Tea or coffee? Nonwovens for better brews

© Ahlstrom
© Lavazza
© Singtex
© Glatfelter

While millions of people drink coffee or tea each day, very few would link the flavour of their hot drinks with nonwoven fabrics.

Yet both tea bags and coffee filters are primarily made from them, and two key exhibitors at INDEX –are the largest manufacturers of these materials worldwide.

According to Euromonitor International, figures for 2013, at $130 billion, the USA was the biggest coffee market in the world while, perhaps unsurprisingly, China’s $90 billion industry is the biggest for tea.
Brazil, Germany, Japan and France are also huge markets for coffee and Russia, Japan, the US and Germany for tea.

The popularity of single-serve coffee pods shows no signs of slowing in Europe, whilst outside key tea markets, fruit, green and herbal teas are growing in popularity.

Interestingly, Stanford University geographer Martin W. Lewis has noted that the geography of hot drinks has changed significantly over the centuries. Places once so famous for coffee that they gave their names to it – Java, Turkey, the Arabian peninsula – now favour tea, as do most of the tropical countries that grow the world’s coffee, with a few exceptions such as Brazil and Colombia.
The UK exported its love of tea to most of its former colonies, and it’s no coincidence that South Korea and the Philippines – both with close ties to the US – are among the few Asian nations to prefer coffee.

Glatfelter, headquartered in York, Pennsylvania, and Ahlstrom, headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, between them have a dominant share of the market for coffee filters and tea bags based on nonwoven fabrics.

Coffee filters

In Europe, ‘coffee pods’– developed in the early 1990s for pressure-brewing machines – are estimated now to account for approximately one in three of all coffees consumed.
Glatfelter has recently made a US$50 million wetlaid technology expansion at its plant in Gernsbach, Germany, in response to increasing demand for these products.

For the production of coffee filters, Glatfelter has a focus on the development of new fibre-based materials to improve brewing performance, support higher-speed processing machines and increase product functionality.

An optimum brewing process is obtained by delivering the full flavour of the coffee bean under pressure and heat and ensuring the best quality is contained and freshness is preserved in the individually-sealed packages
A high strength at the sealing joints and easy cutting is ensured by a filtration layer comprising abaca – “Manila hemp” – and cellulose fibres with wood pulp, while the sealing layer is made of polyethylene or polypropylene mixed with copolymers.

Ahlstrom’s coffee pods are characterised by a neutral odour and taste and allow the brewing process to extract only the flavours of the roasted coffee, while leaving no coffee ‘dust’ in the cup.
In order to guarantee the most effective infusion process, the company’s compostable coffee pouches and capsules employ different basis weight filters.


Market data indicates that consumers continue to switch from loose tea to teabag products in many markets worldwide.

Glatfelter observes that its teabag filter papers are designed to effectively carry out the infusion process while guaranteeing high particle retention. By using a special blend of natural and speciality fibres, a web structure that provides rapid infusion of the tea is created, to allow the aroma, colour and flavour of the tea to be enhanced while completely containing the leaves.

The company employs inclined wire wetlaid nonwovens technology to provide standard and custom-designed filter papers that can be unbleached or bleached, perforated or plain, and either tetrahedral, square or round.
They are again based on high-quality abaca and cellulose fibres in combination with man-made fibres.

Glatfelter is now active in the Philippines in a cooperation with the Rainforest Alliance, which is well recognised in the field of sustainable agriculture. A sustainable abaca certification scheme has been established in the Philippines, following a series of training sessions with local farmers, cooperatives, exporters and traders to generate interest in producing the fibre.

The latest evolution of Glatfelter’s heat-sealable product range integrates a complex blend of speciality fibres – polyethylene and polypropylene or copolymers – to improve the heat-sealability that allows them to be used on the latest high speed packaging machines.

Another innovation is the WoW Printec (White-on-White) logo printing technique which, in addition to enabling precise logos to be printed on the tea filter paper, provides an after-use wet logo effect following brewing.

Ahlstrom’s teabag nonwovens are meanwhile made from lightweight, two-phase heat-sealable nonwovens comprised of a special blend of thermoplastic fibres, abaca and selected cellulosic fibres, to provide high wet strength and neutral odour and taste characteristics.

Ahlstrom’s BioWeb is the industry’s first beverage filter web based on 100% renewable raw materials and is one of the first truly compostable tea bags in the industry.

Biopolymers are an area of intensive research for the company, and the most important of these is PLA (polylactic acid), as an advanced renewable and biodegradable polymer.

Ahlstrom, has installed a huge spunbonding line at its plant in Chirnside, Scotland, which is now producing coffee and tea materials based on PLA-based Ingeo resins manufactured by NatureWorks – another INDEX exhibitor – at a plant in Nebraska, USA.

Italian espresso

Well-known coffee brand Lavazza has announced the launch this year of what it claims is the first 100% compostable Italian espresso coffee capsule which is based on Mater-Bi 3G bioplastics made by Novamont.

Based on the use of renewable resources, the capsule is the result of a five-year joint research project. It is 100% biodegradable and suitable for biological recycling. Compatible with the Lavazza Minù coffee machine, it contains two high quality blends of 100% Arabica coffee beans which are certified by the Rainforest Alliance.
“At last, we’ve made a scientific and technological breakthrough with the first patented Lavazza compostable capsule,” said group vice-chairman Marco Lavazza. “It’s made of third generation Mater-Bi, which ensures that the quality of the coffee is what you would expect of a Lavazza product. With this capsule, we focused on the final stage in the life cycle of the product, which is very important, not only in social and environmental terms, but also from the economic viewpoint. What we’re dealing with here is a process of circular development, in which the end of one process marks the start of another.”
Catia Bastioli, CEO of Novamont, added that the third generation Mater-Bi which is being used to make the Lavazza capsules is manufactured in a process involving three Italian production plants at Terni, Patrica and Porto Torres.

“These plants, which were no longer competitive, have been revitalised as innovative industrial factories, which creates jobs, new products and new methods, linking different sectors and transforming scrap into resources.” she said.

Coffee grounds

In Taiwan even extruded waste coffee grounds are being exploited by the fibre and fabric manufacturer Singtex in an additive called S.Café technology, to add functions such as fast drying, odour control and UV protection to fabrics.

Singtex has introduced S.Café in nonwovens made with recycled polyester in a new insulation material called Eco2sy aimed at the winter sports market.

Eco2sy is said to perform as well as natural down feathers and its special construction is designed to keep the body warm during cold temperatures. It is lightweight and very compressible, with the S.Café technology helping to absorb body odours.

In Taiwan, Singtex now collects all the waste coffee grounds from Starbucks and 7/11 concessions in the country to combine in the extrusion process. A full jacket insulation system is made from around 12 PET bottles and the grounds from three cups of coffee.


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