Covering Coffee With Less Waste
- Suyash Dev Gupta of Wobh Filters talks about the economical and ecological impact of using cloth filters over paper while brewing coffee, the importance of understanding fabrics and being part of the specialty coffee industry
One of the more pragmatic solutions to daily coffee waste came about when I switched to Wobh filters for brewing V60. After fiddling with it initially I enjoyed my coffee and also relaxed knowing that I’m not going to run out of V60 paper filters.
A chat with Suyash Dev Gupta, who started Wobh Filters during the pandemic, illustrated this was not an isolated incident and that many individuals have started switching to cloth filters that can be cleaned and reused over paper filters that need to be discarded after a single use.
Gupta also talks about how he worked on the filters with an understanding of the brew and the fabric together and why world domination is on the cards next. Excerpts from an interview.
1 – Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came up with the idea for Wobh filters
I’ve had been brewing coffee at home for quite some time. I loved everything about specialty coffee, loved talking to fellow brewers about it, loved speaking to roasters when I got the chance. And I loved exploring the science-y side of it too.
The pandemic doubled the daily number of cups, of course. This led to a lot of paper filter consumption. In the first lockdown alone, I went through three-four packets of paper filters. The worst thing about using them was the moment when you throw the entire filter away since it’s been spent already. That seemed like such a waste. It weighed heavy on my conscience.
So naturally, I looked for alternatives online. I found a couple of cloth filters and bought them. Needless to say, they were terrible and had bad reviews too. Nobody had put in any effort into them. Since this didn’t work out, I got myself a custom filter made from canvas at our garment production company. The scrappy canvas filters I was using were still better than the market option. Over the next few months, I kept using them, and fell in love with the flavour profile cloth filters gives you.
This is what led to Wobh Filters. Our goal is to help people become conscious brewers. A lot of love and care, from our artisans, into making Wobh Filters.
2 – What was the initial journey like before deciding to solve the problem of paper filters?
There wasn’t much at the start. I was just a home brewer. All I wanted was a good cup of coffee. Brewing was my favourite hobby. And finally, I’d found filters that worked for me. Now while speaking to some other home brewers, my cloth filters would come up. And most people told me this was a really cool thing and I should sell these filters.
Deep down the specialty coffee industry seemed like such a utopia to me. People were really welcoming and they wanted to share their knowledge. Overall, it was really relaxed, unlike throat-cutting competition in other industries. I really wanted to be a part of this. This seemed like the coolest thing I could do. And now with these filters, I saw an opportunity. I could finally be part of this group in a small way.
My sister and I were already working on our first entrepreneurial project. It was an accessories label, where we upcycled factory cloth waste. That was the original Wobh.
So now that things looked promising, I got more filters made. But this time we got three different filters made. One for each roast type – we had a light roast, medium roast and a dark roast Wobh cloth filter.
I started sharing this within the community and people responded. A lot of people were curious. I even sent samples to some of the experts I knew. And we got a ton of feedback from everybody.
It turned out that having three separate filters was a really bad move. First, the idea of cloth filters was novel in India, on top of that having three variants was confusing. We discontinued the other two variants and stuck to one.
During the second lockdown, our main label Wobh died, but Wobh Filters kept doing well. And that’s how we got it.
3 – Tell us about the R&D that went into developing the cloth filters?
The first-ever Wobh Filters were made from regular canvas. But as soon as we got a great response from them, it was a cue to start working on a better product.
With cloth filters, you really need to understand fabrics. Now that I had to design a great filter, I first learned fabric construction and its dynamics. My family and the Internet came in handy here.
Then we kept testing different materials and constructions through trial and error. But without the understanding of fabrics, we wouldn’t have had any direction.
Next, I wanted to make something that would genuinely work well. Especially in a home brewing scenario. Since I had been brewing coffee at home for a couple of years now, I had the insight of a home-brewer. This really worked for us.
4 – What has the response to your products been so far? Which item is the bestseller?
The response has been incredible. There’s a very interesting community factor attached to specialty coffee in India. This was something we had never seen before.
Our launch and product development hugely benefitted from this. There were so many people to talk with. So much feedback to listen to. All we did was listen carefully and act on the information we got.
Initially, we mastered producing the filters in small batches, unlike the industry approach. This helped us change, iterate and work on the feedback we received.
5 – Can you share numbers? How many cloth filters has Wobh sold so far and what are the projections going forward?
We have sold just shy of 2500 cloth filters in the past year. This means users have brewed about 1,90,000 cups with Wobh Filters. That also means that we managed to save 1,90,000 paper filters.
Going forward, our goal is to sell north of 10,000 filters across the globe.
6 – Not just V60, Wobh has cloth filters for almost every pourover style as well as cold brew. How did you develop cloth filters specifically for each brew type?
Whenever we have to develop a filter for a new brew method, we start from scratch. Different brew methods work differently. They have their own quirks and dynamics. What works for one probably won’t work for another. We kept iterating with different fabrics until we get the desired result and extractions.
One key thing is first spending time with the brew method and understanding it well. Just spending more time with it, brewing more with a device will give you tons of feedback. You don’t have to assume. You have data to act on.
7 – Which has been the most difficult brew style to crack thus far? Why?
The Wave style flat-bottom ones. They have a flat bottom which is difficult to achieve. We had to be clever with the stitching.
8 – Wobh is mostly a D2C brand at this point. Are there plans to work with roasters and cafes in the future as well?
Yes, we are mostly a D2C brand and being born in the pandemic helped.
Still, specialty coffee shops and cafes play a very important role in education and bringing people into specialty coffee. With things finally opening up, we’re now partnering with cafes to display and retail our filters.
Going forward, these partnerships will be very important to Wobh Filters becoming part of the coffee culture in India.
9 – Is education around cloth filters an important factor that’s missing in the conversation today?
Yes! With cloth filters there is a little bit of a learning curve. Since we’re leading the cloth filter wave in India, we have the responsibility and role of educating the audience as well.
While this is something we already do a lot, the goal is to do more of it and do a better job too.
10 – What is your biggest tip for using cloth filters effectively?
Just keep using them. Cloth filters are something that suit daily brewers the most. Other than that, great things need maintenance. If you take care of your filter, it will reward you with excellent brews.
11 – Is R&D still ongoing with your cloth filters or are you satisfied with your products right now?
We’re really happy and satisfied with the product. However, R&D is something that can never stop. I love to experiment, test and change things. There are small iterations that we keep doing with the aim of making the product better. Some are so tiny that you won’t even notice them. Even so, every change makes the product better over time.
12 – What new brew styles can we expect Wobh cloth filters to come out with?
A few, to say the least. Filters for the Kalita 155 dripper and the Fellow Stagg X will be out really soon. While these two drippers are not as popular in India, we’re still adding them to our lineup. If there’s a brew method, there needs to be a filter for it.
13 – Can you quantify the ecological and economical impact of using cloth filters over a period of time?
Ecologically, every time you brew with a cloth filter you save a single paper filter. Someone who brews one cup a day would go through around 4 packs of paper filters in one year. Whereas with cloth filters, you can brew for one entire year with 2-3 filters. Looking from the point of waste creation, this number is massive.
Economically, each paper filtered brew costs you INR 5 to INR 7. In comparison with cloth filters, you spend half the amount at around INR 2.5 to INR 3. Over time, the cost of using paper filter can go really high – both for you and the planet.
14 – What are the future plans of Wobh Filters?
We are planning to go global. We have a line of products that can serve customers across the world, helping them brew their daily cups more sustainably.
We’re working with equipment distributors overseas. Wobh Filters will be available to brewers outside India very soon.
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Priyanko Sarkar is the Founder Editor of Gurgl.in. He has been a writer for over 15 years and this site is his attempt to document India's growing beverage sector with impactful and interesting stories. His favourite drink is Vietnamese Coffee and his favourite spirit is Turkish Raki.