Prefer | Combating Climate Change With Bean-Free Coffee

Prefer | The First Bean-Free Coffee in SIngapore
Prefer | The First Bean-Free Coffee in SIngapore

When you think about sustainability and climate change, does coffee come to mind?

I believe the answer is a “yes” for some people, but if it’s not the case for you, well, coffee doesn’t pollute but coffee farming certainly generates issues like deforestation, high carbon and water footprints, etc.

Amidst these and other concerns of climate change in today’s booming coffee industry, two food tech innovators and sustainability advocates have come together to launch Prefer, a sustainable bioflavours start-up. Leveraging fermentation technology, the company is set to launch Asia and Singapore’s first-and-only bean-free coffee that repurposes food by-products into delicious and eco-friendly cups of coffee.

That’s right. “Bean-free,” as in there’s literally no coffee bean involved. Prefer’s coffee is made by fermenting food by-products like bread and soybean pulp (okara).

By removing the plant that generates sustainability issues, Prefer’s product aims to combat climate change and protect Mother Earth one cuppa at a time.

Prefer Bean-Free Oat Lattes
Prefer Bean-Free Oat Lattes.

Wait a Minute. What Is Bean-Free Coffee Again?

During the research process, the founders of Prefer, food scientist Tan Ding Jie and former neuroscientist Jake Berber discovered that bread, soy, and barley possess flavour molecules similar to those present in coffee.

Noting that the procurement of raw ingredients will always add to operational costs and carbon emission, Prefer then upcycles food manufacturing by-products sourced from local companies, namely:

  1. Day-old bread from Gardenia
  2. Okara or soybean pulp from Mr Bean – a soya bean franchise
  3. Spent barley grains from local breweries such as The 1925 Brewing Co. and Brewerkz

Once gathered, the three ingredients are:

  1. Blended in a secret ratio then fermented
  2. Roasted in an oven to bring forth aroma and flavour
  3. Ground till preferred fineness

Prefer’s innovative process takes just about 48 hours to complete, a huge, HUGE difference compared to annual harvests and an average of five years for newly planted trees to bear fruit. Prefer’s grounds, by the way, are also caffeine-free; with the upside being the ability to add caffeine derived from tea and adjust levels as preferred.

Fermentation moreover enables Prefer to potentially create flavours that can replicate coffee profiles sourced from far-away lands such as Ethiopia and Columbia within the same facility. This, in turn, eliminates import mark-ups, allowing Prefer to keep costs low for businesses.

Prefer Coffee Founders | Jake Berber and Tan Ding Jie
Jake Berber and Tan Ding Jie.

A Breakthrough That Began With Shared Goals

Prefer was founded in late 2022 by Ding Jie (Chief Technology Officer) and Jake (Chief Executive Officer). The duo first met at an Entrepreneur First programme that connects individuals with co-founders, an encounter that sparked a mutual desire to create sustainable solutions through food.

Tapping on Ding Jie’s expertise in the field and personal passions that saw him innovating products for Jigger & Pony Group and Labyrinth via Starter Culture, as well as Jake’s experience in the investment sector gained at food and med tech companies, the pair quickly aligned that fermentation biotechnology would be their leverage from the onset.

The dynamic coffee duo then homed in on creating a sustainable coffee variant. Several nearby countries have seen steady growth in coffee consumption in recent years, and the consensus is that coffee is a high carbon footprint commodity that generates an estimated 29 kg of CO2 per 1 kg.

Estimates also show that by 2050, climate change, if left unaddressed, will likely reduce 50 percent of arable and suitable farmlands currently used for coffee production. This, in turn, could lead to supply shocks from extreme weather phenomena, and an increase in demand due to a sustained increase in affluent, coffee-appreciating demographics globally.

Well-acquainted with these trends, the pair deduced that creating coffee variants through fermentation could address supply and rising cost issues while limiting emissions. Identifying coffee as their first problem crop, they then founded Prefer, a venture with the objective of creating flavours that are affordable, sustainable, and can be modified based on one’s preference.

Said Jake Berber, Chief Executive Officer of Prefer, “Our mission is to create coffee variants that are delicious, affordable, and sustainable in the long run. Today, we start as a climate-friendly option on the menu. But as coffee farmlands diminish and prices continue to rise in the future while our production remains scalable to meet demand, we believe Prefer will be the next generation of the commodity we know as coffee.”

Prefer is currently supported by accredited organisations including Entrepreneur First, A*STAR, and Enterprise Singapore.

The Preferred Future

Envisioned to venture beyond coffee, Ding Jie and Jake seek to eventually address other problem crops threatened by climate change such as cacao, vanilla, and citrus, all by utilising fermentation technology – all with the hope of creating an alternative source for flavours without the need to rely on traditional harvesting.

“Fermentation is as old as human civilization and has been historically used to craft flavours, preserve ingredients, and enhance nutrition content in foods. Through Prefer, we want to further its conventional use by leveraging cutting-edge science to create a line of sustainable flavours that’s accessible to everyone while conserving the environment,” says Tan Ding Jie, Chief Technology Officer of Prefer.

Prefer coffee comes with crema, making them suitable for latte art.

How and Where to Enjoy Prefer Coffee

Prefer’s coffee can be ground fine for espresso or medium coarse for drip brewing. On the nose, drinkers can easily pick up a malty and nutty aroma reminiscent of dark roasted coffee.

In its current iteration, the coffee is best enjoyed in the form of a cappuccino or latte, too, – be it with dairy or plant-based milks. When sipped, flavours of cereal and hazelnut come through with an earthy bitterness and mellowed acidity.

For baristas, Prefer is calibrated to mirror coffee down to its finer details. The extraction process requires no extra steps and takes the same amount of time when brewed using a coffee machine. Baristas and coffee drinkers will also appreciate the presence of crema that allows for latte art. The extracted coffee can furthermore be easily incorporated into drinks that call for coffee flavours such as the classic Espresso Martini.

Prefer’s bean-free coffee is available for sips at cafes including Dough, Brash Boys, First Story Cafe, Foreword Coffee Roasters, SaladStop, and Parched by Parchmen, with tasting slots open for business enquiries via

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Prefer | Combating Climate Change With Bean-Free Coffee
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Prefer | Combating Climate Change With Bean-Free Coffee
Introducing Prefer: A bean-free coffee revolution to combat climate change and achieve sustainability one cuppa at a time.

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