VTT coffee

Finland research centre brews its first cup of lab-grown coffee

The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has successfully used cellular agriculture to create coffee cells in a bioreactor.

According to VTT, the first batches of this product smell and taste similar to conventional coffee, opening a door to a new method of sustainable coffee production.

With coffee agriculture facing challenges in demand and sustainability, VTT says there is a pressing need to find alternate ways to produce coffee. It is estimated that more land will be required to meet the growing demand for coffee that leads to deforestation, particularly within rainforests.

“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,” says Dr. Heiko Rischer, Research Team Leader at VTT.

To create this coffee product, the coffee cell cultures are first “initiated” with their respective cell lines established. They are then transferred to bioreactors which are filled with a nutrient medium and left to produce biomass which is then analysed.

After developing a roasting process, VTT’s trained sensory panel evaluated the final coffee. This process has been used to produce various animal-and plant-based products in the past.

VTT says the whole procedure required input from multiple disciplines and experts across the fields of plant biotechnology, chemistry, and food science.

This production process is based on existing and established technology such as conventional bioreactor operation. VTT adds that the ability to use coffee cells was already presented in the 1970s by P.M Townsley.

“In terms of smell and taste, our trained sensory panel and analytical examination found the profile of the brew to bear similarity to ordinary coffee,” says Rischer.

“However, coffee making is an art and involves iterative optimisation under the supervision of specialists with dedicated equipment. Our work marks the basis for such work.”

Today, approval processes for the marketing and selling of lab-grown coffee material vary from country to country.

“The experience of drinking the very first cup was exciting. I estimate we are only four years away from ramping up production and having regulatory approval in place. Growing plant cells requires specific expertise when it is time to scale and optimize the process,” says Rischer.

“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.”

VTT says this project links with its strategic research targets to solve the world’s biggest challenges such as sustainable food production.

“The true impact of this scientific work will happen through companies who are willing to re-think food ingredient production and start driving commercial applications,” says Rischer.

“VTT collaborates and supports large enterprises and small companies in adopting opportunities in their product development. Ultimately, all efforts should result in more sustainable and healthy food for the benefit of the consumer and the planet.”

For more information, visit www.vttresearch.com/en.

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