Every year six billion pounds of the coffee cherry fruit is thrown away.
Every coffee bean roasted in the world forms the seed of an equally significant sweet cherry, but before Dan Belliveau, this delicious fruit was destined to become a rotting mass of red brown goo.
He started saving the wasted coffee cherry to convert into a nutrient dense new ingredient: Coffee Flour, which is already being sprinkled into the muffin mixes at Google and HSBC cafeterias in London and the US.
“The pie is just too big, we could be a quinoa or acai selling for $10 (£7.75) a pound but it’s about moving the volume of waste for us,” Mr Belliveau tells The Independent.
“When we experimented with the first few hundred pounds, the Mexican mill manager thought we were crazy and wrote “Project Caca” on the tag of the bags of brown flour, but it helped us learn what perceptions we had to get over,” Mr Belliveau says.
The lightly earthy tasting bean by-product is made by drying and grinding the fruit into a powder as fine as wheat flour but more nutritious, with nearly five times more fibre, a trace of caffeine and more antioxidants per gram than pomegranate.
The former head of engineering at Starbucks, Mr Belliveau began the company by piggy backing the green bean coffee trade.
“I had been to the mills but like most, your focus isn’t the waste stream, you follow the coffee bean and don’t see what’s behind the curtain.”
After hearing of coffee farms with 40 acres plots waist-deep in cherry pulp, Mr Belliveau had a light bulb moment: “I suddenly thought: Why can’t you make it a food?”
“The farmers want the best fruit to create the perfect seed for them. All the conditions that make the perfect coffee bean are the same for the fruit”, explains Mr Belliveau.
Instead of discarding the coffee fruit cherries farmers are paid three cents per pound for drying it at the bean mills. The fruit also weighs in at a third of the weight of green beans per bag so has introduced a new type of lighter labour that unexpectedly resulted in the creation of 100 new jobs at their Nicaraguan wet mill, 70 per cent of which employed women.
Environmentally, while some of the fruit waste was previously used as fertiliser, 80 per cent would still be discarded, polluting landfills, ditches and rivers near the mills. Thirty per cent of the coffee flour must also stay in the origin country to reduce the carbon footprint, while providing a source of endemic economic growth.
Multi-national drink and food companies are currently testing the product and in their flagship Seattle roastery, Starbucks now sells baked coffee flour muffins and brownies.
From the days of Mr Belliveau being stopped by Mexican border guards suspicious of his brown powder packages coffee flour has come a long way.
Every year six billion pounds of the fruit is thrown away but by rethinking the cherry as a product could shake up the coffee economy, the result of which could soon mean you munching instead of lapping up tomorrow’s craved cup.