The “future of coffee” has arrived, at least for the 1,000 people who will have a chance to buy some cold beer from Atomo Coffee, the Seattle-based makers of a more sustainable blend that doesn’t use coffee beans.
Atomo is hosting an ecommerce pop-up sale on its website today, marking the first time the public can purchase products from the 3-year-old startup.
Atomo has been promising to “hack the coffee bean” since its launch with a Kickstarter project in February 2019. On Monday, co-founder and CEO Andy Kleitsch gave GeekWire a quick, virtual walking tour of the roasting factory that The company has been building for a year just six blocks from the headquarters of the coffee giant Starbucks.
“It looks like coffee, it smells like coffee,” Kleitsch said while showing the facilities. “Our intellectual property happens in this tank right here.”
Atomo has been refining and scaling the reverse engineering of the coffee bean, removing it from the coffee-making process and replacing it with a molecular concoction derived from recycled and naturally sustainable plant waste ingredients that were previously kept secret.
But the ingredients are now printed on the side of the cans that you will start shipping to customers and it reads like this: “Café Atomo brewed (water, date seed extracts, chicory root, grape skin) inulin, natural flavors, caffeine”.
The 8-ounce cans of “Molecular Cold Beer” will come in two flavors, Classic and Ultra Smooth, and will deliver 84 mg of caffeine like any regular mug.
GeekWire opened two cans in a taste test, and both had a different and surprising coffee taste for something made without a coffee bean. I usually make a splash of cream in my morning coffee, so I preferred the Ultra Smooth because it takes a bit of the bitterness you get in the Classic.
“Think non-coffee drinkers who drink coffee,” said Jarret Stopforth, Atomo’s co-founder and chief scientist. “We would give them Ultra Smooth. You wouldn’t have to add sugar or cream, just drink it. It feels sweeter because the bitterness and acidity are gone, even though there are no sweeteners at all.”
Stopforth said the formula will evolve as Atomo explores ingredients that increase the ability to produce in volume. And Atomo says latte and mocha flavors are hitting the line.
Atomo’s infusion is vegan and gluten-free and has its sustainability credentials on the side of the can: 94% less water and 93% less carbon emissions than conventional coffee, and 98% recycled ingredients. The origin and mission of the startup have been based on finding a way to replicate the taste of coffee without replicating the environmentally destructive process of growing coffee.
Fans who have been following the brand and waiting for a day like today are passionate about both the sustainability aspect and the desire to find and try new unique coffees.
“We really hope that everyone who has been waiting for this will have a chance to buy it, but we will probably run out of it before everyone has a chance,” Kleitsch said.
It has been a lot of work getting to this point. The 12,000-square-foot toaster was an empty shell of a building a year ago.
“A big part of our last year has been taking what we built in our lab and scaling it to work in a production environment,” said Kleitsch. “It’s just a lot of effort to build a factory during a pandemic and then it was a lot of effort to scale the formula to make it work here and then refine it.”
Launching a brand and building an e-commerce platform was also a process. Today, Atomo will sell 8,000 cans to 1,000 customers who can take two packs of 4 each. The cans are $ 5.99 each, but today’s sale totals $ 60 plus shipping.
The company can only make 1,000 servings a day at the moment, so very select releases will be planned for the rest of the year, with another pop-up online in November or December. Atomo has some strategic partners in the works, which it calls sustainability partners, because those companies have goals around reducing their carbon footprint and shifting the corporate campus cafe to Atomo could be one way to do that.
Retail channels and a subscription service could arrive next year. Some partners have even asked about possible small Atomo cafes.
“We don’t really run coffee shops, that’s not really our business,” Kleitsch said.
Atomo has raised $ 11.5 million to date and now employs 25 people. Kleitsch said that conviction about why they started the company has only intensified over the three years, as he cites constant reports about how coffee is in problems.
“It is really a necessity for the planet to find an alternative way to meet the demand for coffee and something that is more sustainable,” said Kleitsch. “It’s crazy to think that we started this journey three years ago in a garage, and here we are with a factory, producing coffee and putting it in the hands of consumers.”