A few weeks ago I was cruising around on Instagram when I stumbled across a new instant coffee product called Voilà Coffee, launching today on Kickstarter. Instant and quick-serve coffee products are hot as heck right now, owing to the development work of Neil Day at Perfect Coffee (since acquired by Blue Bottle), Kalle Freese's startup Sudden Coffee in San Francisco, and Maxwell-Colonna Dashwood's Colonna capsule project out in Bath, England.
The project includes partnerships with respected roasters like Ruby Coffee, Supersonic Coffee, and 1000 Faces, and features impressive design and packaging. The whole thing has a charming authenticity to it: after all, there's nothing revolutionary about instant coffee in and of itself; it's the mutually-conceived idea of making instant coffee not suck that has so many coffee professionals curious.
Voilà is a brand new, barely in its infancy, pre-funding, bootstrap operation out of Bend, Oregon, led by a guy named Kent Sheridan. Today, Voilà launches on Kickstarter and seeks to go to market with an instant coffee product co-branded with some cool American roasters.
I sat down with Kent Sheridan to glean more about the project, gain a glimpse into the method behind Voilà, and learn where the brand is headed next.
Thanks for chatting with Sprudge. To start, talk to us a little bit about your background in coffee prior to Voilà.
My first job in coffee was starting my own coffee cart. I got turned down for a local barista job and thought, hell, I’ll just do it myself. I eventually sold that business and decided to design functional modern carts for other coffee startups or cafes looking to go mobile. My most recent job in coffee has been at Palate, one of the top cafes in Bend, working under Jason Rhodes and Jodi Groteboer who hail from the great old-school Albina Press in Portland.
Talk to us about the idea behind Voilà—what's its purpose? Who is it for? What was your “a-ha!” moment with deciding to develop this product?
It really was an “a-ha!” moment for me. I had always thought that coffee subscription boxes were a great idea, but they had some practical issues. I had been hearing talk of better-quality pods and thinking about that too–then it just hit me. WHY ISN’T INSTANT GOOD?! If instant could taste good then you could have an amazing coffee subscription and zero coffee waste. It’s an amazing opportunity to bring accessibility and transportability to specialty. No more compromising when on the go. For someone who’s never had specialty coffee, they can start by enjoying a delicious cup.
Too many times I’ve sold a bag of amazing beans to someone who I know is going to throw them in a spice grinder and plunge the hell out if it in a French press just because they can’t always make it to a cafe. I think it adds something to both ends of the spectrum.
Voilà's packaging is really cool and has impressed everyone I've talked to about it. Is that like a converted cigarette pack holding the individual pouches?
Who doesn’t feel cool with a flip top? It’s easy to open and pack around anywhere.
How much do you think the current packaging will change between now and when you go to market?
Not too much for the box. The coffee packs themselves will get more refined with better labels.
Why go the Kickstarter route? Why not look for VC funding from speculators?
Kickstarter is super cool in that the platform has this virality component. I think Kickstarter suits Voilà because it’s such a unique product that everyone should hear about. No hate on my VC dudes.
We like that unique coffee brands are represented as part of what you do—Voilà is partnered with some very good roasters. Will this continue to be how you represent the coffees as you scale? Have all the roasters tried Voilà and do they love it? Do you have other roasters lined up to come aboard?
100%—everyone has been blown away so far, and I've received some super positive responses. I get super excited about exploring new coffees and roasters, that’s why partnering with all these amazing roasters across the country is so foundational to Voilà’s structure. It’s great to introduce people to roasters they normally would never try. We will continually bring on new roasters as we grow. To start, we are featuring Supersonic Coffee Co., Dapper & Wise Roasters, Sterling Coffee Roasters, Ruby, Upper Left Roasters, and 1000 Faces Coffee. Good things in the works!
What can you share with us about the brewing process that leads to Voilà? Is there anything proprietary or patented about your production process?
Patents are bogus so no on that, but it is proprietary. You would cringe to find out how traditional instant was made. And regular drip coffee is absolutely terrible as instant by the way, so don’t try that at home. I’ve spent the past 6 months developing my own brewing methods to make Voilà work. In the most basic terms, I take coffee and brew it up in large batches at the ideal extraction percentage and to a profile similar to a filter/drip, then freeze dry it. So the final product is actual brewed coffee that tastes how it should, with full transparency from farm to roaster to cup. There’s a ton more that goes into each step, but that’s the overall idea.
How long is a packet of Voilà shelf-stable for?
LONG. I haven’t been alive long enough to test this one for myself, but it should last somewhere between 25 years and forever.
Have you talked to lifelong instant coffee drinkers who have tried Voilà? Do they love it?
Yeah, it’s actually pretty amazing how much even instant coffee drinkers like Voilà. I’m always anticipating an uninterested response like I would in a cafe, but I think because it’s so incredibly approachable, there’s no predisposition about it and the taste just speaks for itself.
Freeze dried coffee makes me think of space food. Can I take your coffee into outer space?
Let’s make outer space great again… just add Voilà.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.
Correction: A grave error was made when a few instances of Voilà were spelled with the wrong diacritical mark. It was not an acute look.