How COVID-19 could drastically change our coffee supply in the next year

The coronavirus pandemic has coffee drinkers turning elsewhere from the normal go-to’s.

With workers being shuffled out of the office and bunkered inside homes, the coffee bean market has noticed changes in consumer behavior, The Wall Street Journal reported. Citing market reports, the movement of two specific beans — arabica and robusta — shows how the coffee field has changed for consumers in the West.

What’s the difference between the two beans? Here’s how The Roasterie explained it in terms of taste:

Robusta has a neutral to harsh taste range and is often likened to having an “oatmeal-like” taste. When unroasted, the smell of Robusta beans is described as raw-peanutty.

Arabicas, on the other hand, have a very wide taste range (depending on its varietal). The range differs from sweet-soft to sharp-tangy. When unroasted, Arabica beans smell like blueberries. Their roasted smell is described as perfumey with notes of fruit and sugar tones.

Arabica is largely produced in Latin America and is a staple in cafes and restaurants, the Journal noted, and with those businesses shuttered in the COVID-19 pandemic, futures for the coffee have fallen nearly 9% in New York trading this year. However, robusta — often seen in pods for espresso machines — dipped less in the period to below 3% in trading in London.

What does this mean? A heavy supply and not enough demand, according to the report:

The pandemic has changed where and how most people in the West consume coffee, with restaurants and cafes shut down because of lockdown measures, complicating efforts to accurately gauge demand, according to analysts. Meanwhile, the coffee market is poised for a glut in supply, in part due to bountiful harvests in Brazil, the world’s largest producer of coffee. That combination is threatening to derail any recovery in coffee prices.

As the USDA projects next year’s coffee beans harvest to reach its highest ever (176.1 million bags), there is some worry regarding the ongoing pandemic and how it could potentially affect farms with labor shortages.

“If you have a less-experienced picker, and then fewer pickers per square meter, you will miss the perfect time to pick, and the quality might not be as good,” said Priscilla Daniel, a senior coffee trader at DR Wakefield in London.