Two years ago, Dan Belliveau hit upon the idea for a new product: Coffee Flour. A former director of technical services at Starbucks, Belliveau had learned about coffee production while designing and building roasting facilities. The process, he realized, resulted in lots of waste, which could be used.
The dried, roasted coffee beans we use to make our java are actually seeds that have been extracted from bright red fruit known as coffee cherries. Once farmers remove the beans, they are left with a huge amount of edible, nutrition-rich cherry pulp. In some countries the byproduct is dried and used to make tea, but, for the most part, it’s simply discarded and left to rot. Suspecting there must be a better way, Belliveau took it upon himself to create a rudimentary coffee berry flour and began experimenting. “My wife made some shortbread cookies and granola,” he says. “When it actually tasted good we thought, wow, we’ve got something here.”
Photograph by Nathon SimsToday, Belliveau’s Vancouver-based startup, CF Global Holdings, has developed a patent-pending process for the milling of commercial-grade coffee flour. Gluten free, the product has three times more iron than spinach, three times more protein per gram than kale, and five times more fiber than whole grain flour, according to the company. “Most flours are somewhere between 5 and 12 percent fiber,” says Belliveau. “Coffee flour is 55 percent fiber.”
The java flour doesn’t taste particularly like coffee—it has a “sweet, dried fruit flavor,” says Belliveau—nor does it have much caffeine. To get a jolt equivalent to one cup of joe, a person would have to eat anywhere from seven to 16 slices of bread made with about 20 percent coffee flour. (To get a palatable consistency and texture, coffee flour is best used in combination with other grains.) Also, the edible caffeine product tends to have a slower, more sustained effect than liquid coffee.
With mills churning in several countries, CF Global plans to produce about 350,000 pounds of coffee flour this year. The startup received an undisclosed amount of funding from private investors and from industry giants Mercon Coffee and Ecom Coffee; Intellectual Ventures, a firm started by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, also invested and helped with the patenting process.
Belliveau says his process requires only minor tweaks to existing coffee manufacturing equipment and that farmers will profit while only expending about an extra 25 percent effort, since they already have the coffee waste on hand. CF Global hopes the added sales will help farmers take home an extra 30 percent to 50 percent of what they get from manufacturing coffee beans.
Even if it doesn’t pack a huge wallop, caffeine-laced flour will undeniably have appeal. U.S. retail sales of caffeinated foods totaled about $1.6 billion in 2012, a 49 percent jump since 2008, and the growing list of bizarre caffeinated products includes Bang!! Caffeinated Ice Cream, Perky Jerky, Java Mallows, Cracker Jack’D Power Bites, and Wired Waffles. There’s even a patent-pending topical caffeine spray called Sprayable Energy, which is spritzed on the same way as perfume or cologne (“preferably on the neck for greatest effect,” say the inventors).