Coffee people are very strange these days. If they’re not drinking iced coffee during a polar vortex, they’re shooting green coffee into space to roast it. And now, there’s a new startup that wants to make your coffee without any coffee at all. It’s called Atomo Coffee, and according to Food & Wine, the company is “working on a way to replicate a standard cup of coffee—down to the taste, aroma, and even mouthfeel—all with natural ingredients, none of which are coffee beans.”
This is by no means the first iteration of “coffee hold the coffee.” In Italy, there is a long tradition of caffè d’orzo, a caffeine-free, coffee-like beverage made of roasted barley that is consumed by children, the elderly, and those looking to eschew the jittery jolt for health reasons. But this Atomo Coffee—“molecular coffee” as the company refers to it—feels like something entirely different.
Created by microbiologist Jarret Stopforth—a “radical food scientist,” per the company's Kickstarter, whose CV includes time at Soylent and Chobani, both of which have pre-established links to the coffee world—and not-microbiologist Andy Kleitsch, Atomo coffee is trying to break down coffee to a molecular level, figure out what’s going on inside, and then rebuild it anew using… not coffee.
It is a coffee but it is like, not coffee. Think about that.
Their goal, according to Food & Wine, is to create a coffee without “the dreaded bitterness,” WHICH I SHOULD NOTE is a thing that can also be accomplished through quality-focused sourcing and roasting practices, a notion upon which the last let's say two decades plus of specialty coffee have been predicated. One need not put the bolts in the neck of a reanimated mishmash of molecules to drink coffee without the aforementioned “dreaded bitterness.” It is possible to drink actual delicious coffee from actual coffee farmers and roasters without experiencing such dread.
What actually comprises Atomo is as yet unknown. The Kickstarter lists them as “naturally-derived sustainable ingredients.” For their first product, Atomo is aiming for a “smooth cup of coffee, not too light, not too dark,” but after the success of their already-funded Kickstarter campaign they plan to release single-origin varieties including an Ethiopia, Colombia, Kenya, and 100% decaf (sorry caffé d’orzo).
This may come as a surprise given the completely serious and not at all flippant tone of this article, but I'm a bit skeptical of the entire enterprise. Though to be fair, in a blind taste test performed by the company on the University of Washington campus, Atomo was the heavy favorite over the other option, some roasty-ass Starbucks they trucked around campus, god knows how long after brewing it.
Have 21 out of 30 college students ever been wrong about anything?
Perhaps I am the one who is wrong. Maybe the kids these days want their space beans and molecular “coffee” drinks. If that's you and you want to live in this sort of future, you can pre-order you own Atomo via their Kickstarter page. What a time to be alive.