New Texas A&M center aims to protect struggling coffee industry

Published: Nov. 14, 2016 at 3:06 PM CST
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Coffee as we know it could be in trouble. There is now a new Center for Coffee Research and Education at Texas A&M. It was started with the sole purpose of protecting the drink so many of us enjoy so much.

At the Starbucks inside the MSC, as students are lining up to get their morning cup of caffeine, across campus, researchers are working to make sure they're able to get that coffee for years to come.

Dr. Leo Lombardini says, "We take it for granted. We think it's like buying sugar or flour. It's always going to be there."

Dr. Lombardini runs the new coffee center.

He says, "Everybody in the coffee industry knows there are serious threats to coffee production."

The biggest threat is climate change. Arabica beans, which tend to be the higher quality ones, can only grow when the temperature is between 75 and 80 degrees.

With a general trend toward warmer weather, coffee farmers are faced with a problem.

Lombardini says, "They could move their farms up on the mountains to try and find cooler temperatures, but obviously that's impractical and would have tremendous consequences on the environment."

He and his team are trying to solve that problem. They're studying the genetic makeup of the coffee plant, with the hope that they can help develop a different kind of species that is more resistant to warmer and drier weather.

Without these advancements, your morning coffee could taste very differently than it does now.

The reason is that farmers will be forced to switch from Arabica to the hardier Robusta variety.

He says, "This is however an inferior coffee. It would be just a matter of getting used to a more bitter coffee."

They know they have a lot of work ahead of them, and to get through it, they're depending on the very thing they're researching.

Coffee Researcher Dr. Barbara Barbosa says, "I usually drink a cup of coffee every morning to stay away. I think every scientist does."

The entire coffee research footprint at Texas A&M is growing. This semester, for the first time every, they launched a coffee class. In the spring, a group of students is studying abroad in Guatemala to get a look at coffee plants up close.