• Upcycled Food Association

The Future of Coffee is Molecular

When Cofounders of Atomo!, Andy Kleitsch and Jarret Stopforth, first met for coffee 2 years ago to discuss creating a startup, they had very little idea about the devastation the global coffee industry was facing. All they knew for certain was Jarret was displeased with the inconsistent quality of coffee he was getting from local shops and Andy wanted to create a business that somehow helped the planet.

Andy asked Jarret, “If you could do anything other than what you are doing right now, what would it be?”

“Create coffee without the bean,” Jarret said, almost matter of factly. Little did they know that was the start of something big.

The following January a study was released stating that coffee was in crisis. Climate change was threatening the livelihood of native coffee species; prolonged droughts, increasing temperatures and plant disease were forcing farmers to move uphill to find cooler, more suitable growing regions. The move led to increased deforestation of virgin rainforest, reduced quality of the coffee and viability of the farms. The timing of this study seemed almost serendipitous to Atomo! launching a Kickstarter campaign to announce the prototype of a molecular coffee made without coffee beans. The need for change, couldn’t have been made any more clear.

On a daily basis, the US consumes more than 450 million cups of coffee, which means a lot of coffee beans. Atomo! first began the path to molecular coffee by deconstructing the coffee bean; running green beans, roasted beans and brewed coffee through gas and liquid chromatography to separate and catalog more than 1,000 compounds. These compounds were categorized into what we call the Big 5 components of coffee: aroma, body, color, caffeine and taste. The team then set out to identify what other plants also produce those same compounds and worked on ways to extract and/or replicate those components into a finished cup of coffee. It turns out 1+1 does not always equal coffee. “Coffee is not just the sum of its parts,” says ChiefScientist and Cofounder Jarret Stopforth, “we found out early on, you can’t just mix the flavors and acids and caffeine together in a beaker and get coffee. The reactions that take place between bean and cup is really where the magic of coffee lies and we need to figure out how to make that happen without starting with a coffee bean.”

While analyzing the potential plants and materials to go into molecular coffee, one of the biggest driving factors was how could we make our coffee more sustainable than its conventional counterpart. “ We needed it to be not only great tasting, but better for the planet,” states CEO andCofounder Andy Kleitsch. “ Customers are really shifting their values towards mission driven and environmentally sustainable brands, and we knew from the beginning that we wanted our startup to do good in some way that was impactful.” Atomo! found the answers in upcycling.

In the beginning Atomo! worked with raw waste from plants like sunflower seed husks and watermelon seeds as replacements for grounds. Over the last 2 years Atomo! has analyzed hundreds of raw ingredients, recreating a mixed formula of upcycled seeds, leaves, pits and stems that ultimately became the matrix for molecular coffee. Atomo! partners with local US farmers, upcycling their plant waste into a new value chain for their business. The partnerships allow farmers to increase their profits by utilizing the full plant and reduce the waste generated by their farms as well.

Image Credit: Atomo! Coffee

Once the ingredients were identified, the team at Atomo! really started to work some magic in the lab to convert these plant parts into molecular coffee. Through a patent pending process the compounds in pits and leaves can be converted into the same compounds found in green coffee beans. They are then roasted, ground and brewed, just like conventional coffee. Through upcycling Atomo! produces 75% less carbon than conventional coffee, as well as uses 95% less water to process the raw materials and brew. Atomo! plans to release a series of cold brew ready to drink molecular coffees in 2021, with grounds for hot coffee to follow.

Author Bio: Cara LeDuc

Cara is the Director of Marketing at Atomo Coffee, having joined the team in the early days in the garage. She is passionate about building engaging and mission minded brands, especially focused on sustainability. A PNW native, Cara graduated from University of Washington with a Masters in Entrepreneurship and is active in the outdoors, spending most of her summers hiking with her 2 dogs. You can follow her @caramleduc and get in touch


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