Kinani Ahmed, owner of Sextant Coffee Roasters in San Francisco, opened his roastery in 2014 with a goal of sharing the finest coffees of Ethiopia with others. 

But since the COVID-19 pandemic, that goal has become more and more expensive. The civil war in Ethiopia, one of the countries where Ahmed sources his beans, broke out between 2020 and 2022, making it harder to get coffee out of the country. Then inflation struck, making everything from coffee beans to plant milks to cups twice as costly.  

“Everything is affecting your bottom line,” Ahmed said. “It’s pretty much disappearing.”

The future could be more pricey for shop owners like Ahmed as worsening climate change takes its toll on the industry. Climate change-related weather events have contributed to coffee’s dramatic price increases over the past few months, reducing harvests and sending a ripple effect along the supply chain. Where coffee is grown is likely to change as some areas become too hot, forcing many workers and their families to relocate for job opportunities. 

“There are going to be more and more places that aren’t economically sustainable for coffee,” said James Rising, assistant professor at the University of Delaware. 

The price of robusta, which is used for instant coffee, has hit historic highs. Robustas were nearly $1.94 per pound in April 2024, the highest they’ve been in almost 30 years, according to data from the International Monetary Fund. Likewise, mild arabicas, used mostly for specialty coffees, are trending upwards at an average of around $2.07 per pound in Q1 2024 after jumping from about $2.09 in March to almost $2.40 in April.

Meanwhile, the International Coffee Organization’s Composite Indicator Price showed that the robusta prices are the highest they’ve been in 45 years.

These high coffee prices come after heavy rainfall in Brazil and a months-long drought in Vietnam, the top two coffee-producing countries. Brazil’s rain is expected to affect next year’s harvest, according to the ICO. And Vietnam’s drought is yet another blow to the country’s coffee supply after two poor harvest seasons so far. 

Coffee isn’t the only commodity related crop affected by climate change. The cocoa industry is dealing with record-high prices as well due to poor harvests in West Africa, where the crop is mostly grown. NASA also expects the production of major crops like corn and wheat to be affected by 2030. 

“We’ve lost about a third of the growth and productivity we otherwise would have had due to climate change,” said Chris Barrett, professor of applied economics and management at Cornell University. “So it’s a really big productivity shock. It’s a really big supply side shock.” 

The coffee industry plays a sizable role in the global economy. Sustainable certification company Fairtrade estimates that around 125 million people are involved in the industry globally. Within the United States, the coffee industry pays out over $100 billion in wages and supports 2.2 million in jobs across transportation, roasting and selling, according to the National Coffee Association.

“For individual farmers who have a big share of their land in these crops, it’s hugely important,” Barrett said. “It’s their families’ livelihood. But when you scale that up, that becomes true for subregions within countries and whole countries.”  

Coffee is particularly susceptible to extreme weather patterns because, as a perennial crop, it is grown over time instead of planted and harvested each year like annual crops such as corn, according to Barrett. While one bad year for corn will only affect that year’s corn harvest, one bad year for coffee has long-lasting consequences on the overall yield.

While coffee prices have risen for consumers, experts say that farmers, roasters and retailers will face the brunt of industry price increases. 

Ahmed, owner of Sextant Coffee, said he has been able to avoid raising prices through methods like implementing self-serve kiosks, though some customers have found that unsettling. 

“People want to order with people,” Ahmed said. “They’re complaining, and we haven’t even upped our price.”

Other retailers, like Inna Kim, production manager at KLVN Coffee in Pittsburgh, are also worried about the ways climate change will affect the consumer experience. While KLVN Coffee also hasn’t raised store prices, Kim said she has noticed a difference in the taste of coffees from certain locations.

“I don’t think we can drink coffee in 15 years like this at all,” Kim said.

Many expect that viable growing areas will continue to shift away from the equator as regions previously thought to be unsuitable for growing coffee become warmer.

This will lead to increased migration as workers lose jobs in their native regions and move away from agricultural areas into different cities or countries to find better jobs.

“We see it at the border––failed agriculture,” said Jennifer Long, CEO of World Coffee Research. “Those same communities are the ones on the frontlines of the climate crisis and it’s getting more and more challenging for them to be successful.”

Farmers could also move to different elevations to continue growing their crops. Emily Stone, CEO of Uncommon Cacao and board member of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, said that this scenario has already started to cause some tension between farmers in countries like Guatemala, where both coffee and cacao are grown.

“We’re hearing really crazy competition stories,” Stone said. “It’s not necessarily violent yet, but just very heated competition locally on the ground for access to the crops that are out there.” 

More funds will be needed to help solve the industry’s climate crisis challenges. A recent report by JP Morgan found that chronic underinvestment in cocoa farms has exacerbated problems caused by climate change. World Coffee Research has found that the same is true for the coffee industry, determining that an additional $452 million must be invested into agricultural research and development to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Investments currently total around $115 million. 

“There’s an enormous innovation gap,” Maeve Holler, communications manager for World Coffee Research, said.  

Additional investing can lead to more research on coffee breeding, according to Holler and Long. This is important because better coffee variety can lead to beans that are more suitable for farmers’ environments. 

“If you invest in innovation, you can develop technology and varieties of crops that can make a go of the production environments of the future,” Long added.

Time will tell how the coffee industry will survive the climate crisis. For the millions of people who rely on the industry, such as Kim, the industry’s survival is of the utmost importance.

“We’re living in good times with all this beautiful coffee,” Kim said. “For the next generation and the next generation, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”