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Coffee Beads Instead of Caps

On September 6, 2022, Migros, a major Swiss retailer, unveiled its new CoffeeB coffee system. The company said the development is designed to reduce waste from plastic coffee capsules. In the first two months, it sold more than 200,000 units in Switzerland alone.

What is CoffeeB

The CoffeeB Globe coffee machine uses pressed coffee balls encased in a seaweed shell. Unlike other capsule options, CoffeeB balls are free of plastic and aluminum. After use, CoffeeB balls are fully biodegradable—the seaweed shell and the spent grounds can be thrown away in compost bins or simply buried.

The coffee beans for the capsules are purchased in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Vietnam, India, Guatemala, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Kenya. It is roasted by the Swiss company Café Royal. The balls are manufactured in Birsfelden, Switzerland. Each capsule contains 5.3 to 5.9 g of ground coffee. The assortment includes eight types of balls: espresso and lungo in three degrees of roast, as well as ristretto and decaf. There are nine capsules in the pack. Even the carton packaging of the capsules is recyclable.

CoffeeB is not compatible with other brewing methods.

How CoffeeB Works

  • The coffee ball enters the machine, is moistened with water, and softened.
  • The machine compresses and pierces it with a force of 12 bar.
  • Pressurized hot water is delivered – the coffee is extracted.
  • The used bead is moved to a container for collection.

As in a conventional capsule coffee machine, Globe can make drinks of different types and strengths. The machine’s modular design allows Migros service centers to replace its individual elements if necessary.

James Hoffmann, 2007 World Barista Champion, author of the book “World Atlas of Coffee: From Bean to Cup” and founder of the Square Mile roasting company, notes several features of the new system in his review. According to him, CoffeeB’s finished espresso is very similar to coffee from a Nespresso capsule – the seaweed shell doesn’t affect the flavor of the finished beverage. It’s also probably not completely airtight. Therefore, when the package is opened, the oxidation process will begin, which affects the taste of the drink when stored for a long time.

Here is James Hoffmann’s Impression of Coffee Balls.

Why Are Manufacturers Looking to Revolutionize Coffee Preparation?

According to the National Coffee Association in the United States, 41% of coffee drinkers prepared their beverages using capsule machines in 2018. In Spain, 7 out of 10 households use these machines. A study by Euromonitor International found that sales of popular coffee machines like Nespresso and Keurig grew by 18% in 2021. This resulted in 63 billion coffee pods generating 100,000 tons of waste every year. The environmental impact is so significant that the inventor of the Keurig coffee machine expressed regret over creating the system.

Manufacturers claim that the capsules can be recycled, but most end up in landfills. Frank Wild, head of CoffeeB, emphasizes that it is crucial not only to reduce waste but also to preserve the aroma and taste of the coffee. While other manufacturers have tried to make their capsules more environmentally friendly, they often had to compromise on coffee flavor: the better the capsules decompose, the worse they preserve the coffee’s flavor. Frank Wild argues that CoffeeB’s system addresses both issues. He states, “We believe our system is the future of portioned coffee. Consumers will eventually stop using aluminum and plastic capsules. CoffeeB solves the waste problem without changing the flavor of the coffee. However, the transition will take time—radical change won’t happen overnight.”

Can CoffeeB Replace Capsule Coffee Machines?

At the start of sales, the CoffeeB machine cost around $175, with each pack of nine coffee balls priced at $4.80. Currently, the system is only available in Switzerland and France. However, Migros CEO Fabrice Zumbrunnen noted significant interest from other countries.

Starting in April 2023, CoffeeB will also be available in Germany, with plans to expand to other key markets. If CoffeeB’s mission is to reduce industry waste, the bead technology must become open so that roasters can package their coffee in these beads.

The coffee industry is closely monitoring CoffeeB’s success. It has the potential to revolutionize the portioned coffee market. In time, coffee balls may be sold alongside traditional plastic and aluminum capsules.

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