You know what they say: there’s always money in the lab-created imitation banana stand.
During my tenure helming the news desk here at Sprudge, I’ve seen more than my fair share of coffee stories that are arguably news. This, on the other hand, is a news story that is arguably about coffee. Atomo, the makers of “molecular” coffee that contains no real, actual coffee, just raised another $9 million in VC funding and have decided to open a “roastery” mere blocks away from Starbucks Seattle headquarters.
And let’s just get this out of the way at the top: the absolute nerve it takes to call their building a “roastery”. Atomo calling their product “coffee” was questionable enough as is, but calling the lab where they bleep and bloop some atoms together to play coffee dress-up a “roastery” is just offensive. What roasting is happening there? Heating up a solution over a Bunsen burner isn’t roasting. Let’s hope their science is more rigorous than their naming conventions.
As reported by GeekWire, Atomo just announced a new round of funding, to the tune of $9 million, “co-led by Horizons Ventures and S2G Ventures.” The funding will in part go toward the 12,000-square-foot Seattle flagship (I refuse to call it a roastery) where the brand will “hack the coffee bean” and bring about “the future of coffee,” which has traditionally been the sort of disruptive jargon VC firms throw money at. The new, larger facility will allow Atomo to greatly scale the quantity of molecular coffee they are able to create from “upcycled plant materials such as pits, seeds, and stems,” according to co-founder Jaret Stopforth (that's his real name; we did not grow him in a lab).
Using seeds to create coffee? I wonder where they came up with such a revolutionary approach.
“Seattle is the perfect confluence of tech and craft coffee, it only makes sense that coffee is reinvented here.” [Andy] Kleitsch, who serves as CEO, said in a statement. “Our tech creates a great tasting cup of coffee, that provides consumers with a sustainable choice, as well as greater value for our farmers.”
Those receiving the great value, of course, are not coffee farmers, who aren’t part of the thinking when Atomo touts itself as the “sustainable choice.” Coffee farmers can get fucked I guess.
It’s a tech bro solution to a problem that doesn’t even really exist. In their “desire to remove the bitter taste from coffee”—which I’ve said before and will say again, can be done entirely through sourcing and roasting and brewing and just about every other advancement specialty coffee has made over the past few decades—and as an “answer to climate change and deforestation that is a threat to the global coffee industry,” they’ve created a product that addresses almost none of these things.
If it is unclear how lab-grown coffee helps solve climate change or deforestation, it is because it doesn’t. It simply removes these issues from the equation. Climate change and deforestation are still very much real and very much a threat to coffee production; making an alternative product unaffected by these issues is not solving them but ignoring them, and in particular, ignoring the human cost of further destabilizing the chain of coffee production around the world.
But if you are undeterred by this sadistic pragmatism of wanting to cut out the middle man—the 25 million global coffee producers—Atomo is expecting to bring their product to market in 2021, with “regional launches for specialty retailers.” Alternatively, you could, at this very moment, enjoy a wonderful cup of actual coffee, produced by a farmer who was paid an equitable wage and lovingly roasted by a local small business who can probably use your business right now.