HuskeeCup, manufactured with discarded coffee husks, launched successfully on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform in June and goes into pre-production this autumn.
As the Sustainable Sourcing Manager of Taylors of Harrogate and the Sustainability Committee Co-Chair of the British Coffee Association, DR. KRISZTINA SZALAI, has a keen interest in innovative and sustainable products. She interviewed Saxon for Issue 2 of 25 Magazine. Images by JOSHUA MIKHAIEL.
What was the impetus behind the creation of HuskeeCup?
We have been working closely with our producers, Yunnan Coffee Traders, in Yunnan province, China, for many years on a number of projects, one of which is reducing the waste generated throughout the production process. We wanted to create a system that would eliminate waste from farm to café.
While working with the team at the farm, one of the main issues we came across was the coffee husk. The problem with husk is that it has no nutrient value so it doesn’t make sense to mix it with other organic materials for composting. Instead of throwing it away, we wanted to find a better use for it.
One of the team asked, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could turn it into a cup and drink coffee from it?” We all looked at each other and thought, “That’s actually a really good idea, I wonder if we can.” After some research we found that it was possible, but we didn’t want to create any old cup. We wanted to create a cup that addressed the waste problem at farm, café, and consumer level.
How long did the design process take?
From conceiving the idea to creating a prototype took about a year. It was a quick process but it relied on our experience as we were well aware of the issues faced and solutions required by the industry. We recognized that designing a cup to solve only one aspect of the waste problem would create minimal demand. Our plan was to design a cup that not only addresses the waste issue at farms and cafés, but is also a desirable cup for consumers.
The result is a three-in-one solution – a cup that crosses the boundaries between a dine-in ceramic cup, a takeaway cup, and a reusable cup. HuskeeCups have a universal saucer and lid that fit all sizes in the range. While the cups, lids, and saucers are recyclable they are also dishwasher-safe, and we hope that they will be reused and will ultimately replace takeaway cups.
What factors did you have to take into account when designing the cups?
From the barista’s point of view there are a number of issues, from stacking cups on the machine to the water retention properties of cups and the shape of the cup that informs the way you pour milk into it. The universal saucer and lid help address another issue that baristas face: the requirement for multiple saucers for different sizes. For the consumer, we considered the temperature issues for both ceramic and disposable cups, how the cup feels on the mouth, what the cups look like aesthetically, how the material would feel when held between your hands, and so on.
How can HuskeeCup make the industry more sustainable?
Ceramics have a huge environmental impact from mining the material to the highly energy-consuming firing process. Most firing kilns run at over 500°C so the amount of energy required to produce ceramics is huge. On the other hand, HuskeeCups are fired at 300°C within a much shorter timeframe, so the energy saving is significant.
Besides the lower environmental impact and the fact that the raw materials we use are the by-product of the coffee production process, the cups are also much more durable than ceramics. They are less likely to chip and break, so cafés will need to replace them far less than mainstream ceramic cups. The durability of cups is a significant factor for cafés, as ceramics are expensive if you have to replace them regularly.
What do farmers currently do with the husks?
It varies around the world. There are farmers who use it as a fuel source in their driers while others mix it back with their compost or spread it around the farm as a soil cover against weed. While these are great solutions the farmers are often left with a surplus which, when piled and left to rot, can attract pests and become a source of diseases. Collecting the husks for use in HuskeeCup will help keep the farms clean.
Will the husks impact the flavor of the coffee?
The most frequent question we have been asked is whether the cups will have any negative impact on the flavor of the coffee. We tested this extensively and found that because there is virtually no nutrient content in husk, there’s nothing that could leach into the drink, so the cups will not impact the flavor or aroma.
When can we expect to see HuskeeCup on the shelves?
Pre-production will begin when the next harvest starts in China, which will be around November. Then we will send samples to cafés for feedback to see if there is anything they would change. We want to make sure people are really happy with it. After this beta-testing is completed, full production will start in February 2018.
HuskeeCup: At a Glance
The team: HuskeeCup was founded by four men: Josh Jagelman of Yunnan Coffee Traders, who oversees the sourcing at the farms; Michael Chin, the management accountant and “guy with the idea” who manages finance and operations; Adrien Chen, who has responsibility for the IP (Intellectual Property) and manufacturing; and Saxon Wright, who leads the design and business development. They are joined by Operations Manager, Nicole Barnes.
Target audience: Roasters and distributors.
Target sales: One million cups within the first year.
Product range: HuskeeCup will come in five sizes: 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 ounce cups with a universal lid and saucer. Color variations will follow.
Cost: Similar to the price of a mid-range ceramic cup.
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