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A World Coffee Shortage Is Inevitable

Illustration for article titled A World Coffee Shortage Is Inevitable

In the coffee-world, there’s been quiet rumblings of a shortage brewing for awhile now. And yet, despite the threat, it hasn’t hit quite yet—but that doesn’t mean it’s gone away.

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A brand new global coffee production report is out from the Foreign Agricultural Service with some seemingly confusing news: Brazil, the world’s foremost coffee supplier, lost almost five million bags of coffee due to the country’s punishing, on-going drought. Yet at the same time, globally coffee production is just slightly up and looking to stay up through the upcoming season. What’s going on here?

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Brazil isn’t just the world’s leading supplier of coffee; they’re the single-source for about one-third of all the world’s coffee. Even at drought levels, they’re still churning out about 50 million bags—the number two country (Vietnam) barely makes it to half of that. Typically, with such a heavy market domination, any drop in Brazil’s coffee supply means a significant hit to the world at large, just as any rise would result in a global surge.

Illustration for article titled A World Coffee Shortage Is Inevitable

But something odd is happening: If you look at the world at large, we haven’t yet hit that anticipated shortage yet. In fact, world coffee totals are actually coming in at slightly above last year.

How did that happen? Essentially, three countries are having unexpected surpluses, due to unusually perfect coffee-growing weather. Honduras and Indonesia both are looking at record-breaking years, and Vietnam (the number two supplier in the world) is turning out an extra 2 million bags of coffee.

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All three countries together can make up for, and just slightly exceed, the loss from Brazil—at least for the moment. But don’t expect to keep seeing those exceptional results. It just doesn’t make sense that every year will be a record-breaking one. Meanwhile, global coffee-consumption is also steadily-rising. Taken together, this means we may have dodged the global coffee-shortage for a little while longer. But it is, inevitably, coming.

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Graph: FAS/USDA; Top image: jakkapan / shutterstock

Follow the author at @misra

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DISCUSSION

‘Coffee’ used to be made out of other things besides actual coffee bean. I’m sure if the real stuff is in short supply then the cheap coffee will turn to some of these alternatives - not like people drinking Nescafe really care what it’s made from as long as it’s got caffeine.

Similarly, you can just run water through anything reduced to a charcoal and add some caffeine to simulate Starbucks’s terrible drip brew.