Atomo Coffee: Coffee Without the Coffee Beans to Protect the Planet

 

Cup of coffee

Atomo has created a beanless coffee.

These days, many food companies are sensitive to the effects of climate change and are addressing it in different ways. One such company, kosher-certified by the OU, is Atomo Coffee. Their company name speaks volumes about their products and purpose.

Atomo stands for atom in Italian. What Atomo Coffee has done is create a new molecular brew from upcycled ingredients, such as sunflower husks and watermelon seeds, to avoid the need for cocoa beans, which has become linked to deforestation. Because cocoa beans must grow in a dry and moist climate, which is difficult to find, farmers must search for new areas and in the process decimate large swaths of trees. The trees contain huge amounts of carbon which is released into the atmosphere.

How it works

After much investment in science, the founders found a way to reverse engineer the taste of a green coffee bean through the use of upcycled ingredients, even including grape skin, date seeds and chicory root, that are left over from farm harvesting. These often tossed away raw materials are upcycled and reused.

In discussing the uniqueness of the coffee, chief scientist and cofounder of Atomo Coffee, Jarret Stopforth, explains, “By evaluating the individual compounds in coffee we were able to map the most significant ones contributing to the characteristic aroma and flavor of coffee. Once we identified the most significant compounds we evaluated upcycled and natural plant-based material with high sustainability indices as a source for extracting and generating the blend that enables us to create a coffee “dashboard” – with this we can make coffee without the bean and tweak our dashboard to create different flavor and aroma profiles.”

Trees with CO2 and Oxygen

Photosynthesis. Trees take in carbon dioxide and dispense oxygen representative of a healthy ecosystem that Atomo is trying to protect.

Ironically, Atomo is located in Seattle, home to Starbucks. The Atomo CEO and cofounder Andy Kleitsch said, “Seattle is the perfect confluence of tech and craft coffee, it only makes sense that coffee is reinvented here. Our tech creates a great tasting cup of coffee, that provides consumers with a sustainable choice, as well as greater value for our farmers.”

“Meatless” meat and “dairy-free” dairy are now concepts inculcated into our culture. But beanless coffee is a totally new phenomenon. Or better said by Stopforth, who told Bloomberg, “We like to think of ourselves as the Tesla of coffee.” Many OU kosher-certified companies have entered the plant-based arena. Some notable ones include Impossible Foods, Nestle, Cargill and ADM. They are all concerned with sustainability; including reducing the carbon footprint, enforcing ethical supply chains and taking into consideration the dangers of deforestation.

Michael Eisenberg, a well-known Orthodox entrepreneur based out of Israel, who is an equal partner in Aleph VC, just authored a book, The Tree of Life and Prosperity, that sees the biblical narrative and economics strongly tied. One time period he focuses on is Noach. Of course, Noach found tools of agriculture like the plow. This brought an economic change to the world and made it more sustainable. Sustainability is a key 21st century dilemma that all companies are trying to tackle. Atomo has taken a strong start by cutting down on the use of fossil fuel, as little transportation is needed to deliver their ingredients, and reducing the carbon footprint by not necessitating deforestation.

The products and opinions on taste

Right now, Atomo offers it’s cold brew in two flavors: Ultra Smooth Molecular Cold Brew and Classic Molecular Cold Brew. According to their website, Classic Roast, “presents a well-rounded medium roast cup with hints of cocoa, dark fruit and a whisper of smoke.” Ultra Smooth Roast “entices black coffee non-believers with an indulgent wave of natural caramelization.”

A local Seattle grocery chain may just become their first retail client as the owner considered it after tasting it and believes it can fit a niche market. A taste test was done at the University of Washington where the coffee fared well.

Food Waste

A landfill.

Landfills release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Atomo has taken a bold move in terms of only working with upcycled ingredients and not letting what seems to leftover food from the harvest go to waste. In doing so, they are addressing hunger and environmental issues. Professor Emily Broad Leib, faculty director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, notes in delish.com, that, “In the U.S. alone, 35 percent of the 229 million tons of food available go unsold or uneaten—that’s $408 billion worth of food, according to ReFED, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste. Uneaten food is also responsible for 18 percent of all cropland use, 14 percent of all fresh water use, 24 percent of landfill inputs, and 4 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas.” On a global scale, according to World Food Program USA, the $1 trillion worth of food waste that is occurring annually could feed 2 billion people.

The waste sent to landfills is responsible for emitting large amounts of carbon to the atmosphere. Some states are beginning to wake up to landfill-based carbon emissions and have enacted legislation to minimize the amount of food that goes into landfills. California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont have passed laws that curb the amount of food waste that can go into landfills. Ned Spang, of University of California, Davis, says, “There’s just no reason to stick this material in a landfill, it just happens to be cheap and easy to do so.”

Waste comes from numerous sources: homes, grocery stores, restaurants, farms and the entire supply chain of food. There are actions that can be taken to minimize the waste and upcycling is one of them. According to The Upcycled Food Association, in upcycling, “…ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment.” All the food that can be upcycled is being lost to landfills and hungry mouths. This is why Atomo’s move into the upcycling field is so important and it has the potential to affect food manufacturing as a whole.

Deforestation

Deforestation.

Deforestation contributes to global warming.

One reason global warming is intensifying is because of deforestation. Coffee beans must be grown in cool temperatures, but because of the global warming, that in itself is coming from the deforestation, farmers must now search for new land, and with acquiring that new land comes destroying trees. An estimated 25% of greenhouses gases come from deforestation. A key aspect is that trees store huge amounts of carbon dioxide and once cut down the carbon is released into the air. Worse yet, the trees can also no longer absorb carbon dioxide from the air, leaving it in the atmosphere where it traps heat and increases the temperature of the planet. Furthermore, when trees are cut down the natural flow of water throughout the forest is affected which can lead to flooding and mudslides.

Conclusion

It’s estimated that Americans consume around 400 million cups of coffee per day. There’s no question that the coffee industry has a significant impact on the U.S. economy. The meat and dairy industries have revolutionized the plant-based movement and the founders of Atomo Coffee are launching another revolution: beanless coffee using upcycled ingredients. They are directly confronting issues such as food waste and deforestation that all contribute greenhouse gases to the environment. They deserve credit for taking this bold move and have brought awareness to the notion that climate change is real and must be addressed.

Steven Genack
Steven Genack has worked at OU Kosher for nearly ten years with a specialty in ingredients. He is an attorney and former editor of a newspaper. He has a wide array of interests including playing tennis, golf and basketball and reading biographies and memoirs.