The best developer is the one you have with you.

Hey  JCH readers, As we all share the love of film, and I know that some of you develop their films at home, you might have heard about a phenomenon called caffenol. But what is caffenol?

Caffenol is a B&W developer that is made out of household ingredients that can be bought in a drugstore and/or supermarket.:

  • Instant Coffee
  • Washing Soda
  • Vitamin C

I guess it is the only environmental safe developer that is easy to get and that rivals other commercial B&W developers. It is quite cheap as well.

The origins of caffenol are not quite clear, but it is said that it was used/(invented?) during WWII as supplies of photographic chemicals where short. Reinhold G. then found out that it might got reinvented in the Technical Photography 1995 Class lead by Dr. Scott A. Williams Ph.D. at the R.I.T.

I jumped into caffenol in 2009 and it was an inspiring moment when I developed my first film in the kitchen using a Rondinax Daylight Development Tank. Having no scanner, I built myself a slide copier out of cardboard, black tape and a 50mm Lens with some Macro rings. My first ever ‘scanned’ picture of a caffenol negative:

Caffenol is my way to disconnect from the digital world, if I ever need to. It is always around me. When we go shopping, I look for instant coffee and washing soda. I have built a blog about caffenol and share recipes, techniques and pictures.

Caffenol has also created a great community with great people that share their love for film and coffee. If you are currently self developing film at home, you should definitely try out caffenol. Almost every film will work in caffenol, even C41 and E6 film (It will be developed as B&W, of course). For your first tests, teaspoon measuring should be fine, but if you want to be more serious, buy yourself a small digital scale for about $20 on amazon. What else do you need? The recipe! You can try out my own recipe , called Caffenol-Delta if you like: It makes 350ml of stock:

  • I mix Coffee and Soda seperate, as it makes it easier to see if the Soda is completely dispersed.
  • 150ml Water, 6 rounded Teaspoons Instant Coffee (15 grams)
  • 200ml Water, 4 leveled Teaspoons Washing Soda (8 grams)
  • Mix all together, add 1 Teaspoon of Vitamin C (7 grams)

Another very successful recipe is Caffenol-C-M from

  • 1000ml Water
  • 54g washing soda
  • 16g Vitamin-C
  • 40g Instant Coffee
  • 15 minutes as a starting point. For low to medium speed film up to 100 ASA. Speed enhancing, use push 1 or 2 as starting point.

Many would say it is quite contrary and it doesn’t make sense to shoot the finest film in a Leica with the best glas and then develop it in the cheapest, stomach burning instant coffee. But this is not the case. I shoot Agfa Copex Rapid in a Leica M7 and develop it in caffenol. The results always make me speechless:  

I have given up ‘normal’ developers since. Just for paper prints I still mostly use Rollei RPR, but when the bottles are finished, I will for sure switch to caffenol for paper prints as well.

Caffenol gives a lot of room for experiments. And as it is a very compensating developer, it is great for expired or very long time ago exposed films. People come up with new recipes, replace coffee by tea, wine, coca cola and whatnot. Caffenol is great for Kodachrome K40 and all sorts of other type of films.

So if the caffenol bug has bitten you now, I suggest you a good read on and

I also have a facebook group about caffenol, you are all invited to join and share all your experiences with caffenol.

Thanks for reading!

Your Caffenol-Barista,

Dirk Essl


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