Have your cup and eat it

For millions of us it is an established routine: the cup of coffee on the go in the morning, during a lunch break, or while flying on a plane. But the environmental impact of our coffee drinking habits leaves a bitter taste. Millions of plastic cups are used daily, piling up mountains of waste. So, what do we do? Bring our own cup or even give up on our beloved cup of coffee to go? Bulgarian start-up Cupffee has developed an altogether more digestible solution.

Plastic cups are popular for a good reason – they are economical, convenient, hygienic, durable, and lightweight. As a coating, plastic makes paper cups heat resistant and safe for hot beverages on the go.  But this convenience comes at a cost to the environment: 16 billion plastic cups alone are used every year.  With barely 1 percent of these being recycled, most end up in garbage bins or worse still as litter.

Today plastic waste is omnipresent; it is found on mountain tops and in the deep sea. Plastic particles can be detected in animals and humans with potentially detrimental effects on our health. It is a problem on a massive scale. Seven billion tons of plastic produced between 1950 and 2017 turned into waste. Every year, 400 million tons of plastic waste are produced globally, according to a 2021 report from the United Nations Environment Programme. 

The Bulgarian start-up Cupffee offers an innovative and sustainable alternative. What if instead of throwing away your cup you could simply eat it – what better way to dispose of it? Cupffee is just that – a cup you can eat with your coffee. 

It is often young entrepreneurs who identify new opportunities, take on the challenges, apply their knowledge, and have the dedication and commitment to see them through. Miroslav Zapryanov, CEO and Founder of Cupffee started his entrepreneurial journey at a very young age. In 2004, he baked his first waffle cup using his oven at home. The idea stayed with him, and 10 years later, in 2014, convinced of the great potential, Zapryanov founded his company Cupffee, based in Plovdiv, the second-largest city in Bulgaria.


I came up with the idea of the edible cup in my early school years. I was shocked by the sheer number of plastic cups used daily for hot beverages that end up as waste.

Miroslav Zapryanov, CEO and Founder of Cupffee

A crisp idea: the edible cup

For Zapryanov, Cupffee is more than just a clever business idea. Right from the start he was determined to make a difference by reducing waste and at the same time provide an enjoyable solution for coffee lovers around the world. The idea quickly attracted like-minded talent and partners that helped develop the company quickly.

The concept may sound simple but replicating the essential characteristics of a plastic cup using wafer is not straightforward. It took the innovators from Plovdiv a few years to develop the right recipe and ensure that the crispy wafer cups do not leak and stay crunchy. Another important challenge was that the cups do not alter the taste of the beverages they contain. “Something which was very important for our cup was that its taste does not interfere with the taste of the beverage inside. It sounds easy but actually it’s not, and that is the reason why nobody else has managed to reach our level,” says Zapryanov.


cupffee 3 cupffee 3 The cups are made out of a solid dough that has a neutral flavor. The dough is placed in molds to create the cups and then baked for around 190 seconds.
cupffee 4 cupffee 4 The team at Cupffee tested different recipes to find one that would meet all their requirements. Food technologist Krasimira Prodanova examines a sample to see if it meets Cupffee’s standards.

After many trials and adjustments to the recipe, Cupffee reached the high standards required to succeed on the market. The cups withstand temperatures of up to 85° Celsius and perfectly insulate contents so drinkers do not burn their fingers. They also stay crunchy for at least 40 minutes, and at just 14 or 26 grams, depending on cup size, they are very lightweight. But the best part is that, after finishing the drink, the cup becomes a healthy snack containing only 56 or 105 kcal respectively.

Furthermore, as it is made of oat bran, a 100 percent natural by-product of the milling process, it is also highly sustainable. Upcycled from milling side streams, it is the perfect material for healthy edible food containers.


Stepping up to large-scale production

Cupffee managed the initial stages of the product development on their own remarkably well. The Cupffee CEO invested his personal funds to design and finance his first prototype machines. Once the fourth machine was installed, Cupffee started their production line with an output of 100 cups a day. The team worked 10 hours a day to reach this modest output – not enough to compete in the market.

In today’s fast-paced business world, companies need to adapt to customer demand quickly to succeed. The shift from initial concept to production on a large scale can be a daunting challenge. This is the point where a larger industrial partner can play a critical part. The young start-up’s success caught Bühler’s interest in 2016.


Cupffee 5 Cupffee 5 Georgi Yanakiev, International Sales Manager at Bühler
We were really excited by Cupffee’s ability to create a product that could resist water and temperature to such a high standard.

Georgi Yanakiev, International Sales Manager at Bühler

Subsequently, Bühler invited the team for trials at Bühler’s Wafer Innovation Center in Leobendorf, Austria. Bühler had already gained substantial expertise in formulating and producing edible and compostable food containers. It all started in the early 2000s with the development of starch-based biodegradable containers for Biopack. Cupffee represented a new exciting challenge.

In 2017 Cupffee and Bühler joined forces to take the innovative and sustainable product to the next level and develop a market-ready product to manufacturing scale. “This was exactly the right moment,” Zapryanov explains. “We had a great product, but the market required large volumes of our cups and our small-scale machines simply did not have the capacity to satisfy demand.”

Bühler’s Franz Haas MTA-V oven for solid dough and the production line for edible cups proved the right solution for the Bulgarian entrepreneurs and the cooperation took shape. With Bühler’s help, Cupffee increased capacity to approximately three million cups per month.

But global demand is strong, and the company has ambitious targets. “It is our aim to increase our production to two to three times the current volume within the next two years,” says Zarko Penchev, Head of Production Process at Cupffee.

Two more production lines are planned at the factory in Plovdiv. With the peace of mind that Bühler’s 360° degree/lifetime customer services bring, Cupffee is well equipped for future growth. Both companies are committed to further developing a long-term partnership.


Cupffee 6 Cupffee 6 Bühler’s Franz Haas MTA-V oven provided the industrial solution Cupffee needed to increase capacity. It produces around 3,400 cups an hour.

Drinking pleasure fit for a queen

The edible cups have been a hit and demand is growing. Cupffee already has an impressive portfolio of partners and clients that share the company’s enthusiasm and commitment for sustainable food solutions. Among these are German retail discounter Lidl and leading Italian coffee company Lavazza, which promotes the product in several markets and at prestigious events. Giuseppe Lavazza, Vice President of the Board of Directors of Luigi Lavazza S.p.A., and Queen Elizabeth II enjoyed coffee served in Cupffee cups at Wimbledon. And hot beverages were served in Cupffee’s crispy cups on the first, single-use-plastic-free flight of Etihad Airways on Earth Day. Some achievement – clearly these customers had great confidence in the cups and their ability to contain hot drinks safely.


Given such prominent endorsement, the only way is up. With Bühler at its side, Cupffee plans to reach a production output of 10 million cups per month and eventually replace a minimum of 1 percent of the global supply of disposable plastic and carton coffee cups. “When it comes to industrial production, Bühler is the right partner for us,” says Zapryanov. “We will continue to work together in the future.”

It is our aim to increase our production to two to three times the current volume within the next two years.

Miroslav Zapryanov, CEO and Founder of Cupffee

Take a look inside Cupffee’s production plant in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

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