Case 9.1: Kaffeeform - coffee cups made from coffee grounds - Germany

Detailed Information

Name of the company: Kaffeeform

Country: Germany

Size of the business: 5 employees



Kaffeeform was founded 5 years ago, but the development goes back to at least 8‒9 years. Julian Lechner, the CEO and founder of Kaffeeform had studied product design and had interest in material innovation and material composition. The observation that the coffee grounds from sieve carrier machines already have a solid form triggered the founder’s interest in whether the whole thing could be made more durable and coffee grounds or waste could be used as a resource.

Eight years ago, scarcity of resources, waste of resources and the worldwide increase in coffee consumption were not yet the big issues as they are today. At that time, the founder had the vision that there should be a way to bind this coffee grounds permanently, to “fix it” and make a new product out of. Founder Julian Lechner worked on this during his studies and in his thesis preparation. The research included a lot of trial-and-error testing of various additives. The aim of the development was not a once-only product, but a durable, long-lasting product to take the waste out of the cycle and to bind it in the long term. At some point, after various exchanges with material and technology experts, the founder Julian Lechner had found a suitable “formula” and came up with very robust, durable, light material which, apart from small changes, is still used today. In 2014 and 2015, the first prototypes were available and they received a lot of positive press and interest even though the product did not even exist yet. The founder decided to take the risk and establish the company and build it according to their own guidelines, visions and ideas and without outside capital.

In 2015, the first product, the espresso cup came on the market as a tangible product with a great symbolic character and beautifully describing the cycle: drinking the coffee, is how the coffee grounds are created, and in the end, coffee is drunk from the coffee grounds based cup, and this closes the coffee cycle. The espresso cup financed the development of the next size, the cappuccino cup. The somewhat bigger breakthrough came in 2018 with the Take Away Cup. The development of this cup was a mixture of own ideas and own product development, but also included the consideration of the current zeitgeist and the feedback of the customers. This cup then drove the business up again and it has a certain lifestyle character according to the motto “This is now my coffee cup”.

Employees of Kaffeeform organize the whole production process themselves starting with collecting the coffee grounds in Berlin from larger co-working spaces by a bicycle courier. At first, the idea was to collect coffee grounds from cafes, that was not feasible and a little bit bigger approach was needed. Using co-working spaces has many advantages such as the co-working spaces also know which coffee beans they use, support fair trade with money going directly to the farmer and information is available from which farmer it came from. The transparency on the raw material is very important to the Kaffeeform.

These coffee grounds are processed in a workshop employing people with disabilities in Berlin, thus company’s activity has another social component. Production process has a lot of manual work. Grounds are dried, processed, vacuumed and collected. In the next step, the coffee grounds go to their partner in the southern Germany, who has the expertise in the processing, how to generate an intermediate product in form of pellets and the different material components (biopolymers). These pellets have been developed in such a way that theoretically any shape can be made from them by injection moulding. The partner shapes the cups, which are then sent back to them or to the Förderwerkstatt in Berlin. This company takes over the entire storage and logistics for products and has link to their online shop and ships the products to end or business customers.

Thus, coffee cups are made from a fairly large amount of recycled coffee grounds and that product consists only of plant substances. The marbled surface is created by beechwood chips and then there are the biopolymers that do all the binding. These include cellulose fibres, natural resins and oils. There is no added dye. This product is designed to be recyclable. The cups can be thrown to the household rubbish or sent back to Kaffeeform, where they will be received and used to create new products.

Main activities

Production and sale of coffee cups that are made from coffee grounds.


Kaffeeform has a retailer program and they sell through their own web shop, plus the partner network with over 400 active retailers in Europe. They have not defined very specific target customers. Their clients include everyone from “coffee-earth”, families who like Kaffeeform large milk coffee cups very much, to large corporate customers. The later includes retailers, cafes, concept stores or museum stores in which Kaffeeformis represented for certain exhibitions.

The branding and utilizing the take-away cup, a high-quality product with the option to include a logo for corporate and event related gifts, is an important marketing tool. Publicity in Germany and international press has been important. Kaffeeform has appeared in various TV productions, has social media channels with their own community. The company has been also present at events like the Berlin Coffee Festival, or Zero Waste events.

Challenges and solutions

The enterprise is strengthening core business in Berlin where its activities started. The company wants to grow organically in the European market and initially positions itself securely. Especially because the company does not have a financial backup that would allow them to expand worldwide quickly. However, the enterprise would like to open itself up to the international market step by step. There is a demand from the USA and the South America, but enterprise has to make sure that their production structures could be met there. In the long term, establishment of a second location could be considered. In addition, the enterprise is continuing to work in the area of product development, as the company wants to expand its product range to show what can be done with their material in the area of household products and lifestyle.


Outside funding has not been used. New products and the development have been financed from the proceeds of the previous product. The enterprise does not have its processing facilities, but uses a network of partners to do the processing. Thus, there were no investment costs.

What makes this case innovative?

Case represents product innovation for a more circular production and waste utilization, more specifically the innovation has been in the development of the material. Right now, it is used in the form of coffee cups, but in the long-term other forms are also planned. Support to fair trade practices and social enterprises adds a social dimension to enterprise’s activity.

Other related Business Cases

Case 9.2: Spoontainable – edible ice cream spoons – Germany

Case 12.1: Greve Biogass – biogas from agricultural and municipal waste and sewage – Norway

Case 12.2: Pageldynių plantacija – a full scale self-sustainable closed loop circular economy model for large cities’ nutrient rich waste – Lithuania

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