Coffee roaster says there's more to the plant than just the bean

When you're done your morning coffee the cup might be empty, but there was a lot left behind in the process of making it.

Using rest of plant can help coffee farmers make money and reduce waste

Happy Goat Coffee's Hans Langenbahn says consumers will likely start to see more coffee plant-based products soon. (Ash Abraham/CBC)

The cup might be empty when you're done your morning coffee, but there was a lot left behind in the process of making it.

Hans Langenbahm, a former anthropologist who worked in coffee-producing countries before becoming the head roaster at Ottawa's Happy Goat Coffee, said most of the coffee plant isn't used.

"In the cup is only two per cent, so 98 per cent gets somehow lost," he said on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

He said after the bean is extracted, a lot of the plant is tossed aside and the ground beans themselves also become waste.   

"In Canada, alone we produce about 600 tonnes of spent coffee grounds a day," he said. 

The cherry and other byproducts can be used for a wide variety of products including a tea made from ground pulp called cascara, honey-like products, alcohol, flour or fertilizer.

"[At coffee farms] you see these huge piles of pulp that is not properly used as a fertilizer and is rotting," he said. 

Changing business

Coffee prices have dropped dramatically in recent years, he said, and farmers are having to look at other options or considering selling their land.

He said right now it is selling for 94 cents per pound.

"That is a price where no farmer can survive. In my last trip through Central America, I had never seen so many abandoned farms for sale," he said.

"Farmers are open minded now because they see they have to do something."

A Vietnamese Thai ethnic couple pick coffee cherries at their coffee farm in Son La province, west of Hanoi, November 19, 2012. (Kham/Reuters)

He said increasing prices would mean a lot to farmers and while that can happen through fair-trade initiatives, selling more of the plant would be an enormous financial win.

The waste involved in making a cup of coffee is the subject of a talk by him Thursday night at the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum. 

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?