November 24, 2015

Zero Waste Coffee: 5 Creative Uses for Coffee By-Products

Coffee is all about what’s in your cup, right? Wrong! There is so much more to coffee than what often meets the eye – or even the taste buds! Our favourite drink can be made into tea (yeah, you read that right), food, and even air fresheners. And this is cool, but it’s also extremely important.

Did you know that more than 50% of the coffee fruit is typically discarded? The pulp, mucilage, and parchment often ends up as landfill, causing – thanks to the high caffeine content – pollution of the nearby land.

Spanish Version: Cero Desperdicios: 5 Usos Creativos Para Los Desechos Del Café

And farmers don’t just need to dispose of coffee husks; they also throw away the water that’s been polluted in the process of producing coffee. This water is high in nutrients, in a bad way. It creates serious environmental problems, since it’s often simply channelled back into local waters, which become oversaturated with nutrients. The end result? Increased pollution by algae.

The truth is that our favourite beverage is causing immense environmental damage in producing countries. This isn’t just unpleasant to hear; it’s something that goes against the whole ethos of specialty coffee.

So how can we ease the negative environmental impact? What ways are there to make use of the coffee cherry or used coffee grounds? And what other mysteries does the coffee bean hold – and how can we unlock them?

Read on for five creative uses of coffee by-products and methods you can use to minimize coffee waste.

Bean and Cherry

The coffee cherry is an edible fruit. So how can we make use of it? Credit: Flickr, Justin Baeder

The By-Products of Coffee Production:

1. Cascara

Many of us may think we reside firmly on either Team Tea or Team Coffee. But what if there was something that could satisfy both camps at once? Like, say, a tea made out of coffee!? Cascara (also known as sultana in Bolivia and qishr in Yemen) is exactly that: a beverage made from the dried skin of the coffee cherries that can be steeped like tea and enjoyed both hot and cold.

In coffee producing countries like Yemen and Ethiopia, drinking cascara is an old tradition. It’s served every morning before the coffee farmers rise as well as on special occasions, like the receiving of guests. Like the beans, the taste depends on the variety.

Cascara can be bought online from Square Mile or The Barn, so why not try it yourself? You can even enhance it with spices, using everything from ginger to cinnamon or cloves to create your own signature drink.

Just remember – like coffee, cascara contains caffeine. Don’t get an overdose while experimenting!

Cascara and spices

Spice it up: add different ingredients to your cascara, creating your own unique flavors. Credit: @_rougerubis_

2. Ŝelosoda

Fancy a sparkling coffee mixer? Think ŝelosoda. A version of cascara, it’s produced from the dried and discarded coffee cherries – yet it tastes quite different. It has a naturally sweet honey and orange taste, and organic lemon and orange juices are typically added to enhance the flavor. The added sparkle promises a refreshing drinking experience and it also goes well with some types of alcohol (I recommend gin).

Sourced from the coffee farm Las Lajones in Panama, ŝelosoda is brewed in southern Germany. It’s hard to find it outside of the German market, yet if you feel like creating your own, there’s strong potential for experimentation. (Dare I say it, putting your own twist on the ŝelosoda could see you crowned champion of your local barista competition.)

And if you don’t feel like getting inventive, it can only be a matter of time until this delicious drink hits the global (online) market.


Coffee or whiskey? It’s hard to tell just by looking at the color. Credit: ŝ

SEE ALSO: How Can We Minimise Waste in the Coffee Industry?

3. Coffee flour

Yes, you read that right – coffee flour! Can you imagine delicious homemade cookies or brownies, with a hint of “floral, citrus, and roasted fruit-type notes” mixing with that chocolatey goodness? This is what CF Global Holdings, a company founded by former Starbucks employee Dan Belliveau, is currently working on.

Coffee flour is made from the leftover coffee cherry, but it’s eco-friendly nature isn’t the only amazing thing about it. This gluten-free option is supposed to have five times the fibre whole grain wheat flour contains, as well as three times more iron than fresh spinach. Pretty good, right?

And if coffee flour became popular, it would provide an additional source of money for coffee farmers who could sell the dried cherries to flour mills. Hello, potential for greater economic growth and the reduction of organic waste.

Coffee flour is predicted to hit the shelves by the end of 2015, so watch out for this interesting new ingredient.

coffee flour jar

Delicious gluten-free baked goods made out of coffee flour? Why not!? Credit: Coffee Flour

4. Fertilizer

Not only does caffeine wake you up in the morning, it can have the same effect on your plants. If, like me, you enthusiastically buy new plants only to witness their rapid demise, coffee could come to your (and your plants’) rescue.

Used coffee grounds still contain nutrients beneficial for the soil, if applied in reasonable quantities. You can either ask your local coffee shop for their spent coffee pucks or use the coffee grounds left over after your morning brew. Simply work them into the soil around the plants, and the grounds will add organic material that improves the quality of the soil.

Another use for coffee grounds around the garden is as compost. If you turn it around regularly, it will add nitrogen to your pile and compost in about three weeks.

Bonus point: the caffeine around your plants is said to keep slugs and snails away!


Don’t have a green thumb? Let coffee help you out. Credit:

5. Air Freshener

Coffee grounds are not only useful helpers for your plants – they also help you out around the house.

Every once in awhile, you’ll open your fridge and (depending on what you’re storing in there) be greeted by some unpleasant smells. So here’s a smart trick: always keep a bowl of fresh, unused coffee grounds in there. It will absorb any smells, usually overnight.

air freshener magic trees

Bye bye Magic Trees, you’re no longer needed. Credit: Flickr, Tony Alter

The same method can be applied to smelly kitchen cupboards, or if you want to eliminate the smell of smoke in a room. Or you could use it like soap when your hands smell of garlic. Or if your car smells bad. You get the gist.

There really are so many creative uses for coffee by-products and used coffee grounds, and research is showing there may be more to come. Recent studies have investigated how the substances contained in the coffee cherry can be used in animal feed, fuel, agriculture, and even beauty products.

coffee pucks

Try asking your local coffee shop if they can bag you some of their used coffee pucks. Credit: @lesspolitical

So why not make your own coffee soap or facial scrub at home? Be curious and experiment; your coffee could work wonders for the environment – as well as yourself!

Let us know how you use coffee by-products and used grounds in the comments, on facebook, and on instagram. Did we miss anything out?

SEE ALSO: How Can We Minimise Waste in the Coffee Industry?

Edited by S. McCusker.

Feature Photo Credit: Flickr, sarahemcc

Perfect Daily Grind.