Re-Using Coffee Grounds
Only about 20 percent of the coffee bean contributes to the flavor and aroma of the drink—the rest is tasteless plant fiber. That means that there’s a lot of stuff left over when coffee is produced—hundreds of thousands of tons of it a day. Scientists are working hard to come up with a useful way to use the waste.
Researchers at the Maine Technology Institute have investigated ways to turn spent coffee grounds into fuel pellets to be burned for energy, and one coffee production company already sends its waste to a nearby biomass plant to be burned along with wood.
Another group of scientists has devised a way to use coffee grounds to produce an alcoholic drink, by fermenting the grounds and distilling them in a method similar to the production of whiskey. The result is a beverage the makers claim has “organoleptic quality acceptable for human consumption.” They might need to work on a tagline.
Coffee rust is not the only fungus that can affect coffee plants. Ochratoxin A is toxic poison produced by Aspergillus and Penicillium fungi that grow on coffee plants. The amount of acceptable ochratoxin is controlled in Europe, with an acceptable level of five parts per billion for ground coffee, and 10 parts per billion for instant, because who cares about instant coffee drinkers anyway? Its presence in coffee was only discovered in 1988, and a study shortly afterward found that 7 percent of shipments were over this safe level. Work by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN helped farmers to reduce the average level found in exports by over 25 percent between 1998 and 2004.
Ochratoxin is not the only poison found in coffee. In 2003, one man was killed and 15 people were hospitalized with suspected food poisoning. Doctors eventually deduced that the cause of the illness wasn’t sandwiches, as initially thought, but someone poisoning the coffee pot with arsenic.