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Coffee flour: The answer to coffee cherry waste?

In almost all trades, a certain degree of waste is an inevitability. 

However, with corporate responsibility and sustainability becoming increasingly important to many modern businesses, companies are looking for innovative ways to turn their waste into something positive – for example, a subsidiary product or renewable energy that can go towards powering further production.

While both we at DR Wakefield and thousands of other coffee traders, roasters, farmers and experts may do all we can to limit the amount of waste that is produced as a result of the coffee trade, we have yet found a way to bring coffee from crop to cup without leaving any waste at all behind.

One of the most notable areas in which wastage is an issue is when it comes to processing the coffee cherries. In wet processing, when the external mucilage is washed away, farmers and millers need to find a use for the pulp that is a by-product.

Now, one keen-eyed entrepreneur believes he has found the solution: coffee flour.

Where did the idea come from?

Writing for the Guardian, business and sustainability expert Marc Gunther explains how the concept came from a gentleman called Dan Belliveau, who was not in fact a coffee expert. He has – or rather, had – nothing to do with the coffee industry whatsoever. His contact with the trade came when he was involved with designing factories for Starbucks, streamlining operations at roasting and packing plants. 

While involved in this line of work, he learned about just how much waste was being produced when the pulp was removed from coffee cherries. Even though a lot of the by-product is channelled into other applications, such as fertiliser, this only represented a small portion, leading Mr Belliveau to seek a solution.

"When we looked at [the pulp], the idea came to us: what can we do with this?" he said.

What is coffee flour?

It is exactly as the name would suggest – a powdered, flour-like product that is made from the coffee cherry wastage that is produced when cherries are pulped and the mucilage is removed.

Its inventor describes it as "a food ingredient that is made by drying coffee cherry pulp and putting it through a standard milling process and making a product that people can eat". 

Why might it provide a solution?

In a promotional video published by Intellectual Ventures – a Seattle company headed up by former Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myrhvold, which helps inventors to make businesses out of their ideas – Cesar Augusto Arrecis, operations manager for ECOM Guatemala, voices his support for the venture.

"Each year we try to make adjustments and improvements to our processes," he says. "When I initially heard of coffee flour, it really interested me. I think [it] is something we can really benefit from."

ECOM Guatemala forms part of the ECOM Agroindustrial Corp, one of the biggest coffee millers and traders, which – along with Mercon Coffee Corp, another major player in coffee trading spheres – has invested in the coffee flour start-up, named CF Global. 

As vice-president for initiatives and strategy at the Rockefeller Foundation Zia Khan explains, there is a huge demand among consumers to buy products that are ethically and morally sound. People care more than they used to about where their food, their clothes and the general consumers products they enjoy on a day-to-day basis come from.

With so much of the world's coffee still produced by small-scale farmers, a product such as coffee flour gives buyers the chance to further support those at the source of the supply chain, thereby fulfilling their own requirement, while also providing farmers with another source of valuable income.

Co-founder and chief strategy officer of CF Global Andy Fedak explains how it is a fundamental part of the business model that the farmers and the mills "share in the economics of this product". Accordingly, for every pound of coffee flour that is sold, a share of the money goes to both the farmer and another to the mill, thereby safeguarding a sustainable practice.

"We believe it's going to change the world of coffee forever," its creators say. What do you think?