European Business: Your business makes coffee cups and mugs from used coffee grounds. Is your motivation based solely on the satisfying circularity of the products, or is it based on concrete ecological ambitions?
Julian Lechner: Of course, there is a very important ecological approach behind the whole idea and philosophy of the company. Kaffeeform is not only a beautiful product for our cups, Kaffeeform is above all an innovative, sustainable material, which was developed by us.
The starting point was the question of what to do with all the used coffee grounds left behind after we have enjoyed our coffee. To find a continued use for this supposed waste and to create something completely new from it, is our core idea. We are against the waste of such valuable resources; the idea of circularity is in our corporate DNA. We want to create a new consciousness. With our take-away cup, we are battling the mountains of disposable coffee cups, and in the long run, we want to replace all petroleum-based plastic products with our innovative mix of materials. Because even beyond the used coffee grounds we use only recycled and renewable raw materials.
“With our take-away cup, we are battling the mountains of disposable coffee cups, and in the long run, we want to replace all petroleum-based plastic products with our innovative mix of materials.” Julian Lechner
European Business: Your coffee grounds coffee cups are not only unbreakable, but also dishwasher safe. How much technological sophistication was needed to turn crumbly coffee grounds into such a stable product?
Julian Lechner: I am a product designer and already during my studies I looked into these questions and experimented with coffee grounds as a raw material. Several years of research, many discussions with experts and countless - often disastrous - experiments were needed until I found the right formula and material composition for our products. And we are far from finished. We are currently exploring many more uses.
European Business: Your cups and mugs are positioned in the higher price segment. Are your customers just coffee connoisseurs or are you targeting the mass market?
Julian Lechner: It all depends on which products you compare us with. High quality ceramic or porcelain cups are often much more expensive. Our products are highly robust and durable, even unbreakable. We want them to bring joy to our customers for many years. They are also used in many cafés and are extremely popular there, because they are so light and robust. Our end customers are by no means just coffee fans, they are drawn from all walks of life and can also be found outside metropolitan areas. Because they are unusual and make a valuable contribution to reducing the littering of our world, our cups are also given away as a gift. And if who don’t like coffee, there is nothing stopping you from drinking tea out of them.
“Instead, we want to show that sustainability can look good too - perfect appearance and pleasant handling are important to us.” Julian Lechner
European Business: Your cups and mugs were awarded the Red Dot Award last year for their outstanding design. How important is the visual component of your products, and what does good design mean for you?
Julian Lechner: Of course, this award, which we won in the Material category, has confirmed that the path we are taking is the right one. For us, good design and sustainability go hand in hand. Our world is dominated by a scarcity of resources and the destruction of the environment by plastic waste - in this context, one cannot simply ignore environmental and sustainability issues. Instead, we want to show that sustainability can look good too - perfect appearance and pleasant handling are important to us; after all the products have to be easy on the eye and easy to hold.
European Business: The used coffee powder is processed to make your cups and mugs. Would this process also be suitable for other materials considered to be waste - for example, could you make tea cups from used tea leaves?
Julian Lechner: The used coffee grounds are collected by us in cooperation with a social workshop and dried, the dried grounds are then mixed with other raw materials and processed. This is theoretically possible with other raw materials. First, we focused on coffee grounds as a raw material, because the disposal of used coffee grounds poses its own problems - and as coffee consumption continues to increase globally, used coffee grounds will become available in ever larger quantities.
Interview: Julian Miller | Photos: Luke Marshall; Kaffeeform