Riff Coffee

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Harper Kiger Eaton
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Riff exclaims that they have discovered “coffee’s not so little dirty secret”. They have created an energy drink that is made from upcycled coffee fruit that has historically been wasted in the coffee industry. Their company was founded with a soft commitment to sustainability. However, with the discovery of the detriment that coffee waste creates for the environment, sustainability shifted as their top priority. Their energy drink is carbon neutral, and their purpose is to impose a circular economy. Each action that emits carbon has been calculated and met with a plan intended to offset these emissions. As a small company, they are still learning how to reach their goals of carbon neutrality and they are very open to change. Their identity is built from innovation and they are willing to be transparent about their operations. When you take a sip of their new “energy+” drink you can feel good that you are consuming all-natural ingredients. With their innovative product, they have an opportunity to change the entire coffee industry. Their dedication to the environment, transparency, and potential for astronomical environmental change has led to a 2.75 planet score.

What it's made of:


Riff has created a coffee and caffeine beverage brand that specifically targets the coffee industry’s biggest contribution to the climate crisis. As caffeine is the backbone of productivity in the workforce and education system, it may come as a shock that caffeine production actually generates methane gas that is equivalent to 14.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Incredibly, this is the same amount of carbon dioxide produced by three million cars in one year. Riff has specifically tried to address these carbon emissions by upcycling the coffee fruit. A coffee plant contains caffeine throughout the entire plant, however, the highest concentration of caffeine is found in the fruit of the plant. The fruit of a coffee plant when ripe is a red berry that looks very similar to a cherry; inside there are two green seeds. These seeds are later turned into coffee beans. When extracting the coffee seeds, typically the surrounding red flesh of the fruit is discarded. This surrounding flesh is called cascara. According to Riff, every year around 100 billion pounds of coffee fruit is processed and 25 billion pounds of green coffee seeds are yielded. This means that 75% of the coffee fruit goes to waste. This wasted cascara is the reason for the 14.5 metric tons of CO2. The combination of high temperatures and humidity causes the minerals, proteins, and sugars in cascara to grow microorganisms creating environmental pollution. Additionally, the byproducts from small farms are typically discarded into waterways. Caffeine decreases oxygen levels in water. Reduced oxygen and an increase in acidity can cause death for plants and animals. Coffee waste is a double-edged sword that is slicing through subtropical environments. Ultimately, waste of cascara contributes to the greenhouse gas effect and biodiversity loss.

To combat these negative environmental impacts, Riff is actually trying to find a use for the entire coffee plant in an effort to give you the boost of energy you need every day. Riff uses coffee seeds like any other company to create a cold brew coffee. However, instead of letting the flesh of the fruit go to waste, they have created an energy drink from the upcycled cascara. Their cold brew coffee essentially boils down to two ingredients: coffee seeds and water. They are a company based in Oregon and use locally sourced water from the cascade mountains. This helps limit their carbon footprint. A significant amount of this product’s footprint comes from the sourcing of their certified organic coffee beans, as they are imported from various countries around the world. Their cold brew has a relatively low carbon footprint when you factor in travel and locally sourced water when compared to other cold brew coffee. A more interesting and encouraging product to review is their “energy+” drink. Riff is very conscious of its carbon footprint and tries to provide the consumer with as much transparency as possible. When upcycling cascara, they are already preventing emissions that wasted cascara creates. On top of this, they have determined that every aluminum can of energy+ contributes to 100 grams of CO2 emissions, 40% less than an average soda can. Their goal is to produce their aluminum cans from 100% reusable, recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable materials. It is important to note that this claim was not given any significant date or deadline, however, it is nonetheless a promising sign that they are targeting carbon neutrality. The other ingredients in an energy+ beverage include: cold-brewed cascara, natural cane sugar, berry concentrates or fruit purees (depending on which of their three flavors), green coffee extract, caffeine, and Vitamin C. Seeing an ingredient list this short is a very promising sign. When reading this list you do not have to worry about seeing any synthetic chemical compounds you have never heard of. They are a company that is honest in their sustainability efforts, and they were created with the purpose of being sustainable. However, they understand they have not reached their goal. They have identified that upscaling their products will eventually lead them to their goal.

How it's made:


Riff is very transparent and clear about their carbon footprint. They have calculated the carbon emissions that come from the production of their energy+ drinks. By upcycling cascara that would normally be discarded, they are preventing about 66 grams of CO2. This prevention of CO2 means that all transportation and production of all other ingredients in the energy drink is offset. On top of that, one-third of the carbon emissions arising from the production of the aluminum can are also offset. After the initial offset from upcycling, there are about 44 grams of CO2 emissions generated by aluminum. They worked with Oregon State University to conduct a life cycle assessment. They found that they would have to plant 2-3 trees to completely offset all of their carbon from their aluminum cans. In order to be carbon neutral, they have partnered up with a company called “Grow Ahead”, a company that plants trees as carbon offsets. Riff also gives the opportunity to donate one dollar to Grow Ahead every time a customer places an online order that covers the carbon emissions of shipping. Additionally, they are a part of the 1% For The Planet project. This means that Riff donates 1% of their revenue to nonprofit organizations in the areas that grow their coffee. Riff is a very responsible brand and with a very important mission to provide products with no detriment to the environment. The transparency of their supply chain is something that needs to be praised.

As mentioned previously, the biggest focus of Riff’s production is to upcycle cascara. Riff is determined to help the growth of a circular economy. They believe that our current linear economic system is extremely detrimental to the environment and is the key contributor to the climate crisis. By upcycling the cascara from a coffee plant they are participating in this circular economy. When they harvest the coffee seeds they take the remaining flesh (cascara) and use it to infuse caffeine into their energy drinks. When there is leftover cascara, they compost and create organic fertilizer. With the organic fertilizer, they are investigating ways they can create biofuel to provide power for the farmers. Most coffee farms are small and have few resources at their disposal. Riff wants to help establish a circular economy with their products for the benefit of the environment but also for the small farms that help produce their products.

As a small brand start-up company, Riff has fewer resources than a large corporation and has relatively low scope one and two emissions. They have one manufacturing plant in Bend, Oregon where they press and cold brew the cascara. They source their coffee and cascara from various locations in South America. Ultimately, they want to be able to have their own coffee farms and use one hundred percent of the coffee plant. At the moment they do not have the resources to do this. Each coffee plant looks different but typically, the coffee seeds are harvested and the farms that Riff sources from will hold the remaining fruit and set it to the side. The fruit needs to sun dry for at least two to three days before it is shipped to Bend to be brewed into a concentrate. The coffee seeds they use as beans for their cold brews are certified organic. However, sometimes they source their cascara from different farms and the actual fruit itself is not certified organic. This can create misconceptions for consumers when they read the certified organic label. However, they are actively working with farmers to get their organic certifications. Riff is also working to become a certified B-Corporation, and towards an up-cycled food certification. Riff is very clear that originally they had a soft commitment to sustainability when they started as a cold brew company. However, after learning about the massive impact cascara has on the environment, their purpose has changed. There is an understanding that their company is growing and they still have room to improve. The humility and honesty they show about their commitment to improving their sustainability efforts are satisfying.

Who makes it:


Riff is a company based in Bend, Oregon. Their story starts in 2017 when they visited a coffee farm in Columbia. They thoroughly enjoyed their experience, and shared many pleasant exchanges with the natives that welcomed them. However, as they wandered through the fields of coffee they stumbled upon “coffee’s not so little dirty secret”. They were amazed at the size of the cascara deposits. From this point, they were determined to help solve coffees’ biggest contribution to climate change. They created a small team of 10 that work within the United States as full-time employees. Most of the labor that they source is from South American countries. Riff does not give consumers very much information about the specific farms they source from. However, they explained that they do not want larger companies to investigate the coffee plants because they believe they have found coffee farms with higher quality coffee seeds and cascara. As a consumer, this should make you raise an eyebrow. As a small company, it is understandable that they would not want to expose one of their greatest assets. But, we need to be able to have full transparency about how they interact with their coffee plants. This information is not readily available yet.

They started to realize that this problem was a huge economic opportunity for both the company but also for the farmers they source from. They have tried to help their farmers contribute to a circular economy. They have actually outlined a four-step process that small farmers can follow to maximize revenue and resources. In a blog post from their website titled “Cascara Circular Economy” they explain the steps “1. Make: The coffee harvest also produces cascara (mostly unused.) 2.) Use: Farmers can sell approximately 15% of their cascara to be used in high-quality food products, which generates additional income - a $261M opportunity for farmers around the world. 3.) Recycle: That extra income can be used to better manage compost that can be generated with the remaining cascara. This in turn would increase yields without costly (and not environmentally-friendly) synthetic fertilizer by utilizing the organic fertilizer, right under their noses. 4.) Result: Putting money back into the hands of coffee farmers helps to keep farms financially and environmentally sustainable, while mitigating the possible negative environmental impacts from coffee production byproducts.” They believe that they have an important role in the empowerment of their farmers. Typically coffee farmers have been impoverished and Riff is working diligently to educate the farmers on the economic opportunity that lays at their feet.