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How To Brew Breakfast In A Bottle While Also Cutting Down Food Waste With TOASTea Lager

by Bill McCool on 06/29/2022 | 5 Minute Read

In Taiwan, most people eat out for breakfast, partly because it’s so inexpensive. Street food is generally the norm, and for 25-30 NTD (the near-equivalent of a single US dollar), you can get something filling and on the go. Typically, that means an egg sandwich on toast washed down with a black tea, making for an exciting $2 combo meal.

But with such a popular breakfast staple, there’s also a great deal of food waste that goes along with it, and that wasn't lost on Ugly Half Beer. In plenty of shops where you’ll find these sandwiches, you'll also see lots of crusts just piled up. “There's a local breakfast shop nearby our brewery. Every employee always comes in with their breakfast from there. But basically, the breakfast shops are everywhere,” says Tsan Yu Yin, an independent designer and former head of creative at Ugly Half. “Because it’s so cheap, people take it for granted.”

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“You see the pile of crusts just left over, and you think, how would I use that?” he asks. “Of course, they're gonna just throw it away.”

The result? TOASTea Lager is one of Ugly Half’s most popular beers in their eclectic lineup. Released last summer, the black tea-infused lager incorporates those unused crusts into a heady brew they call “breakfast in a bottle.” It’s also Dieline’s 2022 Design For Good winner, a prize awarded to the best packaging project that emphasizes positivity, kindness, and giving back, inspiring designers to work for the greater good.

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Tsan remembered that years ago while traveling in London, he came across Toast Ale, a beer made with unused loaves and crusts sourced from bakeries and sandwich makers that would otherwise go to waste. And it came to him—why not create a Taiwanese version of the do-gooder beer? He reached out to the makers of Toast Ale to see if they would collaborate on a similar brew. Unfortunately, it was still the height of COVID, but they encouraged Tsan and the brewery to create their own beer—it didn’t have to be a shared recipe.

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“It’s pretty basic, right?” ask Tsan. “Just replace certain amounts of malt with bread.” 

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But the brewmasters didn’t want to make a carbon copy of Toast Ale—they wanted to produce a beer that could stand on its own. And that was when the idea of creating “breakfast in a bottle” took shape. It needed to be something cozy and warm—but something that also was distinctly local and unique to Taiwan.

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Examples of oil-proof sandwich wrappers in Taiwan.

In keeping with the theme of going all-in on breakfast, they wanted to incorporate something just as ubiquitous as the sandwiches, the oil-proof wrappers used to package them up. You’ll find silly illustrations on most of the sandwich baggies, with a lot of the same characters making an appearance. But you won't just find it at your favorite breakfast haunt; you’ll see it carrying everything from fried chicken to peanuts—it’s a small but deeply ingrained part of Taiwan’s food culture. 

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From what Tsan gathered, there was no copyright on those images from the wrappers. “Why don’t we just redo that and go for a nostalgic vibe?” Tsan thought

They soon contacted illustrator Hai-Hsin Huang, and they got lucky because while she works in New York City, she had to come home to her native Taiwan during COVID. For Tsan, she was the perfect fit—a little funky and zany, but she had all of the qualities they needed to create their own set of memorable, quirky sandwich bag heroes. You have a pair of women noshing on breakfast sammies at the club (as it’s not uncommon for clubbers to dance all night and grab a sandwich in the morning), the “auntie” carrying an armload of sandwiches, and a third that’s modeled after Taiwan’s first transgender cabinet official, Audrey Tang. Separate the labels from the beers and slap them on some sandwich wrappers, and you might be none the wiser—they perfectly fit within the takeout, breakfast aesthetic they wanted to envision. What’s more, they used Tyvek to make the label, that way, it would feel like the sandwich bag itself.

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They also expanded the idea of using food waste in the secondary packaging, combining leftover malt with the plastic waste they collected for a series of tote bags. And, yes, the bags do smell like toast.

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Of course, Ugly Half’s TOASTea is emblematic of Taiwan’s prioritizing of repurposing waste, upcycling what was once considered trash, and giving it new life. For a country once hailed as “garbage island,” they swiftly turned it around, emphasizing recycling and zero-waste programs. In 1993 the country only disposed of just 70% of its total waste, with virtually no recycling to speak of. Now, they have one of the best recycling programs in the world, collecting somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of the island’strash and 73% of its plastic—compare that to the paltry 5% of plastics collected in the US, and you have a model of responsible citizenry that demands getting exported stateside. It’s a mindset now deeply ingrained in the populace (and those yellow trash trucks blasting classical music likely help quite a bit, too).

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“We're not trying to create something that's phenomenal,” says Tsan. “We’re just a small brewery. But we wanted to create a product that can trigger or invoke the concept of food waste.” 

“We can always do better,” he adds.

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Images courtesy of Ugly Half Beer.

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