Food For Thought


If you're a coffee drinker, treasure that computers have been right now. The global supply of coffee beans may be shrinking. Drought in Brazil and disease that's hitting coffee fields of Central America are threatening supplies and prices are going up.

NPR's Dan Charles has more.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: Over the past couple of years, a disease called leaf rust has swept across coffee fields in Central America, crippling trees and cutting into production. But coffee markets mostly ignored it.

Lindsey Bolger, the top coffee buyer for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, says many traders figured Brazil's farmers could easily make up for any shortfall.

LINDSEY BOLGER: Everybody was anticipating a record-breaking crop out of Brazil.

CHARLES: But then, this past year, the rain stopped falling in Brazil. Bolger says at first glance, the drought did not look like it caused too much damage.

BOLGER: If you were to do a drive by in some of the leading regions in Brazil, you would see what appears to be healthy looking fruit, and a lot of it.

CHARLES: But cut that fruit open and you may discover beans that aren't fully formed; many are twisted and folded in on themselves.

BOLGER: So that's why they're calling it an origami bean.

CHARLES: It's not much good for making coffee.

Coffee traders are now worried about a shortage and they're bidding up the price of beans. The benchmark price of raw beans is up more than 60 percent since last fall from $1.10 per pound to $1.80.

Some coffee experts think the price could go still higher, depending on how the Brazilian harvest actually turns out. They'll find out within the next month or two.

Eventually, coffee could get more expensive at the supermarket, too or your local espresso bar. But the impact probably may not be huge. Raw beans are just a small portion of the cost of that latte.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced this week it's putting five million additional dollars into an effort to develop new varieties of coffee trees that can withstand leaf rust.

Dan Charles, NPR News.

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