Printers Brew Success With Coffee-Dyed Tees

Did you know you can scour pots and pans with your used coffee grounds? Remove odors from your fridge? Or fertilize your garden? The Internet is full of lists of how to repurpose your grounds. So, it was probably only a matter of time before someone decided to print a T-shirt with ink derived from the multipurpose mush.

Alex White and his father-in-law, John Mohr, owners of Domestic Stencilworks in San Diego, recently launched a retail site called CoffeePrinted.com to peddle their line of coffee-themed T-shirts, all hand-printed with coffee-based dye. “We’re huge coffee enthusiasts,” White says. “We’re pretty excited about where this is going to go.”

Coffee Printed is the result of a “five-year odyssey” testing out various waste products that could serve as natural pigments, White says. White and Mohr experimented with several substances, including corked red wine, beets and spent coffee grounds. Basically, anything “that stains your clothing easily became a candidate,” White says. Wine, beets and other vegetables worked well on paper prints, but the only lasting success the pair had on apparel was with coffee grounds. The screen printers solicit used grounds from several local coffee shops, brewing them in vats of vinegar for months at a time. “We strain them and cook them down to make a sauce,” White says. The final thickened mixture mimics water-based screen-printing ink, and creates a one-color, semi-transparent, long-lasting, hand-free print.

The screen printers have shipped their shirts to coffee aficionados in 34 states and 19 countries so far. Domestic Stencilworks also offers a special service to coffee shops that want to combine their brand with their blends. Baristas can send in their shop’s own used coffee grounds, and White and Mohr will use them to create a special vat of coffee ink to print uniquely personalized logo wear, White says.