Using Coffee to Develop Film: A Complete Guide for Film Photographers

As a film photographer, you may be familiar with the traditional process of developing film in a darkroom. But, I have heard of people using coffee to develop black-and-white film, did you know that coffee can be used as a developer? Coffee is an inexpensive and readily available alternative to traditional film developers. I have seen some interesting and unique results from folks using coffee, though read through to the end, I did find a couple limitations. Not enough for me not to try it.

Here is a complete guide to using coffee as a film developer:

What You’ll Need:

  • Instant coffee or ground coffee beans
  • Sodium carbonate (washing soda)
  • Vitamin C powder
  • A thermometer
  • A stirring utensil
  • A darkroom or a light-proof room
  • A film developing tank and reels

Step-by-Step Process:

  1. Brew a strong pot of coffee or mix a few tablespoons of instant coffee with hot water.
  2. Add 1 teaspoon of sodium carbonate and 1 teaspoon of vitamin C powder to the coffee solution. Stir until fully dissolved.
  3. Allow the solution to cool to room temperature. The ideal temperature for coffee development is around 20-25°C.
  4. Load your film onto the developing reel and place it inside the developing tank.
  5. Pour the coffee solution into the tank, making sure that the film is fully submerged.
  6. Agitate the tank gently for the first minute, and then for 10 seconds every minute thereafter.
  7. After 10-15 minutes of development time, pour the coffee solution out of the tank and rinse the film with water.
  8. Fix the film using traditional fixing methods and rinse again with water.
  9. Hang the film to dry in a dust-free environment.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Coffee development can produce a wide range of tones, from warm sepia to cool blue. Experiment with different strengths and development times to achieve the desired effect.
  • Using high-quality coffee beans or specialty blends can produce even more interesting and unique results.
  • Coffee development may not work well with all types of film, so it’s best to experiment with a few rolls before committing to the process.
  • Coffee is not a long-term stable developer, so it’s best to use the developed film within a few months of processing.

It looks like coffee development can be a fun and creative alternative to traditional film developing methods. With a little experimentation and practice, you can achieve some truly unique and beautiful results. So why not give it a try and see what kind of coffee-inspired images you can create?