A plant disease called "coffee rust" is rapidly spreading through Central America and could portend big problems for coffee growers and consumers. According to the Wired U.K. blog, the plant fungus leaves the plants dessicated and their berries never ripen.

"Where people have been using heirloom varietals for a century, you just have trees without leaves," said David Griswold, president of Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers, to Wired. "We're already into the flowering cycle now, then it takes nine months to incubate the beans. You can see from the flowering what the losses will be. It's just twigs. It's as though you're walking through a forest of twigs."

Inside Costa Rica reported that Costa Rica's crops are expected to produce 18 percent less coffee this year. Last year, coffee rust caused the Central America's coffee production to fall by 14 percent, putting 400,000 people out of work. A report by the International Coffee Association said that this year's losses could total up to half of the region's crops.

Unfortunately for true coffee lovers, the fungus only attacks Arabica plants, which are used in higher quality coffees, meaning that gourmet and specialty coffees could become even more expensive in the years ahead. There are other Arabica-supporting regions in the world, including eastern Africa, but in the meantime, a good cup of coffee is about to become even more expensive.

Coffee rust specialist Cathy Aime of Purdue University told Wired that no one knows exactly why the disease has reached such extraordinary levels this year, but they believe that both farming practices and climate change play a role.

"If things keep going in the direction they're going in, good-tasting coffee will be much harder to come by," said Peter Giuliano of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. "Cheap, ubiquitous, good coffee is an artefact of the 20th century."

[image of coffee grower picking ripe coffee cherries via Shutterstock.com]