This startup wants you to like coffee-free coffee

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have convinced customers to try cow-free burgers. Atomo Coffee aspires to do the same thing with coffee.

The startup, which launched in 2019 and offered a limited public release in September, produces a canned cold brew that tastes like coffee and provides an energy boost — but it is not made with coffee beans. Rather than that, the brand mimics traditional coffee with a blend of date seeds, chicory root, and grape skin, as well as caffeine.

According to the company, the majority of these ingredients are upcycled, which means that they would likely be thrown away if not used by Atomo. Typically, date seeds, or pits, are “scattered in the field,” according to Atomo CEO Andy Kleitsch. “We provide them with a second chance at life.”

However, this is not the company’s only environmentally friendly selling point. Atomo calculated its own carbon footprint using a service called Carbon Cloud and compared it to research on coffee’s environmental impact to see how its process stacks up, Kleitsch said. Atomo’s product, the study concluded, consumes 94% less water and generates 93% fewer carbon emissions than conventional cold brew coffee.

Atomo’s pitch is similar to that of recent plant-based meat alternatives: Producing the incumbent product — animal protein in the case of Impossible and Beyond, and coffee in the case of Atomo — is detrimental to the environment. This alternative, according to Atomo, is superior.

The business is still in its infancy. According to Kleitsch, the company operates a factory in Seattle that can produce 1,000 servings per day. Eventually, the startup hopes to expand its product offering to include instant coffee and grounds. It intends to enter the retail market next year.

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