‘Future of coffee’ arrives with release of Seattle’s Atomo, a first-of-its-kind molecular cold brew

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An 8-ounce can of Atomo Coffee from Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The “future of coffee” has arrived — at least for the 1,000 or so people who will get a chance to buy some cold brew from Atomo Coffee, the Seattle-based makers of a more sustainable blend that doesn’t use coffee beans.

Atomo is hosting an e-commerce pop-up sale on its website today, marking the first time that the public can purchase product from the 3-year-old startup.

Atomo has been promising to “hack the coffee bean” since launching with a Kickstarter project back in February 2019. On Monday, co-founder and CEO Andy Kleitsch gave GeekWire a quick, virtual walking tour of the roasting factory the company has been building out for a year, just six blocks from the headquarters of coffee giant Starbucks.

“Looks just like coffee, smells like coffee,” Kleitsch said as he showed off the facility. “Our intellectual property happens in this tank right here.”

Inside the Atomo Coffee roastery on Airport Way South near Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. (Atomo Photo)

Atomo has been perfecting and scaling the reverse engineering of the coffee bean, removing it from the process of making coffee and substituting it with a molecular concoction derived from naturally sustainable, upcycled plant waste ingredients which were previously kept secret.

But the ingredients are now printed on the side of the cans it will start shipping to customers and read like so: “Brewed Atomo Coffee (water, extracts of date seed, chicory root, grape skin) inulin, natural flavors, caffeine.”

The 8-ounce cans of “molecular cold brew” will come in two flavors — Classic and Ultra Smooth — and deliver 84 mg of caffeine like any normal cup.

GeekWire popped open two cans in a taste test, and both had a distinct and surprising coffee taste for something made without a coffee bean. I usually do a splash of cream in my morning coffee, so I preferred the Ultra Smooth because it removes a bit of the bitterness that you get in the Classic.

“Think of non-coffee drinkers drinking coffee,” said Jarret Stopforth, Atomo’s co-founder and chief scientist. “We’d give them Ultra Smooth. Wouldn’t have to add sugar or cream, just drink it. It’s perceived as sweeter because the bitterness and the acidity are gone, even though there’s no sweeteners at all.”

Stopforth said the formula will evolve as Atomo explores ingredients that increase the ability to produce at volume. And Atomo says latte and mocha flavors are coming down the line.

Atomo’s brew is vegan and gluten free and boasts its sustainability credentials on the side of the can — 94% less water and 93% less carbon emissions than conventional coffee, and 98% upcycled ingredients. The startup’s origin and mission has been rooted in finding a way to replicate the taste of coffee without replicating the environmentally destructive process of coffee farming.

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 unique new coffees.

“We really hope everyone who’s been waiting for this has a chance to buy it, but we’ll probably run out before everyone has a chance,” Kleitsch said.

Atomo co-founders Andy Kleitsch, left, and Jarret Stopforth. (Atomo Photo)

It’s been a lot of work to get to this point. The 12,000-square-foot roastery was an empty shell of a building a year ago.

“A large part of our last year has been taking what we built in our laboratory and scaling it to work in a production environment,” Kleitsch said. “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 so that it would work here and then to perfect it.”

Launching a brand and building an e-commerce platform was also a process. Today, Atomo will be selling 8,000 cans to 1,000 customers who can grab two 4-packs 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 right now, so very select releases will be plan for the rest of the year, with another online pop-up 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 changing corporate campus coffee to Atomo could be a way to do that.

Retail channels and a subscription service could come 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 employs 25 people now. Kleitsch said the conviction around why they started the company has only intensified over the three years, as he cites constant reports about how coffee is in trouble.

“It’s really a necessity for the planet to find an alternative way to satisfy the demand for coffee and something that’s more sustainable,” Kleitsch said. “It is crazy to think that we started this journey three years ago in a garage, and here we are with a factory, actually producing coffee and getting it into the hands of consumers.”

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