Writer: Beth Ann Luedeker

Coffee researchers, roasters and others with an interest in coffee gathered at the Scotts turfgrass facility on the Texas A&M University campus to discuss opportunities for coffee research.

“Coffee is not one of our top crops, but millions of pounds are roasted and consumed in Texas each year,” said Dr. Leo Lombardini, Horticulture Professor and Director of the Texas A&M Coffee Center. “In the Houston area alone, there are about 100 small roasters and 15 large roasters.”

seated people listening to man talk
Researchers and members of the coffee industry gathered at the Scotts facility in College Station for the first Coffee Education Symposium. (Soil and Crop Sciences Photo by Beth Ann Luedeker)

Coffee is an important commodity for the United States. It has a $225.2 billion economic impact in the U.S. and provides more than 1.6 million jobs, he explained.

There is more than an economic impact, however. Since coffee is ground for a single use, there is a significant environmental impact to address.

“Coffee grounds are a large waste issue. Thousands of tons of used grounds are sent to landfills annually,” said Amanda Birnbaum, a doctoral student in Horticultural Sciences.

Companies like GeoJava, a cold-brew coffee company, are working with researchers to find ways the spent grounds can be of beneficial use.

Soil and Crop Sciences Associate Professor Ben Wherley is one such of the researchers. He had his team have joined forces with GeoJava to research possible uses for spent grounds in turfgrass systems.

Ben Wherley talking
Dr. Ben Wherley discusses coffee grounds research at TAMU. (SCSC Photo by Beth Ann Luedeker)

“Most sports fields are sand based, so spent coffee grounds can be used as a root zone amendment,” Wherley told the participants at the symposium. “We are seeing a layer of spent coffee grounds forming in thatch, and expect to see them contributing to increased water holding capacity in the future.”

Greenhouse tests indicate that the spent grounds help retain moisture, and they are now testing that in the research plots in College Station, he said.

Wherley said he has also had some success using grounds as a preemergent herbicide.

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Participants at the symposium braved the cold rain to view research plots and hear Garrett Flores, a Master’s student in Wherley’s program, discuss his research. (SCSC photo by Beth Ann Luedeker)

“We are just scratching the surface of research,” he said. “Do we need to compost the grounds first? Do fresh grounds work better? How effective will they be as a pre-emergent? Those are questions we want to answer.”

During the conference researchers are also discussed their work on the sensory aspect of coffee, the constraints for smallholder coffee farmers, improving coffee quality through soil health remediation, and more.

student with hand on grass surface
Master’s student Garrett Flores pointed out some of the coffee grounds being used as a soil amendment in his research plots.(SCSC Photos by Beth Ann Luedeker)