Courtesy of Atomo
Before Stopforth Hock takes his first sip of coffee, he adds cream and sugar to mask the bitterness.
But then, he thought, why settle for a cup of Joe? The scientist specialized in food has decided to reorganize the coffee by brewing without bitterness – or beans. "I started thinking that we needed to be able to break down coffee into its essential components and see how to optimize it," he explains.
Stopforth, who has collaborated with other food brands such as Chobani, Kettle & Fire and Soylent, has teamed up with entrepreneur Andy Kleitsch to launch Atomo. The two men transformed a Seattle garage into an infusion lab and spent four months growing green beans, grilled beans, and gas-liquid chromatography-infused coffee to separate and catalog more than 1,000 compounds in coffee to create a product of the same color, flavor and mouthfeel like coffee.
"As we moved through the process, we knew more about the threats to the coffee world – the threats to the environment resulting from deforestation, global warming and global warming. [a devastating fungus called] rust, and we were even more determined to make an excellent coffee that is still good for the environment, "says Stopforth.
The future of coffee is uncertain. According to a report by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, the area of land suitable for growing coffee is expected to decline by about 50% by 2050.
A concept steeped in history
Atomo will not disclose exactly how its grain-free coffee is made, but the company says it's a mixture of dozens of compounds found in foods, such as antioxidants, flavonoids and coffee acids. Atomo adds caffeine to his mix.
Atomo, which is expected to launch its first products in 2020, is not the first to brew coffee without beans. Other startups have created the popular drink with foods ranging from mushrooms to acorns, but have not been successful in gaining market share.
But chicory is proof that coffee without grains can make its way. Made from the roasted ground root of its plant of the same name, chicory dates back to the 1800s, when the coffee shortage forced people to look for substitutes. It has since become a staple in New Orleans.
Courtesy of Atomo
"When the coffee import became limited, we turned to chicory, which basically consists of roasted pieces of wood." We never would have dreamed of going out deliberately to make the experience. 39, a coffee that was not really made of coffee, but it worked, "says Christopher Hendon. an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon who studies the properties of coffee. "We have the immense power to recreate the flavors of a product such as coffee at an almost indistinguishable level."
To obtain the right ratios, it was necessary to drink (and spit) several substandard preparations, and just when Stopforth and Kleitsch began to wonder if their scientific experiment was possible, something happened.
"One of the first prototypes we created in Jarret's garage contained no chlorogenic acid, the compound that contributes to the bitterness of coffee," recalls Kleitsch. "We gave this cup of coffee to Jarret's wife and she said," That's the taste of coffee. "It had the flavor and aroma of coffee without this bitterness."
A tasting test at the University of Washington, where Kleitsch sits on the board of directors of the entrepreneurship program, has given rise to rave reviews for Atomo. Graduate student Taylor Moore tried the coffee and said, "I love my coffee with cream and sugar, but I've tried it and thought: I could drink this black, which would be new to me. It was really delicious.
Create a market for alternative coffee
Taste testing was just one of the methods used by Stopforth and Kleitsch to assess demand. Their Kickstarter campaign, which raised just over $ 25,000, helped the startup pre-sell its product and attract investors' attention. Atomo has just completed its first round of financing (the total investment has not been published), but the team is convinced that its beanless coffee, still in development, will still be on the market in 2020.
"We wanted to keep the ritual component of coffee, namely waking up in the morning and putting the earth in the coffee maker, and we wanted to replicate this scoop for scoop," says Kleitsch. They also maintained the caffeine content.
Despite the fact that Atomo manufactures its products without coffee beans, it can still be called coffee because the US Food and Drug Administration has no "standard of identity" or official definition of coffee.
"We will be very clear about the fact that our coffee does not come from a bean.In fact, we will be very proud to say it, and the labeling will be true, so we do not deceive the But because there is no official regulatory definition, we can still call it coffee, "says Stopforth.
Hendon has sipped innumerable cups of coffee in the name of research and is eager to taste Atomo when it arrives on the market. Even if it is a good cup of coffee, he suspects consumers to be skeptical. But he adds: "I sincerely hope that the product is excellent and that they can find a way to navigate the difficult space of selling a mixture of compounds that is perceived as similar to that The chemistry of all this is certainly interesting. "
Jodi Helmer is a reporter and beekeeper from North Carolina who writes regularly on food and agriculture.