How I made alternative film developers from peppermint and green tea extract

Sep 10, 2019

Daniel Keating

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How I made alternative film developers from peppermint and green tea extract

Sep 10, 2019

Daniel Keating

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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By now most everyone dabbling in analog photography has seen articles on the use of “Caffenol”, “Beerinol”, “Redwineol” where people have developed film in mixtures of coffee, beer, red wine. While these can be fun experiments with show-able results they are somewhat pricey developers. Aside from the coffee-beer-wine you also need fairly consumptive amounts of sodium carbonate (wash soda) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to make it work. We are going to pare that down a bit.

I habituate a Facebook group called “The Darkroom” and try to be helpful. Some of my fellow denizens are not so helpful and are , for the lack of a better term, trolls. They issue blanket statements to just forget about things like Caffenol and to throw out old expired film and that stand processing is a fad. Everything was a new-fangled idea at any point in time. Metol was the new kid on the block in the 1880’s. Rodinal? A pre-made juice that you just dilute with water? Revolutionary! Surely a passing fad….ahem. Needless to say I grew weary of the nay-saying trolls and proceeded to post test shots using expired film and these passing fad developers just to be contrary with results that few could argue with.

First I posted a Caffenol example with film expired 30 years ago.

The thing with Caffenol is that while most people like the smell of coffee, once you add the sodium carbonate (16g of wash soda) it stinks like an old burnt coffee pot that was left on & forgotten. For people complaining about that I then posted this example using 8 red/black tea bags instead of 10 grams of instant coffee.

One of the positive viewers in facebook group was a health conscious person who was curious if he could use some abandoned caffeine tablets that gave him the jitters and rapid heart rate instead of the coffee in the caffenol. I explained to him that it wasn’t the caffeine that did the trick but rather the Phenols in the caffeic acid. “Phenols? What about this stuff?” and he posted a picture of Green tea Fat Burner ECGC supplement capsules. High in Phenols/antioxident etc etc.  I found a bottle of the same stuff locally and used the basic Caffenol recipe but used a 400mg cap of the supplement and the normal 16g of wash soda and 1g ascorbic acid.

Hmm, not too shabby. I did some research on what has a lot of Phenols and Cloves, Peppermint and Green Tea came up on a nutrition site.  Cloves caused a lot of staining in my experiments so that isn’t a film-friendly source of Phenol. Lets see what Peppermint can do.

This was done using 1/4ml of McCormicks Peppermint Extract from the grocery store with the same amount of wash soda and ascorbic acid. It sure smells better than the burnt coffee Caffenol smell.

So now we have 2 more sources of photo-friendly Phenols, but one thing was still bugging me..overall consumption & price. A tiny bottle of peppermint extract was near $4 for an ounce, but at a quarter ml per roll we do see 116 rolls for that price. 90 Caplets of Green Tea EGCG was $16 and then you have to add in all that wash soda. My god, 16grams for ONE roll..? That seems excessive to me and we want a developer that competes with caffenol for quality , at a lower price and putting far less “stuff” down the drain if possible and here is what I came upon.

Rather than capsules and tiny bottles of liquid extract I searched & found POWDERED Green Tea extract AND Peppermint extract. 250G of Green Tea was $27 and peppermint was $14/100g. Now I had to figure out how much (or how little) would do the trick.  One of my favorite formulas is a small footprint Phenidone formula that can also be made with 0.2g metol if you don’t have Phenidone.   I took the basic components and subbed 0.25g of Green Tea Phenol for the 0.2g metol and here is what I had for results. Same 20 min dev time on low speed expired Soviet KH1 film:

Arista 400 film needed 45 minutes

The same formula using the powdered peppermint extract was not quite as active so I made some adjustments in chem quantities and got this:

The formulas are as follows—assuming 300ml single reel 35mm tank:

Keating’s T42 Green Tea Phenol Developer

  • 300ml tap water room temp
  • 4ml 10% solution of sodium hydroxide (lye drain cleaner)
  • 0.7g sodium bicarbonate (common baking soda)
  • 0.5g ascorbic acid (vitamin C powder)
  • 0.25g Green tea Phenol powder

Times will vary with film speed 20 mins to 1 hour semi stand

Keating’s Peppermint Twisted Developer

*Same 300ml assumption

  • 300ml room temp tap water
  •  2g Sodium Metasilicate (this is sold as TSP/90 wall wash for paint prep at hardware stores)
  • 0.7g sodium bicarbonate
  • 1g ascorbic acid
  • 0.25g dried peppermint extract

40mins-1 hour stand—expect more grain with this formula on higher speed films. Use either formula soon after mixing.

Personally, I prefer the Green Tea version but you may want more grit for street photography. These small footprint formulas solve for the following:

  1. Less expensive than caffenol. 250G of green tea is $26 and 0.25g per roll means you can realize 1000 rolls at 2.6 cents per roll. Instant coffee is about 30 cents per roll for Caffenol.
  2. Less consumptive of total weight of chems—far smaller overall footprint or impact on what goes down the drain.
  3. No exposure to metol or sodium sulfite so contact dermatitis is avoided.
  4. Nothing has to come from a chemist.
  5. Image quality looks quite good to me

Here’s the link to Green Tea supplement, and the link to Peppermint Extract powder.

Last sample on peppermint : )

About the Author

Daniel Keating is a photographer from Tucson, Arizona. He is a former technical support rep for Noritsu America Corp (1999-2004). Prior to that, he managed numerous photo labs from 1978-1999. He developed his first roll of film in 1972 as a junior high school student. He collects cameras and still shoots primarily on film. He develops it himself and makes his own color chemicals from scratch. You can see more of Daniel’s work on Flickr.

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15 responses to “How I made alternative film developers from peppermint and green tea extract”

  1. Dan Cannella Avatar
    Dan Cannella

    Development isn’t the problem you can develop with almost anything it’s fixing those negatives to the film that’s the hard part

    1. daniel keating Avatar
      daniel keating

      A few grams of sodium thiosulfate per roll–commonly sold to reduce chlorine in fish ponds. 5 lbs is $10.50 here

      1. Fausto Saporito Avatar
        Fausto Saporito

        How much grams? I’m reading using only sodium thiosulfate with new films doesn’t work very well, nevertheless I would like to try and maintain the chemicals quantities as low as possible. Thanks

        1. daniel keating Avatar
          daniel keating

          10g of sodium thio to 300ml water is ok for older stocks or nonT-grain films. 5 minutes for the first roll, 7min for the 2nd and 10 minutes for the 3rd then toss. Films like tmax add a gram of sodium metabisulfite and fix longer..about 10-15 minutes to clear the film

          1. Fausto Saporito Avatar
            Fausto Saporito

            Thanks a lot!

  2. Victoria Renard Avatar
    Victoria Renard

    I like that this discussion is happening. I’ve been hesitant about building a new dark room because I don’t want to dump harsh chemicals down the drain. I’d like to try this. Thanks.

    1. daniel keating Avatar
      daniel keating

      You’re welcome Victoria. In some parts of the world packaged chemistry is frowned upon. One photographer I know in Columbia pays $60 US for a gallon of D76. In other areas they assume you are a mad bomber or drug lord if you order raw chemistry. Borax is banned in Germany and other countries. Something should be easy to source where anyone lives and not be a pariah

  3. James Kyle Avatar
    James Kyle

    Very good information.
    Well written and presented.
    This article would be good to have in a [PDF] format :-)

  4. James West Avatar
    James West

    Fascinating! Thanks for writing this.

  5. Fausto Saporito Avatar
    Fausto Saporito

    Hi Daniel, this is great! Do you think the Tea formula can be used also with sheet films (4×5 or 8×10)? Are the proportion between the components the same? Thanks!

  6. Fausto Saporito Avatar
    Fausto Saporito

    Hello Daniel,
    a question about development times for the T42, they changes with film speed, for example for a film of 50 ISO how much time do we need? thanks

    1. daniel keating Avatar
      daniel keating

      Hello Fausto,
      From more experimentation times can vary wildly and *some* films–like Ultrafine- don’t perform well. I was sent some Orwo NP7 film from a friend in Belgium. He was looking for a non-toxic dev he could use there. Also, his trials with the film were yielding results with only 25 iso limits using commercail developer mixes with that film.I altered the formula to use twice the amount of green tea polyphenol (0.5g) and twice the ascorbic (1g) and 45 min time and was able to get 800 iso from it –the 800 iso is the cluttered tabletop.Same film with standard formula 30 mins yielded the parking lot shot at 100 iso

      1. Fausto Saporito Avatar
        Fausto Saporito

        Thanks a lot! I’ll try the new formula.

        1. daniel keating Avatar
          daniel keating

          I would reccomend short snip tests–also, the polyphenol content of the green tea matters. I used this from Walmart A friend in scotland got some lesser content tea and had clear film as well

          1. Fausto Saporito Avatar
            Fausto Saporito

            Yes, I tried one version and it was a complete failure, then I read that had almost 60% of polyphenol. Now I found another one that should contain 98% and I hope this will be better. I am not sure if I can find the Walmart product here in Europe, but I’ll try. Thanks for the tip!