VTT research lab in Espoo, Finland. AFP

“We know already that our water footprint, for example, is much less than what is needed for field growth,” Rischer said.

For coffee lovers, the key to the success of the lab-grown variety will be in its taste – but so far only a specially trained panel of sensory analysts are authorised to try the new brew because of its status as a “novel food”.

For the time being, they are only allowed “to taste and spit, but not swallow it,” said research scientist Heikki Aisala, an expert in sensory perception who leads the testers on the project.

“Compared to regular coffee, the cellular coffee is less bitter,” which may be due to a slightly lower caffeine content, Aisala said, adding that fruitiness is also less prominent in the lab-produced powder.

“But that being said, we really have to admit that we are not professional coffee roasters and a lot of the flavour generation actually happens in the roasting process,” Rischer said.

Other initiatives are also under way in search of a more sustainable alternative to coffee.

The Seattle startup Atomo in September announced it had raised $11.5 million in funding for its “molecular coffee”, which has the same flavour makeup as the drink, but is originated from other organic material than a coffee plant.

But surveys in the US and Canada have suggested widespread public wariness towards lab-grown food substitutes, although less so among younger consumers.

Despite the environmental benefits, some food policy specialists have warned that coffee producers’ livelihoods could be hit if there is a widespread move towards lab-produced products.

In Helsinki, Rischer estimates it will be a minimum of four years before the team’s lab-grown coffee gains the regulatory approval and commercial backing to enable it to sit alongside its conventional cousin on the shelves.

The project has a special significance in Finland, which according to analyst group Statista ranks among the world’s top consumers of coffee, averaging 10 kilos per person every year.

“There’s definitely a lot of enthusiasm for it,” Aisala said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Second Hungary business forum set for H2

    Cambodia has asked Hungary to provide GSP- (Generalised System of Preferences) Plus facilities for when the Kingdom sheds its least-developed country (LDC) label, as the two countries prepare to hold a second business forum in the second half (H2) of this year to expand trade

  • Thai boxers to join SEA Games’ Kun Khmer event

    The Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) – together with the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) and Khmer Boxing Federation – have achieved a “great success” by including Kun Khmer in the upcoming biennial multi-sports event on its home soil for the first time, said a senior

  • Bullets to bracelets: Siem Reap man makes waste from war wearable

    Jewellery is often made from valuable gemstones like emeralds or diamonds and precious metals like gold or silver, or valueless things like animal horns. But a man in Siem Reap has approached the manufacture of delicate pieces from a different angle. His unique form of

  • Nearly 50 states join Kun Khmer Federation, all set for training

    In a little over a week, the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) has accepted membership requests from 20 new nations, in addition to the exiting 29. The sudden influx of international recognition stems from the Kingdom’s successful introduction of Kun Khmer to the 32nd Souheast Asian (

  • 61% of 2022 imports came from just 3 markets

    The three largest exporters to Cambodia – mainland China, Vietnam and Thailand – accounted for 60.94 per cent of the Kingdom’s total merchandise imports last year, at $18.245 billion, which was up 11.99 per cent over 2021, according to the General Department of Customs and Excise. Cambodia’s total imports

  • CPP sets out five primary strategic goals for 2023-28

    The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on January 29 concluded its two-day extraordinary congress, setting the party’s priority goals for 2023-2028. The ruling party’s congress was attended by more than 3,000 members from across the Kingdom, including the members of the permanent and central committees,