For many, the phrase “beanless coffee” is a nightmare to avoid at all costs.
But come next year, you could be brewing it.
Backed by the people who gave us the Impossible Burger, a U.S. start-up says it has invented the world’s first synthetic coffee in a lab. And thanks to a multi-million dollar seed investment, the public can expect their first sip as early as 2020.
Seattle-based Atomo received USD $2.6 million from venture capital firm Horizon Ventures, which has also backed Impossible Foods and Spotify.
“The coffee industry is ripe for innovation and change,” Atomo co-founder and food scientist Jarret Stopforth said in a statement. “The acceptance of agriculture alternatives has been proven with meatless meats and dairy-free milks, we want to continue that movement in a category we feel passionate about, coffee.”
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The industry promises a sustainable solution to the environmental impact of traditional production.
A major part of Atomo’s marketing appeals to those concerned about the damage harvesting coffee has caused our natural habitats.
The coffee trade is rife with mass deforestation and water pollution, making it a major contributor to climate change. A majority of coffee plants are grown in direct sunlight to meet demand, which spells disaster for local wildlife.
What the brew tastes like
There’s no word yet on what goes in the company’s artificial joe, except that it’s the result of reverse engineering molecules in coffee beans using “natural ingredients.”
Whatever those are, its website says drinkers can expect flavour similar to a single-source coffee from Costa Rica with “roasted almond, toffee notes.” The grind will be vegan and kosher-approved too.
Beanless coffee: improvement or abomination?
An alleged perk to “hacking” the bean is improved taste. Hate coffee’s bitterness? Stopforth told NPR they can delete the compound responsible for that in the molecule.
Based on online response, people are divided on the drink. Some java aficionados are understandably appalled at this twist to their daily grind.
Others are more open-minded to a beanless future.
These harmful practices have come full circle; thanks to climate change, over half of the world’s coffee species is going extinct. On top of all this, there’s a human cost to your daily habit too, as worker exploitation and undervaluing producer countries are big problems in the industry.
Beanless coffee may not be the answer to all of these issues, but it might show a growing trend of consumers changing habits to combat climate change.
“The acceptance of agriculture alternatives has been proven with meatless meats and dairy-free milks, we want to continue that movement in a category we feel passionate about, coffee.”
An international Nielsen survey found that more than 80 per cent of consumers want companies to be eco-friendly. Atomo itself says it comes it isn’t looking to replace the trade entirely, instead hoping to offset the environmental hazards.
“We expect coffee growers to continue to grow coffee in established plantations, but we’d prefer they didn’t continue deforestation to plant new crops,” its website reads.
When it comes to problematic business practices that affect workers, people online are rightfully pointing out that the size of the bean-free coffee market probably won’t be having a an effect on the industry at-large.
Others have worries about what the lab-grown trend could mean for the affordability of basic needs.
Although it might not be the drink of choice for everybody, lab-grown coffee is bound to turn heads in Canada, where the beverage is so beloved, we might be drinking it more than tap water. Our obsession even contends with the Europeans; we’re the only nation on World Atlas’ list of top 10 coffee-consuming countries from outside of Europe.
If you can’t wait for the future, beanless coffee can still be in your grasp. Coffee alternatives already on the market are usually made with plants like chicory and dandelion.
Word of warning: when it comes to mouthfeel for these imitation brews, your mileage may vary.
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