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Climate Change Jeopardizes Coffee Crops

Updated on March 3, 2010

Kona snow won't be making its annual appearance this year. In the small southwesterly district on the island of Hawaii, which depends solely on its coffee crops, this is a major blow. For Hawaiians this is just another problematic result of the global climate change, a phenomenon that is intertwined and experienced in their daily life. For the rest of us, this means that next time we reach for a quality single-origin coffee, like the celebrated Kona Blend, we might notice a little difference.


Each February, the coffee crops, which are seated along the tiny, but extremely hospitable hills of the Big Island, begin to bloom. The simultaneous white bursts spread across thousands upon thousands of coffee plants, carpeting acres of green, luscious rolls. This is the legendary Kona snow, a natural event which engenders a feeling of rejuvenation and optimism for farmers. Kona snow indicates the health of the trees, as they come out of winter dormancy, and forecasts the trees' ability to produce tasty coffee in the following months.

Kona Coffee Threat

In 2010, the legendary event was barely noticeable. Only a small portion of the Kona coffee trees bloomed, and the flowers only lasted a few days. Many farmers owe this to last year's drought, "The drought has been going on since June 2009. Kona snow lasted a couple days before the heat burned up the flowers. The five acre farm that I am working on is surviving because we have drip irrigation, but the trees are really stressed." Another farmer shares, "Coffee production in Hawaii is impacted. Kona Coffee Belt is seeing worst drought in over 30 years. Trees are shrunk and shriveled, only a few areas are doing the usual February Kona snow bloom." The stress of trees translates easily into stress of the farmers: "I am working on an organic coffee farm just below the Kona Belt. The situation is really bad. Farms are going bankrupt. Hundred year old trees are dying or dead." With the absence of Kona snow this year, the climate change is causing concern for Kona coffee producers, as well as coffee makers all around the globe.

Global Coffee Dilemma

Sea temperatures are rising, polar temperatures are dropping. Coral reefs and their symbiotic fish shoals are dying off, and Siberian tigers are losing compatible habitats. As biological disturbances happen around the world, coffee is the latest delicate species to be disrupted by climate changes. The International Coffee Organization has reported that rising temperatures have affected coffee productions in more ways during these past two years than it has ever affected coffee production.

In 2009, Columbia's coffee crops were traumatized by the shift in climate, and farmers were forced to take their crops to higher, cooler territories. The Columbian coffee production fell 35%—a record low in over 30 years. Next it was Guatemala. This year it's Hawaii. Hawaiian coffee crops are being harmed by the climate change, which can only translate to lower coffee output. Ironically, coffee consumption is projected to grow this year as coffee crops are dwindling under stress.

Beat the Heat

All this indicates that coffee prices will rise and certain delicious single-origin coffees might be harder to find. To combat the rise in coffee prices, try eliminating the middle man. Instead of going out to Starbuck's to get your coffee fix, try making coffee yourself on your favorite home or office brewer. To combat the decline of availability, enjoy the discount that coffee retailers like Green Mountain Coffee or Keurig Coffee offer on popular single-origin and blended coffees, like the all time favorite Kona Coffee.

One of the most popular coffee under threat by the stressed Kona coffee trees is Tully's Kona Blend. Still in production, this delicious origin blend maximizes the delicious notes of Kona coffee beans. Tully's Kona Coffee is mellow and smooth. There is a little hint of a floral kick, but overall this coffee is intensely nuanced and balanced. Farmers with advanced irrigation technologies and other savvy farming strategies will be able to save their Kona crops this year, so that coffee drinkers will still be able to enjoy the Kona coffee taste.

Future of Kona

As we sit at our desks enjoying our delicious cup of coffee, do we ever think about where our coffee comes from? What happens when the root of our favorite office-time pick-me-up is threatened? Kona coffee is rare and delicious. The region's minerals and weather patterns contributes that unique interesting taste that's unlike anything in the world. This summer, once the year's coffee crops become ready for harvest, consumers might see change a hike in costs or a decrease of availability of their prized Kona coffees.

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