Coffee is one of the most popular drinks globally, however, it comes with a lot of waste. A 2016 Planet Ark study found that in Sydney alone, almost 2800 tonnes of coffee grounds are being sent to landfill, this releases a lot methane, a particularly harmful greenhouse gas.
However, for us here at Life Cykel, that equals a lot of mushrooms that can be grown out of this waste! One of the reasons we so strongly believe in turning this waste into mushrooms, is that there’s still huge amounts of energy stored in this coffee waste. You need to understand: great amounts of time and energy are poured into going from growing the coffee bean to you drinking your cup of coffee in the morning.
With less than 1% of the coffee bean actually ending up in your cup, the majority of the energy gone into the coffee making process remains in the coffee “waste”! So let’s take a step back and have a look at the big journey the coffee bean goes through so we can A) appreciate our coffee at deeper levels and B) understand why it is so important we don’t put this precious "waste" to waste. It’s time we started living in the Circular Economy.
To get a good idea of what it entails to produce a cup of coffee, we harvested our homegrown coffee beans from the tree that grows in our backyard and went through all the processing steps. Of course, normally this is done on much larger scales using big machinery and quantities, still, it shows us how much is involved in the process.
So, here’s the fist step: harvesting the beans!
Coffee is traditionally harvested by hand, this can be done in two ways, either by strip picking, whereby, yep you got it, you strip the whole tree of all the beans, ripe or unripe cherries. Robusta coffee is commonly harvested in this way.
Selective picking is the other way in which coffee is harvested, this is when only the ripe cherries are picked, typically Arabica coffee is harvested this way and the way we handpicked ours!
Coffee tree ready for harvest
Onto the second step: removing the outer layers
Underneath the red skin of the cherry there is a pulp called the mesocarp, an outer layer and a parchment-like layer called the endocarp, which covers two bean like structures (the good stuff). These layers have to be removed before the coffee can be roasted.
To remove the out layers at home, begin by squeezing the coffee bean out of the red shell, be warned, the beans are slippery little suckers!
The next step: Washing
You must wash the beans very well to remove any excess pulp and remove any floating beans. The beans will still have a slippy mucus layer on them, this leads us to the next step...
Soak the beans in fresh water for 2-3 days, allowing natural enzymes to separate the slimy layer from the bean. You know when they are ready as they won't feel slippery anymore. You will then need to rinse them really well again before drying.
Step five: Drying
The beans need to be dried, this can be done outside in the sunshine, on a sunny windowsill or in a food dehydrator. You know when your beans are completely dried as you will get a crisp flaky texture, which is the left over parchment layer.
Removing the parchment layer:
There are various ways to do this but we did it by placing the dried beans in between two paper towels and use a rolling pin to roll over the beans to crack the parchment layer off. You will be left with your green coffee bean, ready for roasting.
Green coffee beans before roasting
And now, finally: the roasting!
You can either dry roast them on the hob in a thick based pan or in the oven. You get to determine how well roasted you want your beans, the longer the roast, the more intense the flavour, yummmm.
There you have it, roasted coffee beans! Ready to go into your coffee grinder and enjoy!
Thanks for joining us on the journey! As you have seen, it’s quite a lengthy process to go through. Very much a waste of resources to have only 1% end up in your coffee. But here’s the good news: all this energy input isn’t wasted, because we can grow MUSHROOMS out of the other 99%!
This is why Life Cykel is excited to expand the National Mushroom Network and with each Shroom Room that goes up, some more coffee waste from around the country will be used for the positive by creating beautiful and delicious gourmet mushrooms. It’s the meeting of the Circular Economy and the Shared Economy, facilitating a true paradigm shift in waste management and food production.