Flour, made from coffee! Yes, flour you can bake with (though it’s best mixed with other flours) that is highly nutritious, only mildly caffeinated, and made from the coffee cherry pulp left over from green coffee processing. A crazy sounding idea to be sure, and something that got a number of news outlets quite excited when it was first launched last week. This is more than just the latest health-food craze though–Coffee Flour founder Dan Belliveau has big plans to reshape the environmental and economic impacts of the coffee supply chain.
The high antioxidant, fiber, and protein flour is still being tweaked as it comes to market, but the fundamental supply, manufacturing and technology questions are settled. The technology itself is proprietary, and going through the patenting process currently, but Belliveau says that they are keeping the chemical composition of the end product as natural as it can be, with no other processing than the collection/drying/flour milling. However he said they’d be willing to consider doing additional processing, like perhaps decaffeination or changing the color, if customers ask for it.
Why waste the waste?
It all started with Belliveau sitting in the office of a friend who’d recently purchased a coffee farm. This friend asked him and his colleague, another NohBell consultant with deep Starbucks experience, what to do with the “six acres of pulp” left over from processing their cherry.
That’s a really good question when you consider that according to the USDA Coffee Report for Arabica green coffee, over 11 billion pounds of coffee were produced worldwide in 2013. A few reports suggest that waste from washed coffee processes weigh about 2.5 times that of the dried green bean. Based on the best research they could find, Belliveau’s team estimates that there is approximately a one-to-one ratio of dried cherry mucilage to dried bean.
From Belliveau’s trips to origin, he understood the impact this waste had on water in areas where coffee is milled. Some mills have tried to handle the stinking mounds and “honey water” left over from wet processing through catchment or composting. So far, these methods have made little lasting impact to reducing surface water contamination.
Thinking about these billions of pounds of polluting waste, Belliveau had an epiphany: “there was a wash of all of these years of different things and different processes and different manufacturing involved and I just thought, ‘What if we dried it and ground it up and made a food out of it?’”
So, you can bake with it?
I sampled test runs of bread, granola, and shortbread cookies designed to showcase how the gluten-free Coffee Flour changes the flavor and texture of food. In bread, the texture was denser and the flavor earthier. The flour amplified the cinnamon and chocolate in the granola. My own at-home experiment with chocolate chip cookies netted similar flavor results. The dried cherry, sweet tobacco and baking spice notes of the single origin Coffee Flour from Oaxaca in Mexico shifted this simple sugary pleasure to something intriguingly savory and sweet, despite only using two tablespoons of the flour (which means that the caffeine content was negligible as well).
Already, CF Holdings is working with a boutique flour mill in Vancouver, BC to make product samples. Food scientists at Intellectual Ventures analyzed nutritional value and suggested how to work with the ingredient. Chef Jason Wilson, 2010 James Beard Best New Chef Northwest, and his team at Seattle restaurant Crush have refined pasta, bread, and dessert recipes using Coffee Flour as an ingredient.
Belliveau says that they “are trying to find chefs who are known for certain things. It would be easy to pick five Seattle chefs and stay close to home. But we need to have a global fare on this: different products, different taste buds, experimenting and moving it forward.”
Belliveau’s intent is that half the Coffee Flour produced be sold to businesses in countries of origin. As a result, his team is talking with a variety of food and beverage companies. He imagines one day you could see Coffee Flour in tortillas in Nicaragua, noodles in Japan, naan in India, and bread or cereal in North America. For now, the only place to try it is on the menu at Crush.
There’s no doubt that Coffee Flour is a big dream with the potential to turn what had been an environmentally polluting by-product into a source of revenue and nutrition, in both coffee producing and consuming nations. It’s fascinating to see Intellectual Ventures, a giant of the tech world, investing heavily in this new coffee product. Coffee Flour is not the first coffee venture to get a recent infusion of big-name backing, and we doubt they’ll be the last.