Next generation coffee

"Byproduct" Waste: Coffee Cherry

Wait, don't throw that away!

I had one of those mothers who, if I didn’t finish a meal, she would keep my plate in the refrigerator so I could finish it at the next meal. I learned very quickly that most foods are definitely best while they are fresh. I hope this sounds familiar and I’m not the only one who was stuck eating soggy cereal for lunch, because these early experiences gave me a preview into a world well worth exploring: food waste.

But not the kind of you-didn’t-finish-your-plate, save-that-for-leftovers kind of waste, we’re talking food waste on a much larger scale: mass production, or even family-run farms using only a portion of their produce for trade, while the rest--perfectly edible food, mind you--never even glimpses the market.

Because the coffee cherry rarely enters the market, it’s widely unknown to consumers and therefore goes largely unnoticed by the world. So, before we go any farther, let’s shed some light on the processes behind the coffee you buy in the store.

What is it that we are dealing with?

The coffee plant produce in its entirety consists of a skin, mucilage--or fleshy part of the fruit, parchment--an encasing around the seed, and the seed--most commonly referred to as the “bean”.

Because there are so many layers to get down to the seed itself, there is a lot that goes into the background process of preparing the seed, and different farms use different methods. For instance, to separate the skin and mucilage from the coffee seed they must either be sun-dried--a process that can last up to six weeks--and sent to a mill to separate the seeds from the fruit or sent through a machine that squeezes the seed from the fruit. The latter requires an additional fermentation and wash period or another machine to remove the remaining mucilage from the seed’s surface.

When the seeds are completely stripped of mucilage, they must be dried either in the sun or with the assistance of an additional machine. Once they are dry they can finally be graded and sorted.

It probably goes without saying that the beans are typically the only product that truly moves forward at the end of this lengthy process, while the rest is left to rot...except when companies with innovative new ideas intervene, that is. (Like CF Global Holding’s transformation of the coffee cherry into a gluten-free flour)

Even with other companies heeding the call to change the shape of this industry for the better, the coffee cherry remains largely a wasted byproduct, which can have severe consequences that act as a major hurdle to achieving global sustainability goals. Since coffee is a worldwide top-trade commodity, finding an alternative use for its “byproduct” can allow even a small start-up company to make an impact. Bringing it into the market, we could take significant steps to changing the face of coffee trade for the farmers and ultimately moving toward our sustainability goals to end hunger, improve nutrition, end poverty and ensure sustainable consumption-production patterns.

With this vision, selo marched into the market in 2015 with our first coffee cherry based selo sodas. It was the perfect scene to kill two birds with one stone: create greater revenue for the family-run farms*, thereby supporting the entire economy of the source country, while reducing the unused byproduct of the enormous coffee industry.

Think Ford scientists trying to use Heinz ketchup’s tomato waste to create their own bioplastic. Sugar beet waste being used as an ECO2 alternative in refrigeration. Or Sierra Nevada sending their used brewing ingredients to be turned into cattle feed. Because we believe these small, but brilliant ideas can reshape industry.

Ultimately all of these actions rely on one another to be more than just one drop in a very large bucket. This means that with selo soda’s coffee cherry off the market (see EU ban, 2017), we are not facing some incredible coffee industry crisis, despite this great loss from potential trade. We are, however, not giving up this fight. Alongside many others within the industry, we are fighting for the cascara’s EU approval, which, by nature of such legal situations, is sure to take more time.

In the meantime, we can enjoy the assortment of refreshing green coffee and look forward to the day when the coffee cherry can make its impact on the world.

* At this time we worked together with Los Lajones, a farm owned by Graciano Cruz in Boquete in Panama and Helsar de Zarcero, a farm owned by Ricardo Perez in Costa Rica.