My Idea Proposal


To put up a blog post of our idea.


Saw this photo of today’s weather online:

February 17, 2020 weather in Europe

This has been on my mind all winter. I thought living in New York meant heavy snow and coats galore (I brought so many sweaters). Yet, I find myself going out in shorts to get groceries or visit my local deli. I don’t mind the warmth, but it’s worrying. As the picture above shows it’s not just New York either, but Europe too and the same is going on around the globe. Napoleon Bonaparte’s and Hitler’s invasions of Russia (1812; 1941) could be successful, if this was the kind of winter they were facing.

Troubling News

According to research by Davis et al. (Science Advances Jan 16, 2019) of Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew at least “60% of coffee species are threatened with extinction”.

Waffle chart, showing the proportion and number of threatened, nonthreatened, and DD coffee species in main blocks, and the proportion and number of coffee species assigned to each IUCN extinction risk category. The total number of species is 124 [CR, 10.5% (13 species); EN, 32.3% (40 species); VU, 17.7% (22 species); NT, 8% (10 species); LC, 21% (26 species); DD, 11.3% (14 species)]. Each square is equal to one species.

The authors of this article state that Robusta has been getting traction over Arabica due to its resistance to coffee leaf rust. Overall, they are saying that there are so many challenges ranging from climate change issues to social and economic problems.

Map showing threatened coffee species by TDWG level 3 areas (countries or subdivisions of countries.

I did not realize that deforestation also could cause extinction of wild coffee. Researchers say that most people (myself included apparently) don’t even know that there are more than a couple of species of coffee. There are 124 species of coffee and some of them that grow in the wild are in danger due to deforestation and erosion, not to mention climate change and drought.

We hope our findings will be used to influence the work of scientists, policy makers and coffee sector stakeholders to secure the future of coffee production — not only for coffee lovers around the world, but also as a source of income for farming communities in some of the most impoverished places in the world.”

Dr. Davis

Biodesigning the Future of Food

One thing this class has taught me so far is to think of future with one foot in the present. It’s easy to dream of an apocalypse where we are in space and life on Earth sucks because running away from problems is easy.

An alternative to coffee that was suggested to me is chicory – a wild flowering plant. Its root is ground up, roasted and made into a drink. Its history as a medicinal plant is ancient, but its modern history starts with the French in 19th century “after Napoleon initiated the ‘Continental Blockade’ in 1808, which deprived the French of most of their coffee”. They added chicory to coffee and voilà, chicory coffee New Orleans blend is a thing.

Another alternative that I was surprised to find is mushroom coffee. Yes, mushroom + coffee. Acorrding to Tero Isokauppila of Four Sigmatic, apparently due to war rations during World War 2 the Finns were brewing their traditional chaga tea, and chaga “is a mushroom that grows in cold climates around the world, especially throughout Scandinavia.”

To conclude towards my idea…

So, Robusta is a bitter coffee that is used mostly for instant coffee and espresso, the species is more resistant than Arabica. Chicory is wild plant, its root has been used in addition to coffee and sometimes as a substitute. Chaga mushrooms grow in cold places. What if I combine the three? It could be that in the future when there are less coffee plants, it would be more economical to have blends in order to not consume all of coffee. Call it Chaga Chicory Coffee, or Triple C.

One thought on “My Idea Proposal”

  1. I received your email and then read your post. And it seems there’s a disconnect in how you are perceiving your research and out put in this class. You are excellent and searching for and synthesizing information. This post tells a personal, visual, cultural, economic and historical story all in the name of environmental impact. I love the combination of these these roots and plants and mushrooms are our future – it’s emblematic of the kind of synergy we’ll need to mitigate and remediate the damage we’ve done and will likely continue to do.

    My guess is that you think the project is not large enough or impactful enough. And moves you away from creating some techno-coffee machine that doesn’t fit into the ethos of this particular project, for now.

    Beyond making an actual drink – which I think you should do and won’t be difficult – I’m happy to help you navigate this a little if you need me to – is to to design a very specific ritual and story behind this new drink. Design the actual planting of these crops – see if they are complimentary to each other – design the vessel to store it and drink it from. You can have some fun and be speculative about it’s future – in terms of adoption both here and possibly in space. I think you need to stop thinking so “big” right now, which I know is hard when the planet keeps getting hotter and more hostile. Little things add up. They do.

    Liked by 1 person

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