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How to make milk from ‘waste’ coffee grounds

At DR Wakefield, we are all about sustainable practices that both ensure we produce the right coffee at the right price, while also protecting the planet and its inhabitants.

Therefore, reports about new and innovative practices within the coffee industry that aim to take further steps towards more sustainable trade are of great interest to both us and our clients.

Recently, we reported how a previous Starbucks employee – interestingly, not a barista but a factory designer involved in streamlining operations at roasting and packing plants – had come up with an ingenious way to convert waste cherry pulp produced during wet processing into a flour. The resultant product can be used as a gluten-free cooking ingredient, packed full of antioxidants and other nutrients.

Now, the coffee giant has gone and done it again. This time pairing up with Menicon – considered to be Japan's leading contact lens manufacturer and whose vision it is to become "a world enterprise friendly to people, animals and the environment" – to find a way to turn its coffee ground waste into milk.

Well, it doesn't quite turn them directly into milk, but rather the company has devised a way to channel so-called waste coffee grounds back into its business model in a way that indirectly feeds the cows, which then provide the milk that is made to produce customers' cappuccinos.

The Japanese firm has helped Starbucks to devise a fermentation process that means the coffee grounds that are not used in outlets in the Tokyo area can be converted into feed for the animals. Menicon worked with the Veterinary Medicine Department of Azabu University to come up with the formula for food, which can be stored long-term, giving coffee traders even more of a reason to get excited about the idea.

Up until this cycle was devised, the 'waste' was being used as a compost. However, it was felt it could be put to better use – as was the case with the cherry pulp waste, which Dan Belliveau (coffee flour's inventor) felt could be better applied than merely as fertiliser or thrown away, the latter process of which was actually causing harm to the environment.

While, in this instance, using the coffee ground waste as fertiliser is indeed a far cry from simply disposing of it, a lot of its nutritional value is lost, which – using Menicon's ingenious process – now re-enters the cycle and can be harnessed by cows. 

Of course, there is little point investing in this process if more pollution is going to be created by collecting the ground waste from various stores and transporting it all to the same site. 

However, in the Tokyo area,, there are enough outlets rendering it a viable operation. Storage areas were added to delivery trucks that were taking chilled goods to the various Starbucks in the region anyway, meaning the move has not created a notably greater carbon footprint.

Whether or not the fermentation technology will be transferred further afield remains to be seen. One thing that's for sure is we hope to see plenty more of these exciting and innovative applications at every stage of the coffee supply chain, all working together to make the coffee trade one of the most sustainable, efficient and long-lasting examples of modern business.