VTT on 15 September highlighted that the innovation offers a more sustainable alternative to coffee production at a time when soaring global demand for coffee is putting an enormous strain on land use, causing deforestation especially in sensitive rainforests.
The interdisciplinary process begins with the initiation of coffee cultures, establishing cell lines in the laboratory and transferring them to bioreactors to start biomass production. The roasting process was developed after analysing the biomass and the end result presented for evaluation to a trained in-house sensory staff.
The first batch of the laboratory-produced coffee smelled and tasted like real coffee, according to VTT.
Heiko Rischer, research team leader at VTT, pointed out that although the brew had a similar profile to ordinary coffee, the laboratory work serves only as the basis for iterative optimisation carried out under the supervision of specialists with dedicated equipment that is part of the art of coffee making.
He estimated that the research centre is only four years away from ramping up production and securing the requisite regulatory approvals in Europe and the US.
“Downstream processing and product formulation, together with regulatory approval and market introduction, are additional steps on the way to a commercial product. That said, we have now proved that lab-grown coffee can be a reality,” stated Rischer.
VTT pointed out its research on cellular agricultures is part of an effort to establish a roadmap toward more sustainable food production.
“At VTT, this project has been part of our overall endeavour to develop the biotechnological production of daily and familiar commodities that are conventionally produced by agriculture. For this, we use many different hosts, such as microbes, but also plant cells,” told Rischer.
“The true impact of this scientific work will happen through companies that are willing to re-think food ingredient production and start driving commercial applications,” he added. “Ultimately, all efforts should result in more sustainable and healthy food for the benefit of the consumer and the planet.”