The journey of a coffee bean from plant to cup is a lengthy process, with beans crossing various borders, and processing procedures before making it into your morning cup of coffee. Countries like Brazil, Columbia, Ethiopia, Vietnam and Indonesia produce more than 7 million tonnes of coffee beans each year, with the industry directly affecting the lives of 25 million people, who are involved in the production process.
For all the energy and effort that is put into producing coffee, it is astonishing that as little as 1% of the coffee biomass actually ends up in the cup. Let me remind you that a gargantuan 7 million tonnes of coffee is produced every year, but 99% of the biomass is wasted. Think about how we use coffee for a minute. The beans have been grown, dried, milled, packed, shipped half way across the world, roasted, ground and then we brew it. And whether you have an espresso, an americano or maybe even a mocha, you throw away the grounds every-time.
Coffee grounds are an extremely valuable resource that is packed full of nutrients, a perfect compost for growing other things. Coffee grounds exist as a great example of a byproduct that could be utilised as we begin to reconsider our waste stream. Instead of the grounds solely existing at the end of the food cycle, why can’t they exist at the start? GroCycle are a company that have adopted this attitude, developing and spreading the ideas around alternative and small scaling farming, by using coffee grounds as a primary resource in growing Oyster mushrooms.
I learnt about GroCycle at the ‘Bigger than the Plate’ exhibition at the V&A, during a section of the exhibition that spoke about reimagining the food cycle by utilising waste and byproducts. Since 2009, GroCycle and its founders Eric and Adam, have mastered the art of growing mushrooms by using coffee grounds, and in this time, they have recycled more than 75,000 KG of coffee grounds and turned them into more than 20 tonnes of mushrooms. Along the way Eric and Adam have become experts in the technique, and have taught more than 1000 people in over 50 countries around the world how to follow their methods through online mushroom growing courses.
Growing mushrooms using coffee grounds may not seem like an obvious answer towards reaching a more sustainable world, but the premise of growing mushrooms in this way reduces waste, promotes localism, increases biodiversity, whilst also helping us to consider alternatives means of farming and food production. These are all things that need to be considered as we increasingly face issues relating to climate change and resource depletion. The GroCycle website is full of resources that delve deeper into mushroom growing, discussing its health and environmental benefits, and the website even includes some resources that deals with broader topics, such as other fantastic small scale farming ideas, from beekeeping to micro dairies.
Make sure you check out GroCycle to access their grow kits and courses, and to see how you can reduce waste, maximise the potential of coffee beans, and also learn about accessible and achievable means of local, small scale food production.