Caffenol Guide: How To Develop Your Photos With Coffee

Run out of your usual black and white developer? No longer have a traditional film store in your local high street? Annoyed by people asking you rhetorical questions? Then pop in to town and pick up a jar of cheap instant coffee, some soda crystals, and a dash of powdered vitamin C. Mix with water and voilà : you have caffenol.

caffenol

Here’s What You’ll Need

Instant Coffee: Coffee contains caffeic acid, which acts as the developing agent. Any old cheap rubbish will do by all accounts. I bought the cheapest and nastiest stuff I could find.

Soda Crystals: A developer needs to be alkaline to work, but coffee is fairly acidic. That’s where soda crystals come in. Adding them to the mix raises the PH and allows the development process to kick in.

One thing I found from my research that you don’t often see mentioned, is the different types of soda crystals. Most recipes you find online assume the soda crystals are anhydrous (i.e. water free). However, here in the UK the most common brand you’re likely to come across is Dri-Pack Crystals. These are not anhydrous, and people who are smarter and have more time on their hands than me have worked out you should multiply the amount by 2.7 to compensate for this.

Powdered Vitamin C: This considerably speeds up the developing time, making the process more practical. You should be able to pick this up from a pharmacist or health food store like Holland & Bollocks. Strictly speaking what I’m making here is known as caffenol-C. You can make plain old vanilla caffenol without the vitamin C – the only difference is you’ll be hanging around for a lot longer.

caffenol

The Quantities

To make 1 litre:

  • 150g Dri-Pak Soda Crystals
  • 16g Vitamin-C powder
  • 40g Instant Coffee
  • Water to make 1000ml of solution

caffenol

I don’t think this stuff really keeps, so it’s best to mix only what you need. Here are the minimum amounts to process a single roll of 35mm and 120 in a paterson tank:

35mm

  • 45g Dri-Pak Soda Crystals
  • 4.8g Vitamin-C powder
  • 12g Instant Coffee
  • Water to make 300ml of solution

120

  • 90g Dri-Pak Soda Crystals
  • 9.6g Vitamin-C powder
  • 24g Instant Coffee
  • Water to make 600ml of solution

caffenol

The Method

  • Fill the beaker with half the target amount of water. In other words, 300ml if you want to create 600ml of developer.
  • Add in the soda crystals and stir for a good few minutes until dissolved. This seems to quickly lower the temperature by about 10℃. If I had a clue about chemistry I might be able to tell you why.
  • Vitamin C next; make sure it’s properly stirred-in.
  • Repeat as above with the coffee. Things don’t look or smell too good at this stage.
  • Top up with water to the desired level; 600ml in this example. Mix.
  • It’s probably a good idea to let it rest for 5 minutes or so, just to let the bubbles settle. You can use this time to get it to the pre-requiste 20℃ whilst you’re waiting. Putting the beaker in a bowl of hot water is good for raising the temperature. To lower the temperature of my developer I always use the genius invention that is plastic ice cubes.
  • From here on you can develop as normal, at the usual temperature of 20℃. For this roll of Tri-X 12 minutes worked well for me. After emptying the developer down the sink, give the tank a good rinse with water rather than using stop (I rarely use stop these days), and fix and rinse as normal.

caffenol

In was really surprised how well these pictures came out. I thought they’d be some compromise; that they wouldn’t be particularly sharp or perhaps too grainy. But this seems to work as well as any other developer. I don’t know how often I’ll be using Caffenol in the future, but I’ll certainly keep the ingredients handy in the cupboard in case of emergencies.

caffenol

All photos taken with Yashica Mat on Kodak Tri-X. Developed in Caffenol-C for 12 minutes

10 comments on “Caffenol Guide: How To Develop Your Photos With Coffee

  1. I used to use Caffenol a whole lot some years back. My impression is the same as yours, that it actually works a lot better than I thought it would. It’s just as good as any of the commercial developers I’d say, but with the big difference that mixing up a brew of HC-110, Rodinal or whatever is a bit easier… and they also smell a bit better. I still got the ingredients ready at hand of course, and I still use it every now and then just for the heck of it, but it’s not my go to developer. I’m probably a bit too lazy or something.
    You got a very nice collection of “Short Stories” here, by the way! Your scans look absolutely grand…! Are you doing them yourself, or is it lab work? A scanning tutorial next, maybe? :))
    Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Hi Roy

      Thanks for your kind words. I tried caffenol out of curiosity, but I don’t imagine I’ll use it again. Unless it’s impossible to get anything else due to the Zombie Corona Virus Apocalypse.

      You’re one of several people now who have mentioned my scans, and I’m a bit puzzled! I do have a very nice scanner, the Epson V700, but apart from that I just use the bundled Epson Scan software and leave everything on the default settings. I don’t do any adjustments prior to scanning. The only thing I suppose I do is scan at the maximum resolution and then crop down to 12×8 inches (for 35mm) at 300px. Not sure if that makes much difference, but that’s the way I’ve always done it. So I’m afraid I have no great wisdom to impart on the black art of scanning.

      1. Thanks for the somewhat helpful reply anyway, Gerald. I got the same scanner then (V700 or V750, I always forget which one…) and are using the same software for sure. Every single one of my negative scans are notoriously out of focus, so there must be an issue with height from the glass up to the film I think. I’ll do some investigation when I get home, because I know my negs are as sharp as they gets (usually, anyway… and I have been doing this long enough to recognize an unsharp picture when I see it). Hopefully I’ll find the issue some day. Or maybe hopefully not, because I will then have thousands of films to go all over again :O
        I see you just followed my blog. I’m sorry to say that one is not being updated much these days. Try https://filmphotographymadesimple.blogspot.com/2020/02/planning-holidays-we-are.html and see if you like to look into it. I’m using too many words for everything, so just look at the snaps and leave the rest. There’s probably only BS going on anywyay 🙂

          1. I’ll have it checked if I ever get home from this ship… :))
            And of course they will get marked as spam as I’m mostly full of bollocks anyway 🙂

  2. Very nice results, Gerald! Have you tried developing T-Max 400 in caffenol, and if so, what would you suggest the developing times might be?

    1. Thanks Peter! I’ve only tried Tri-X, but from memory developing times for Tmax and Tri-X in D76 are very close. So I reckon you can use the same time for Tmax and Tri-X in Caffenol. That seems logical, but to be honest, it’s something I’ve never thought of before. Do different films have a similar relationship to their development times in different developers? That’s something I should look into out of curiosity.

      Anyway, if you give it a go let me know how you get on.

  3. I’m just getting all the “ingredients” together to attempt my first caffenol film development (which will be a roll of Tri-X), but I’ll have a roll of T-Max to develop soon, and also some Fuji Acros 100.

    The whole thing does seem to have something of the “slightly barmy” about it ;), but I’m keen to see how well it works. If I get results similar to yours, I’ll be pleased.

    I’ll report on successes and failures – hopefully, there’ll be more of the former than the latter!

  4. Well, Gerald… I’m pleased to report that – after following your suggested method – the results were simply excellent! Many thanks for your ‘tuition’. 🙂

    It’s my intention to do some more caffenol developing in the near future. Indeed, it’s quite possible that I’ve become a caffenol addict, after just a single session! 😉

    1. Haha I’m really glad it worked out for you Peter……I was feeling the weight of responsibility! Let me know if you’re going to share the results anywhere online.

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