German company Kaffeeform combines dried coffee grounds and biopolymer to create stylish-looking coffee cups and saucers that are not only durable and dishwasher-safe, but even smell a bit like coffee.
For every cup of coffee you brew, about two tablespoons of grounds wind up in the trash. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but just think about the millions of coffees consumed around the world every single day, and you’ll start to see the problem. Sure, some of those coffee grounds are recycled as fertilizer or beauty products like face masks, but most of it ends up at landfills. It was while contemplating this issue that German product designer Julian Lechner came up with a radical new and sustainable way of recycling coffee grounds – turning them into tableware.
Lechner first came up with the idea of using coffee grounds to create eco-friendly crockery while attending university in the Italian city of Bolzano. “We were always drinking coffee at university,” he remembers. “Before classes, after classes, meeting friends, hanging out at espresso bars—all the time. And that’s how I started to wonder, What happens to all that coffee? It was all just getting thrown away.” He began consulting with his professors about ways of using coffee grounds to create a solid material, but it took him years to actually come up with a viable solution.
“We tried binding with a lot of different things,” Julian Lechner told VICE Munchies. “We even tried sugar. That was close, but basically it was a candy cup. It just kept dissolving after being used three times.” The whole point was to make the material durable, so it was back to the drawing board for him and his partners at a German research institute. Finally, after many failed experiments, long nights and liters of coffee, they came up with a mix of coffee grounds wood grains and a biopolymer of cellulose, lignin, and natural resins that seemed to behave the way Julian had envisioned it when he first embarked on his quest.
“我们试着用不同的粘着剂，甚至尝试过用糖。”朱利恩·理奇耐在Vice Munchines(一档美食节目)上称，“虽然材料很接近咖啡渣，但是做出来基本上是一只‘糖杯’，而且用了三次之后就融化了。” 让原料变得更坚固耐用是最核心的问题，所以他和他的伙伴们又在德国一所研究所从头开始钻研。他们做了无数个失败的试验，熬了无数个漫漫长夜，在试验中用掉了无数升咖啡渣后，最后终于创造了梦寐以求的材料，这种材料由咖啡渣、木料、纤维素和木质素等生物高聚物材料以及天然树脂混合而成。
“The moment of knowing the cup would actually stand was super-exciting,” he recalls. “After such a long time, you have to really believe in an idea and that it can eventually work. It was overwhelming to drink that first coffee out of the cup. It proved to be totally worth the wait.” And the fact that his creation has proven commercially successful is just the icing on the cake. Kaffeeform coffee cups and saucers are now present in ten shops across Europe, and the company can hardly keep up with demand, regularly selling out of its stock online. And they’ve only been in business for a year.
“It basically all happened through word of mouth,” Lechner says about the success of his company. “It’s amazing to think of some of the places where orders have come from. A lot of individuals, but also a café in Saudi Arabia, Ritz Carlton Toronto, and the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo to sell in their museum [gift shop].”
Kaffeeform will soon launch a larger line of coffee grounds cups for cappuccino, and is also working on a travel mug. But those are just short-term plans, as Lechner hopes to one day use recycled coffee grounds to create all sort of useful stuff. “What’s next? I’d love to see if we could one day create sheets,” he says. “Perhaps they could later be used for furniture in cafés and restaurants.”