Lab-grown coffee? Finland is working on it

VTT

After cultured meat and lab-grown fish, now there is coffee made from cell cultures. Finnish researchers have succeeded in making coffee without the use of coffee beans.

 

Increasing demand for coffee

Cellular agriculture is usually associated with the production of meat, dairy and egg substitutes. But in Finland, researchers at the VTT research centre have turned their attention to coffee.

 

The project responds to the increased global demand for coffee beans and the challenges regarding sustainability that the industry is facing. Coffee is the third most widely consumed beverage globally, after water and tea, and its consumption is growing rapidly worldwide.

 

As farmers expand their acreage to meet growing demand, deforestation is a concern. Rising temperatures due to climate change are also making it increasingly challenging to grow arabica coffee.

 

The need for an alternative

According to the VTT, alternative ways of producing coffee are therefore urgently required. A research team led by Dr Heiko Rischer has found a potential solution in cellular agriculture.

 

The process of making coffee that way is very similar to the production of cultured meat. As with the production of lab-grown meat, growth media are used to grow the cells. "However, the nutrient media for plant cell cultures are much less complex than those for animal cells", Dr Rischer tells FoodNavigator.

 

It also means that they are much less expensive. The high cost of growth media for animal cells is one of the main barriers to the sector's development.

 

Four more years

The cultured cells, the so-called biomass, are analysed and dried afterwards. The dried powder is then processed into filter coffee.

 

Dr Richer said that the brew stood up well compared to regular coffee in terms of its aroma and taste. "However, coffee making is an art and involves iterative optimisation under the supervision of specialists with dedicated equipment. Our work marks the basis for such work." He estimates that the first commercial laboratory coffee could be on the market within four years.