If you thought eggless eggs were a bonkers concept, then hold on to your hens… Because beanless coffee is officially here. But what is coffee without beans you say? In the words of co-founders Andy Kleitsch and Jarret Stopforth of Atomo Coffee, the morning staple is more than a bean; rather, they believe “coffee is an experience… a ritual.”
Okay, fair… but why replicate something that already exists? For a better-tasting brew that is more sustainable than the real thing, according to Kleitsch. Inspired by brands like molecular whiskey company Endless West and Bill Gates-backed Impossible Foods, Seattle-based Atomo Coffee maps coffee’s molecular makeup and recreates it from the chemical level: identifying the components in the beverage, pinpointing which ones make coffee great, and rebuilding it anew into a delivery format that is familiar to caffeinated consumers.
Tasting the Future
Both avowed coffee lovers, the founders say their goal is to create a coffee without “the dreaded bitterness” (I should note: it is entirely possible to craft a traditional coffee without “the dreaded bitterness” through quality-focused sourcing and roasting practices). During their reverse-engineering process, the Atomo team worked to replicate a standard cup of coffee, right down to the taste, aroma, and mouthfeel of a classic cuppa’ joe (all with natural ingredients, none of which happen to be coffee beans). While they’re currently working mainly with liquid prototypes, their plan is to create something reminiscent of coffee grounds so that the ritual of making coffee remains the same. With sustainability also at its core, the company wants to breathe life into something that would otherwise end up as a waste product to make the grounds. Current front-runners? Sunflower seed husks or watermelon seeds.
To-Bean or Not To-Bean
Upcycling isn’t Atomo’s only prong of sustainability. Coffee consumption continues to rise and, according to a report by Conservation International, coffee growers may have to triple their production by 2050 to meet demand. Simultaneously, climate change is making it harder and harder to grow coffee beans, as is deforestation. In January, the American Association for the Advancement of Science published a report estimating that 60% of wild coffee species are under threat of extinction (including the oh-so-adored Arabica). Pair that with oft-used greenhouse-gas inducing pesticides and you can see why their Kickstarter only took 4 days to hit its funding goal. Whether Atomo’s version is actually better for the planet than traditional coffee will depend on where they source their copycat-compounds (which they’ve yet to release since they haven’t settled on a final brew), but there is certainly promise.
Who knows if it will be enough to satisfy coffee aficionados, but for the average Joe (ha), Atomo’s “molecular coffee” could be perfect for a pleasant-tasting jolt of caffeine. Of course, we’ll have to taste it for ourselves and report back when it’s released later this year. But in the meantime, if you’re in search of other coffee-alternatives, there’s always the traditional Italian caffè d’orzo, or other innovators like Four Sigmatic and Guayakí.
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