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Developing the world’s first beverage cup entirely made of used coffee grounds and discarded fruit of coffee plant.

Photo of Filippo Tomasi
9 26

Written by

Idea Title

Cuffea, a cup from Coffea

Company / Organization Name (if applicable)

Royal College of Art / Imperial College London

Please include a visual (can be either 2D or 3D) representation/prototype of your concept. (required)

Cuffea, a cup from Coffea (flowering plants that give coffee) is the world’s first beverage cup entirely made out of used coffee grounds and the juicy fruit of coffee plant often called as Coffee Cherry in which our beloved coffee bean lives naturally. Cuffea is designed for the users who love to drink beverages in a cup that can give them a sense of ownership, pride and responsibility towards environment.

There are over 120 species of Coffea, and the two most popular among us are Coffea arabica, which accounts for 60–80% of the world's coffee production, and Coffea canephora (Robusta), which accounts for about 20-40%. These two species of Coffee plants are now cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in the equatorial regions of the Americas, Southeast Asia, Indian subcontinent, and Africa. 

Every year billions of these beans are making their way into our beverages, but the surrounding fruit and the used coffee grounds are often dumped as waste. Also, in about 5-10% of any crop of coffee cherries, only a single bean is found called as peaberry which is smaller and rounder than normal coffee bean. These are often removed from the yield and either sold separately or simply discarded. 

While used coffee grounds are a proven substrate material for the cultivation of oyster mushroom, compost for acid loving plants like blueberries, homemade air fresheners, body soap scrubs, industrial biogas production and wastewater treatment, we find  that these are rich in  lignocellulose and valuable bioactives which on further grounding with a certain degree of uniformity gives a stable substrate layer in our Cuffea cup structure. 

The dried coffee bean is only less than 20% of the weight of a ripe coffee cherry. The rest is outer skin, pulp, mucilage, parchment, silver skin and water which are edible and being used in our beverages in the form of herbal drinks often known as the poor man's coffee, the coffee of the Army, Cáscara tea, Cáscara latte and so on. But apart from these traditional and new cáscara-based drinks made at small-scale, the coffee fruit is usually a wasted byproduct of coffee production process. 

We realized that the coffee cherry is high in polysaccharide, antioxidants, polyphenol compounds such as  proanthocyanidins, chlorogenic acid, quinic acid, ferulic acid and caffeic acid, which makes it an ideal choice to combine with our substrate layer to give the much-needed binding and temperature resistant fluid barrier functions in our Cuffea cup structure. 

Our Cuffea cup is made out of three layers. The middle substrate layer is from the used coffee grounds, while the inner and the outer layers are  from the coffee cherry. All these materials meet the health and safety standards of food-service industry. 

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot / Cold Fiber Cup
  • Reusable System

How is your concept recoverable?

Cuffea cup is reusable up to 6 times. After that the cup can be recovered and used as an input for current applications for used coffee grounds such as biofuels and composting. We also aim to create new applications such as seedling pots for coffee farming. The concept uses raw materials that are easily transformable with low energy consuming processes. The raw materials comes from the wastes that are directly linked with the demand and supply in coffee which is the second most traded commodity in the world.

How have you incorporated additional sustainability attributes (beyond recoverability) into your solution?

In case the cup can not be recovered through recovery process, it can go to the environment as a landfill or compost due to its 100% biodegradable and non polluting nature. In any case the cup and the processes of its creation are environment and farmer friendly. We want to promote fair trade and less mechanized farming processes and shift the focus to the value of entire plant and its environment rather than the coffee bean.

What regions do you plan to address with your solution (and how will you accomplish this)?

We target the global market starting with small-scale pilot projects in relationship with cafe and restaurant chain in one European city.

Describe your target market. Who will benefit from your product?

Our focus is on hot and cold beverage serving sector and its end-users. We incorporate visible markers in the design of the cup and combine the financial incentive to reuse the cup itself. The user gets the cup on the first purchase of the beverage, and a unique marker is stamped on the cup each time by the beverage service provider. Upon the end of 6th mark, if the users dispose the cup in a specified bin at service provider’s shop they get a new Cuffea cup for free. In case the cup takes the route of general bin it ends up as landfill. The design also incorporates enhancing the feelings of holding and smelling the cup.

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing
  • Prototyping

What are the biggest challenges you are facing today? What are existing gaps in your solution?

Certainly there are gaps in the R&D which we are filling in with the support of biomaterial experts. Furthermore we understand that the new experience around the Coffea cup has to be built to create a sense of attachment or psychological ownership among users. Testing the solution in different geographical location is another challenge.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Materials and Technical Development
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Fundraising / Finance

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

Our team consists of two masters students from Innovation Design Engineering from Imperial College London and Royal College of Art. We have varied background in design and technology. We both strongly advocate for ethical and circular considerations.

In what city are you located?


In what country are you located?

United Kingdom

What is your legal / organizational structure? (if applicable)

Not applicable

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea will support the growth of your concept.

As we proceed further as a small team, we will need mentoring and support from business accelerator to refine our value proposition and develop Cuffea to a high standard in terms of performance and usability. Following the accelerator, our success will be defined by the adoption of Cuffea not only as the next viable and lovable cup that holds hot and cold beverages but a cup that holds the least embodied energy and infrastructural changes needed for its recovery after usage.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • Direct email invitation


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