Coffee has gone through a lot of changes in the past few decades—and so has instant coffee. If you’ve been around long enough, you probably remember the days when a jar of instant crystals was a pantry staple. For some time, these just-add-water products had lost favor with coffee lovers—probably for reasons of good taste. But thanks to the relentless curiosity and innovation of today's coffee professionals, instant has seen a renaissance. Chasing the idea that great coffee can be quick, easy, and enjoyed anywhere, some have leaned into the trend, and even seen it survive a global pandemic. Juno Coffee is one young coffee company that's joined them.
In early 2020, Nick McPherson and Matthew Brosinski started Juno Coffee. The outdoorsy baristas met in 2019 at the Specialty Coffee Association convention in Boston and hit it off. Some months later they reconnected at a coffee festival in New York City. When the two new friends went on a sport climbing trip near Lake Tahoe, they had a revelation: “We thought it would be awesome to have some good coffee while at this beautiful place, but we didn’t want to take the time away from climbing to craft it,” says Brosinski. Though Brosinski was known for bringing his camping stove and AeroPress on hiking and climbing trips, he admits the impracticality, “Extra weight, wasted space, wasted time,” he laments. The duo began to dream of their own specialty instant coffee—a way to have amazing coffee outdoors without taking time away from what they were really there to do.
Starting a company with a staff of two was daunting, especially after working full-time at their day jobs. Each shot of espresso was pulled by hand, and each sachet of coffee sealed individually. The multicolored boxes were even spray-painted by the duo—every box a unique rainbow-camouflage. In those first months, the Richmond, VA coffee community helped Juno get its legs. Oftentimes, friends volunteered to help pull shots, package products, or just sit and chat through the repetitive work. Local roaster Blanchards Coffee Roasters even let them set up in-shop. “Richmond might be the most supportive and understated coffee city in America,” says McPherson.
The end result is a product that has gotten positive feedback from their coffee peers. Some have shared their plans of bringing it along on buying trips or to competitions. “We’ve heard a lot of people saying that at competitive coffee events there is shockingly little coffee available to drink. Every bean is reserved for someone’s routine,” Brosinski noted.
The goal for Juno isn’t to replace brewed coffee or espresso, but to provide a quick alternative. Perhaps more importantly, it’s easy and accessible to people outside of the coffee trade, too. McPherson explains that coffee professionals ask a lot of customers. Buying a bag of quality beans can only get you so far. There are many variables in making coffee, and a lot can go wrong. Juno hopes to make an instant product as close to the coffee at a cafe as possible. “If you had a glass of wine at a bar, then bought the bottle, “you’d expect things to taste the same,” says McPherson. “We want to make that possible for coffee.”
As 2020 rolled on, things changed for most everyone, and Juno Coffee was no exception. Brosinski leaned more into his coffee day job, where all hands were needed on deck to weather the pandemic. McPherson drifted back to his home in California and set up shop there. The two remain best buddies, and Juno Coffee keeps cranking out the product. McPherson has started roasting whole bean coffee and expanded the business into private labeling instant coffee for other roasters as well. It’s been a bumpy ride for the brand in an unpredictable year, but McPherson remains undaunted. “All in all, I know I'm young, the company's young, and there's plenty of adventure to come,” he says.
And how does it taste? A twelve ounce mix of Juno Coffee and hot water is reminiscent of an Americano—opening up and revealing itself as it cools. The result is a slightly sweet and chocolatey cup with a floral aroma and honey-like sweetness. Most impressive is what you don’t taste. This palate didn’t pick up the slightly astringent old-coffee-flavor that is often hiding in an instant. I don’t see it taking over my daily cup of fresh-brewed coffee anytime soon, but once traveling becomes an option again, it might make a perfect companion. Having a good cup of coffee on hand anytime, anywhere, might just, as Juno's tagline says, help you “Stay Rad” when you need it the most.
Eric Tessier is a freelance journalist based in Providence, RI. Read more Eric Tessier on Sprudge.