What's the best instant coffee you've ever had? For Finnish barista champion and entrepreneur Kalle Freese, 24, he hopes that's an unanswerable question—all instant coffee is dreck, the thinking goes, and so why even bother? But with the help of some Silicon Valley A-listers, Kalle Freese is building a company in San Francisco set to—dare we say it?—disrupt the global instant coffee market by offering, for the first time ever, a premium instant coffee product.
It's called Sudden Coffee, and the formula is simple: brew coffee to a proper extraction rate, then freeze dry it. Use good coffee in the first place, and don't cut corners in pursuit of a lower price. According to Freese, most instant coffee currently on the market is made from “the shittiest, crappiest, and cheapest coffee”. Instant coffee makers then “brew it badly, up to 60% extraction sometimes, to get as much coffee as cheaply as possible.” Not so with Sudden.
For Sudden, all coffee is brewed first as espresso using a La Marzocco Linea. Shots are cooled down, then freeze dried, although “what happens between brewing and freeze drying is our proprietary process,” Freese tells Sprudge. Once dried, Sudden is packed by hand into plastic tubes with enough coffee to brew around 8 ounces. Each tube currently retails for $6, though Freese hopes to lower the price once the brand is further along. “It's of a Kickstarter in public mode,” he tells us. “I'm getting a lot of shit about it…but that's a price that allows us to improve.”
So how do you brew it? Simply add water—hot or cold. Two grams of coffee per 100 grams of water is the recommended dose; the product disintegrates a bit better in hot water, and yields more of an aroma, but it'll mix in just fine with water, mix, or pretty much anything else you can think of. “One of my big dreams is that this will kill cold brew,” Freese told Sprudge.
A former barista in Helsinki and competitor on the World Barista Championship stage, Freese closed his own eponymous shop there in 2015. “Running a shop is so much work,” he says, “and I was making a little bit of money but not enough for it to be valuable on its own. I had bigger plans.” Those plans included a move to San Francisco, where Freese's plan for a premium quality instant coffee project has found eager backing. A half million dollars in seed funding came through in November, and some notable Silicon Valley names are attached to the project, according to Freese, including Jyri Engeström (founder of Jaiku), Caterina Fake (co-founder at Flickr), and Joshua Zloof, who came aboard after the project launched as a co-founder and has worked previously for Groupon.
The project has incubated over the last several months in the Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters space in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood, where Freese has spent some months dialing in a version of Sudden made from Saint Frank Coffee‘s Little Brother espresso blend. As of now the product is only available online, but a Sudden Coffee pop-up shop inside of Saint Frank is planned for later this year.
Not everyone is on board with the project—instant coffee has a strong cultural stigma, abhorrent production practices, and for many, a negative taste association. But Freese credits the pushback he's received from the coffee community to “younger baristas”, and notes that the project's goal—”to make coffee less hipstery and more approachable”—has been well-received thanks to the years he's spent championing those ideals at coffee events around the world.
“To me it's all about making a cup of coffee fun and easy,” Freese tells Sprudge. “It's not going to be a freshly brewed Geisha V60—but you know, it's really good.”
Freese's stated goal in coffee is to “make one billion people happy”; the global instant coffee market, as per Wall Street Journal, is estimated to be around worth around $35 billion dollars annually by 2018. Soon the Sudden Coffee project will move into a 3000 square foot production space in Hunter's Point, formerly home to a second production unit for the television program “Mythbusters”, and is looking to hire a Director of Coffee, or “Chief Coffee Officer” in the San Francisco parlance. Sudden's web sales have seen the product purchased by users in 27 different US States and 16 countries around the world.
The final goal for the project is even bigger than a billion dollars—Freese hopes that Sudden Coffee can help enact change at the farm level for coffee producers in origin countries around the world, especially in the face of climate change. “What I really hope to accomplish is to increase the demand for specialty coffee, which hopefully will drive up the price. By increasing global demand, coffee producers and growers will receive a message—when the area where you are growing coffee is reduced, the only way to go is to produce higher quality coffee in the first place.”