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Latte from a Lab?

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    Elviira Kärkkäinen makes coffee at VTT’s laboratory. (VTT Research)
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    A scientist creates coffee cell cultures from coffee leaves. (VTT Research)
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    Scientists turned coffee cell cultures like these (right) into roasted coffee (left). (VTT Research)
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    Antonio Durbe, left, and Daniele Tummei check on their solar coffee roaster in Rome, Italy. (AP/Andrew Medichini)
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    Antonio Durbe collects freshly toasted coffee grains from the solar coffee roaster. (AP/Andrew Medichini)
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Finnish scientists say they have successfully produced lab-grown coffee cells that smell and taste like the conventional brew.

Instead of growing beans on coffee plants, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland project is developing coffee production through plant cells. The process is called cellular agriculture. (Another example is lab-grown meat. Read Pass the Protein Patty.)

Heikki Aisala is a scientist on the team. He is one of the few people allowed to taste the coffee so far because of health and safety laws.

“It tastes like a combination of different types of coffees,” he says. The lab-made java might not quite pass the taste test yet. “But it certainly does resemble coffee.”

According to VTT, the work started by initiating coffee cell cultures. That refers to growing cells in an artificial environment. Then scientists transferred the cells to bioreactors. Those are vessels which continue growing the cells. After analyzing the mass of cells, they developed a roasting process. Then the new coffee was evaluated by VTT’s trained sensory panel.

“We skip the farming part, and we use plant cell cultures instead. So actually real coffee cell cultures but they’re not generated in the field,” says VTT Research Team Leader Heiko Rischer.

But why would scientists want to create coffee in a lab? Coffee is a multibillion dollar industry. Rischer says lab-grown coffee has several benefits. It doesn’t need pesticides, fertilizer, or much land. It could be grown around the world. And it wouldn’t be reliant on seasons, geography (coffee plants like high altitude), or other environmental factors.

But even if lab-grown coffee does take off, Rischer thinks traditional farming will still be in demand for certain specialty cups of joe.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. — 1 Corinthians 10:31

Sunshine in your cup: Italian engineers Antonio Durbe and Daniele Tummei have created a Sun-powered coffee roaster that can roast up to 110 pounds of coffee per hour.

Sensors allow a set of mirrors to follow the Sun. The mirrors focus sunlight on a rotating steel basket holding coffee beans. The basket reaches peak temperatures of about 450-480 degrees Fahrenheit, and can roast a batch of beans in 20 minutes. A small solar panel powers a few electrical parts.

The process isn’t just eco-friendly and financially convenient. Unlike typically gas-powered hot air ovens, sunlight roasts the coffee without heating the air around it or burning the beans’ outsides. According to the inventors, that gives the coffee a richer flavor.

Why? As people make advances in technology, we consider their consequences—right down to the beverages we drink.