How to Successfully Approach Coffee Shops for free grounds

Following onto my coffee grounds in the garden post, I’ve been to numerous coffee shops in search of used grounds and want to share what I have learned. Near the farm, there is a single Starbucks within 40 miles. When visiting my friends and parents in the Virginia side of the DC metro area, through the window of one shop multiple starbucks locations are likely to be seen. This major difference has big implications on how the shops handle their spent coffee grounds.

Rural Coffee Shops

A shop located in a rural area is likely to be the only one for miles. Considering the usage of the surrounding land, the coffee grounds are likely to be a hot commodity as gardening is a widely practiced activity. My experiences have confirmed this as the helpful employees always mention how they get frequent requests so they honor them on a first come, first served basis. I usually call ahead to check on availability and to let them know I am coming. They usually go out of their way to save me as much as they can.

Note, I also use a huge amount of cardboard with my no till approach to establish gardens and tree plantings. My strategy for battling existing turf and weeds in locations where trees or gardens will be cultivated is the lasagna gardening method. This is simply laying down a decomposable barrier like cardboard or multiple layers of newspaper, and alternating carbon/nitrogen (aka brown/green) compostable waste on top. Cardboard smothers out grasses and weeds while worms are given ideal conditions directly beneath the cardboard. The result is well aerated and fluffy soil, albeit over a longer time frame of a few months. This starbucks location has been more than happy to provide cardboard as well as coffee grounds.

Urban Coffee Shops

Locations in much denser population have a few consequences. Serving many more customers means they use many more grounds. My assumption that more population would mean a higher demand for the spent grounds has been found to be untrue in my experiences. One morning while waiting for a friend to get off work, I decided to swing by 4 shops all within a mile of each other. None of them save their grounds without a reason and requested that I call ahead so I left empty handed.

Transitional land use coffee shops

I failed to think up a succinct way to phrase this category. My parents live where the DC suburbs start to give way to farms and large-lot neighborhoods. These areas are still close enough to the metro area that enterprises like craft brewing, mid to high end restaurants, boutique retail stores and many coffee shops still can be successful. As one would expect, shops located here fall in between and in either of the above categories. Lots of money surrounds these locations so more trophy-level farm enterprises like wineries and certified angus organic farms exists. Therefor these shop get more than infrequent requests for their used grounds.

While the landscape is not crawling in a network of cafes, the suburban centers still will have 3-5 shops within a few miles of each other. Some of them handle grounds like the urban shops, while others get so many requests that they immediately refill the coffee packaging with the spent grounds and set them in a bin by the door label “Free Grounds for Gardeners”. The only reason to call head to the latter is to check for availability. I usually don’t waste their time and just pop in when I am in the area. Sometimes I leave with 5 bags, sometimes none.

Final Thoughts

Yesterday, a fellow gardening blogger who loves worms and coffee grounds as much if not more than me mentioned that it is advantageous to both call ahead to shops and to get to know the ones you work with frequently. I could not agree more. Calling ahead will trigger the employees to start saving grounds from the general trash and accumulate a large quantity for you. Forming a relationship with the employees of the shops you visit can help create a more automated process of saving grounds for you once you demonstrate that you will reliably pick up when agreed upon.

So call ahead and find uses for coffee grounds, just stay away from the ones I visit!

Just kidding! Every bit that is used by gardeners keeps this biomass and its nutrients from being forever lost in the anaerobic landfills. That is a win for everyone.


One thought on “How to Successfully Approach Coffee Shops for free grounds

  1. Totally love this idea. I don’t drink coffee so my spouses 1 pot doesn’t make enough for me although I do compost it – my Hydrangeas just love them. Great content!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s