Black and white and a shot of espresso: Caffenol


coffee is not just for drinking

One night, flicking through the channels (for a change, instead of flicking through Flickr), I saw a strange episode of Mythbusters. The gingery guy and the walrussy guy were in a room, and had to solve all these odd problems using household gear. Maybe they were busting Mcgyver. I don’t know. I do know that they got one thing wrong.

One of the tasks they were set was the developing of a film. They looked over their availalbe set of tools and chose… orange juice! Wrong. They needed coffee.

Coffee (more precisely caffeine compounds contained within it) is the basis for a very simple and effective film develepor. It really is easy. Here’s my recipe for Caffenol:


  • Instant coffee – buy the biggest, cheapest bottle you can find. 12 teaspoons.
  • ‘Lectric Soda (Calcium Carbonate). In Australia this is readily available in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket. In the UK I think it is sold as Soda Crystals. Can someone confirm? Elsewehre, i’m not so sure. (5 tablespoons)
  • Vitamin C – buy the cheapest you can and grind them up in a mortar and pestle. Two tablets.
  • Mix this in to 500 ml of tap water, and stir until the ‘Lectric Soda is dissolved. Let sit for ten or fifteen minutes.
  • NB this is the recipe I’ve found works well enough with my Holga and the Shanghai film I use. There are many other, often more precise recipes.
  • When you’re done, DO NOT drink the developer. Easy to comply with because it sure don’t smell like coffee. But DO have a nice hot bath with 1/2 cup of ‘Lectric Soda. Very relaxing.

Use exactly as you would a normal developer. Digital Truth’s big dev chart will even give you the times you need.

I’ve experimented a lot with different times and different temperatures. If you go with water that is a little over room temperature, it is easy to overdevelop, and sometimes crazy colours creep in, but I’ve seen this with Rodinal too. Overdeveloping with warmer water can give very interesting extra-grainy effects.

Caffenol Coast (Mackay)

An interesting effect, and you can see the brown tint that Caffenol can imbue. This was emphasised a little after scanning the negative.

Sometimes, things can go very wrong, but in a colourful way. I think underexposure is as much as a problem as caffenol in this shot:

M and K immersed in coffee

If you have a film that you know is underxposed, development in caffenol with a little extra coffee and a little hot water in the mix can at least give you something interesting, so long as there’s a little more on the film than the above. In the shot below, I was disappointed when I realised a camera setting was wrong and everything would be drastically underxposed. But I really like what I got out of it with some “hot caffenol.”
( Ah, my poor old Kiev 60. It fell apart.)

Of course, Caffenol is not necessarily kooky. With care, and with properly-exposed film, it is a fine, crisp developer. Have a look at this sandscape, another shot that makes me miss my Kiev 60.

sandscape 3

I’ll finish off with what has been my most succesful Creative Commons iimage. It crops up all over the place, usually in blogs about libraries and reading. A classic caffenol with just a little odd colouration:

See the little bubbles on the left hand margin? This is why you need to regularly shake and tap your develooping tank as you process the film. If you let gas bubbles form and sit on the developing or fixing film, this is what you’ll get.
I’d like to hear from readers who have used Caffenol, or any other home made developer (except urine  – keep that to yourself).

There are lots of sites out there with instructions on how to develop your own film. It’s easier than you might think, even with colour film. Would anyone like me to do a how-to one day?

Thanks for reading. Next time, some tips on getting the most from the new Impossible Polaroid film. It isn’t really impossible at all.


About postdigitalblog

Lecturer in Multimedia at CQUni Wrangler of young kids @ home in Yeppoon Otherwise, photographer and digital media type.
This entry was posted in film, photography, technical, tutorial and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Black and white and a shot of espresso: Caffenol

  1. Disphotic says:

    I tried this a few years ago although I think with a slightly different recipe, as you say no danger of drinking the dev at the end given how bad it smells 😛

  2. ww says:

    Amazing posts<3!! Followed:p

  3. ceciliag says:

    that is fantastic, I shall try this, i am very impressed.. c

  4. calvininjax says:

    A fascinating approach. I am impressed.

    Thanks for following my blog.

  5. cecilevision says:

    cool and interesting! your result are great! just a question why instant coffee ?

    • The caffeine is what does the trick – so the cheapest source of it will do. One day though I’m going to photograph a coffee tree, roast the beans, brew an espresso and develop the film 🙂

      • manicpixieanalogue says:

        That sounds like a brilliant idea! I’ve written a tutorial on this before but can’t wait to try a few variants like you’ve done here. Great stuff!

      • Thanks Pixie. If the tutorials are up, would you mind putting the links up in a comment? And drop back when you’ve developed your shots so we can all have a look at them.

  6. I never heard about this Caffenol developer. This is sensational! Thx for sharing!
    Hi5, B5

  7. justpaint says:

    Great post! When I paint, I often tint the paper with strong brewed tea to give a mid-tone underpainting….I’ll try coffee next!

  8. Malen says:

    hey your blog came up while searching if I could use Calcium Carbonate instead of Sodium Carbonate, I think the pH is what matters here! I can’t get the Sodium kind, I’d better try with the Calcium? I’m asking because the soda crystals you mention are Sodium
    The other thing I was wondering, which time do you suggest to use with a Kodak TMax 400? According to digitaltruth 25min, but a regular developer takes from 9 to 20 tops. Also, 2 tablets of vit C, the effervescent kind? I’m from Argentina and getting some things is tricky because there are different products! Haha hope you can enlight me!

    • I do not think that you’d have a great deal of success using calcium carbonate. But you should try! I believe that you can produce a ‘Lectric soda equivalent by baking bicarbonate of soda.
      I would go with digitaltruth. The caffenol takes longer to work, although it is possible to overdevelop with caffenol.I just used chewable kids vitamin C and ground them up in a mortar and pestle. I don’t know how important the vit. C is. Maybe it was the orange colouring that did all the work.
      Let me know how you get on.

      • Malen says:

        but you listed Calcium Carbonate in your ingredients list! haha today I’m beggining with the experiments.. wish me luck! I’ve got asorbic acid, so no colouring in my mix; the asorbic acidis the important thing (it develops the lights) mind my english, it’s late and I still working on my thesis haha

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s