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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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

Rischer said ,”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,”.

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.

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.

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