The Health Benefits of Coffee

Drinking coffee has been linked to a reduced risk of all kinds of ailments, including Parkinson’s disease, melanoma, prostate cancer, even suicide.

#antioxidants, #anxiety-and-stress, #caffeine, #coffee, #content-type-service, #deaths-fatalities, #depression-mental, #diabetes, #heart, #parkinsons-disease, #pollan-michael, #pregnancy-and-childbirth, #sleep, #willett-walter-c

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Starbucks, Flush With Customers, Is Running Low on Ingredients

At locations across the country, there have been complaints about shortages of key ingredients for popular drinks, breakfast foods and even cups, lids and straws.

#coffee, #coffeehouses, #factories-and-manufacturing, #fast-food-industry, #johnson-kevin-r, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #shortages, #starbucks-corporation

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Osma’s high-tech instant cold brew could change summertime coffee forever

It’s rare that a truly new way to make coffee is invented, and nearly all of them have one thing in common: heat. After all, it’s hot water that quickly extracts flavor and body from grounds. But Osma, a new device using an entirely novel coffeemaking technique, makes a rich, strong espresso-like drink at any temperature, including icy cold — and it might be the next big thing in the industry.

Osma is the latest project from designer Joey Roth, who evolved from high-concept speaker tech to tea and coffee tech, and now has found a way to integrate these two disparate pursuits with a unique vibratory method of extraction. And although Roth has had several successes over the years, this could be his most valuable yet.

To see why, it helps to understand the way coffee is ordinarily made, which generally comes down to one of two things: soaking the grounds in hot water, or forcing it through the grounds under pressure.

In the first case, which includes drip and pourover, French press, and others, the heat of the water passively frees the oils and volatiles from the ground beans and then the solids, drained of flavor, are left behind through filtering.

The second case is espresso, in which the desired chemicals are extracted not just through heat but by the process of microcavitation. This is where the heat and pressure free CO2 from the grounds, forming tiny bubbles that quickly collapse, a process that leads to the flavor and aroma compounds being forced out as well.

Cold water can be used in the first method, with the advantage is that certain substances that would be destroyed by heat are retained, giving a different flavor profile. Unfortunately it can take hours or even days to brew to one’s preferred strength, and other desirable compounds degrade over that duration. And cold water can’t be used in the espresso process because steam is necessary to accomplish extraction.

Yet despite the inconvenience inherent to cold coffee, anyone who’s visited a café in the last decade can tell you it is enormously popular, year-round but especially in the summer. There’s endless appetite for the drink, even if all it amounts to is pouring hot coffee or espresso over ice. What if strong, delicious coffee could be made without heating it up, watering it down, or waiting for days? That’s the Osma proposition.

Image Credits: Osma

The Osma system is to my knowledge unlike any other brewing method. Essentially what it does is circulate water through the grounds continuously, while agitating them with a sort of standing pressure wave. It produces 8-12 ounces of a coffee that’s less concentrated than espresso, but not as mild as coldbrew, in about two minutes.

Diagram showing how coffee and water move through the Osma system.

Image Credits: Osma

This is a fundamentally new expression of coffee that needs to be experienced,” said Roth when I asked him to characterize the flavor profile. He’d compared it to Kyoto-style slow drip with the added creamy mouthfeel and brighter flavors of espresso, but decided the analogy was imperfect.

His reservation is justified, as the method really is completely different. In addition to using cold water instead of hot and an acoustic wave instead of high pressure to create cavitation, the Osma Pro is unique in that it uses a circulatory process instead of one-way.

Almost all forms of coffee making are unidirectional: water goes in, meets up with the grounds, and coffee comes out — with the exception of percolators, which aren’t exactly the aficionado’s first choice. The Osma method, on the other hand, sucks up the water, passes it through the grounds and agitates it, then puts it back in the same vessel, where it is sucked up and passed through again.

This circular process can be stopped earlier or later, giving a lighter or heavier brew, but there’s a sweet spot at about two minutes that Roth thinks produces the best cup for most purposes.

Creating the system was equal parts serendipity and ingenuity. Roth recalled boiling water at room temperature in a commercial vacuum chamber with his co-founder Dan Yue, which sort of worked but not really, and at any rate wasn’t the type of equipment you could resell to a consumer. Yue speculated that it was the microcavitation process that allowed this extraction without significant heat.

An iced coffee drink made with Osma Pro.

Looks good, right? Image Credits: Osma

“We verified this with a number of other experiments and confirmed that microcavitation was indeed the magic switch,” Roth said. “From there we spent about two years developing what’s basically a mechanism to efficiently facilitate cavitation using acoustics in a tightly packed basket of ground coffee. With the help and insight of our partners James and Hiver (co-founders of Chromatic Coffee in San Jose) we developed this into the Osma Pro.”

Being able to pull a strong, cold coffee drink with espresso-like and cold brew-like aspects on demand could be a game-changer for coffee shops. At present they have to anticipate demand, making cold brew a day or longer before, risking shortages if demand outstrips supply, or otherwise offer hot coffee poured over ice, an accepted but rather incoherent approach.

At $695 the Osma Pro is a bit expensive for home use, but quite in line with the type of equipment used by most cafés. Like Roth’s other work, the industrial design is simple and beautiful. When you factor in its small footprint (about the size of a standing grinder) and the fact that it frees up valuable fridge space that would otherwise be filled with gallons of coldbrew, it starts to make a whole lot of sense.

Close-up of the side of the Osma machine, with etched limited number.

A limited run of a thousand… for now. Image Credits: Osma

Perhaps that’s why an unnamed but apparently major coffee company has indicated interest in partnering with Roth on the machine, as he coyly explained. Selling a couple hundred to boutique coffee shops is nice, and Roth did say that pre-orders are beyond expectations, but a big time partner that could move units in the thousands? That’s the start of a global business empire.

Incidentally the whole thing started with a device that may now sadly be defunct. The first Osma brew I encountered was a portable, battery-powered device Roth sent me in beta form to test out that used biodegradable coffee pods and a scaled-down version of the acoustic agitation process. But this ended up being a sort of development dead end — while an interesting tech demo and pretty good at making coffee, it quickly became clear that the countertop version, which was improving rapidly, was the future of the company.

The only real question now is what to call the drink. I suggested coldpresso (icepresso is more euphonious but too close to the original), Roth thought cold flash but admitted everything he thought up was corny. Whatever it’s called, you can probably expect to start seeing it at your local “serious” coffee spot. If you run one of those or drink enough cold coffee to justify a major purchase, you can get in line to pick up a machine at the Osma website.

#coffee, #joey-roth, #tc

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Is Coffee Good for Us? Maybe Machine Learning Can Help Figure It Out.

The advice from research on coffee, and nutrition more generally, always seems to be changing. Processing vast amounts of data could help us pin it down.

#artificial-intelligence, #cancer, #coffee, #diet-and-nutrition, #heart

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Bottomless closes $4.5M Series A to scale its subscription coffee business

As a devoted coffee drinker I was enthused by the idea of Bottomless. The Y Combinator-backed startup sends its users coffee as they run low so that they never run out of the Magic Juice of Life. What could be better?

Because life is somewhat funny, after signing up for its service the company reached out to share that it had raised a Series A. So I got on the phone with Liana Herrera, the company’s co-founder, to chat about the startup, which is part coffee-sourcing engine, part subscription/e-commerce play and part hardware effort.

So before we talk about its Series A, let’s work better to understand what Bottomless is building, and how it works.

What’s Bottomless?

Born from its founders’ issues ordering the right amount of Soylent when they actually needed it, and wondering why there wasn’t a better way to subscribe to goods consumed on a regular basis, Herrera uncovered the idea for Bottomless.

Today the product works by letting users pick the type of coffee they are interested in, be it caffeine level, price and the like. The company then provides customers with a small digital scale that they connect to their home internet. And then as users consume coffee that Bottomless sends them, placing the bag on the hardware in between uses, the scale notes how much is left and orders more before they run out.

A Bottomless scale, via the company as my kitchen lighting is bad.

You can set the sensitivity of the scale, asking it to either be ambitious in keeping you from running out of beans or ground coffee, or more relaxed. As I write to you today, I think that my third bag of decaf has arrived. It’s a neat system.

And from a business perspective, the Bottomless model has plusses. I honestly do not recall the price range of coffee that I picked, and do not know how much I am actually paying Bottomless at the moment. But I do know that having different types of coffee arrive at the house as I run low is pretty damn cool.

To make that happen, however, is not easy. The startup’s business is a little complex. Before and even after Bottomless went through Y Combinator back in 2019, the company hand-built its coffee-weighing scales. Herrera told TechCrunch that the old Silicon Valley saw that hardware is hard is in fact an understatement. After all the soldering she described during an interview, I believe her.

Still, after finishing the accelerator program the company managed to grow in 2019 by what Herrera said was around 10x. That customer expansion allowed the company to order bulk hardware from China in early 2020. After its first production run finished — a few thousand units — COVID-19 shut down that country’s supply chain. Happily for the startup, by the time COVID-19 had taken over America, the Chinese economy opened up and production could begin again.

Per the company, Bottomless scaled another 5-7x in 2020. An October 2020 CNN piece notes that the company had around 750 customers in late 2019, and some 6,000 by the time of publication. Herrera wants to massively expand that number, telling TechCrunch that she’d like to grow by 10x again this year, and that 5x expansion was the lower-end of her expectations.

Powering that growth are a host of coffee companies that Bottomless works with. Those companies handle roasting the beans and sending them to different Bottomless customers. So that no one reaches a zero-coffee state. And dies. Or whatever happens when one actually runs out of coffee.

The startup told TechCrunch that there are some 500 roasters on their wait list, implying that it will have the capacity to take on more customers this year.

Despite all the growth, the company still has some edges to refine. Setting up Wi-Fi on my scale wasn’t super-simple, for example. Herrera did note that her firm has a new scale coming out in the next three months. That could lower the difficulty barrier for new customers. Still, with 6,000 customers last October ordering three to four bags of coffee monthly, per Herrera’s estimate, the company had reached a comfortable seven-figure GMV run-rate before 2021 began.

For coffee roasters who may have seen their customer base slow during the pandemic, and consumers increasingly willing to dive into e-commerce, the company’s model could have long-term legs. Which brings us to the investors making that bet.

The round

Bottomless raised a $4.5 million Series A in January of 2021. It’s a smaller A than we tend to see in recent years, but Herrera said that her company has always been scrappy, which we take to mean that it has a history of being frugal. Patrick OShaughnessy led the round.

TechCrunch asked if the $4.5 million was a lot of money for the startup, as we didn’t have a clear picture at the time of its fundraising history. Herrera said that Bottomless has gotten to where it is today on just $2 million. So, the Series A is more than double all the money that the company as raised to date. It’s a lot of money, in other words.

Besides the new scale design, when asked about what the company intends to do with its funds, Herrera detailed the type of person she’s looking to hire — namely intellectually flexible folks who are informal, scrappy and very hack-y. More staff, in other words.

Let’s see how far Bottomless can get with its new check. Apparently I will be helping its KPIs for the foreseeable future as a customer.

#bottomless, #coffee, #fundings-exits, #recent-funding, #startups, #subscription-services, #tc, #y-combinator

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Coffee Tied to Lower Risk of Prostate Cancer

Each additional daily cup of coffee was associated with a 1 percent decrease in the risk of prostate cancer.

#bmj-open-journal, #coffee, #prostate-cancer, #research

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Turkey’s Coffeehouses, a Hub of Male Social Life, May Not Survive Virus

Coffeehouses, mainstays of Turkish neighborhoods for centuries, are suffering under pandemic restrictions — particularly a ban on games. Regulars fear losing “our jokes, our laughter.”

#backgammon, #coffee, #coffeehouses, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #istanbul-turkey, #shutdowns-institutional, #turkey

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Gift Guide: 9+ caffeinated gift ideas for your favorite coffee lovers

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

The pandemic has meant we leave our homes far less often, and that means fending for ourselves when it comes to coffee. But too many of us have old, cheap coffee makers or worse, pod-based ones at home. Here are the best ways to elevate your coffee game or delight the java lover in your life.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Superior drip coffee makers

Every grocery store sells a cheap drip coffee maker that does the job adequately, but if anyone is going to use a device every day, it should be something they look forward to, not the bare minimum.

That said, a coffee maker shouldn’t be an IQ test — you have to operate it before you’ve had your coffee, after all. I personally find the ones with touchscreens and apps add nothing but new ways to get it wrong. So I tested a few coffee makers that balance quality with simplicity, and after a few weeks of jitters here are my favorites.

For the industrial design appreciator: OXO 8-cup coffee maker

Pros:

  • Compact, well-thought-out design
  • Lots of actually useful features
  • Thermal carafe included

Cons:

  • Single cup brewing is a bit over-complicated
  • Could be more coffee-efficient

OXO’s reputation as a kitchen goods designer is well deserved, but I often find their items a bit much for the job. Not so with the 8-cup coffee maker, which manages to balance thoughtful design with simplicity and quality. I can say with confidence: if you aren’t sure what coffee maker to get… get this one.

The OXO 8-cup is the (obviously) smaller alternative to the 9-cup, losing the ability to schedule brewing but gaining simpler operation and a single-cup option using a separate, Kalita-compatible basket. The lids of the reservoir and basket area flip up (the latter allowing condensed water to flow safely into the filter) and the basket itself sits securely but pops out easily.

The coffee is uniformly good; I would say as good but slightly less strong than the KBGV below. It flows directly into a thermal carafe with a dedicated hole in the top, simplifying even that part. Pretty much everything about this machine is made to simplify and foolproof itself, making the brewing process extremely reliable.

I honestly struggled to find any complaints, but I would say that the necessity of keeping a second basket that uses a different filter type, then adjusting the various bits so that you can slip the mug in, etc., is arguably more trouble than it’s worth. But the capability for single-cup brewing is there and doesn’t take away from the rest at all.

It also recommends somewhat more grounds per cup than the KBGV, not a crazy amount but enough that you’ll probably get one less pot out of a standard 16 oz bag of coffee.

Price: $170 from OXO

For the FBI stakeout: Technivorm Moccamaster KBGV

Pros:

  • Streamlined retro-institutional look
  • Strong, reliable brew
  • Automatic hot plate

Cons

  • Lots of removable parts
  • Materials unremarkable for the price

The KBGV brewed my favorite coffee and in my opinion has the best look, like what you’d expect in the background of an FBI stakeout field HQ in a 70s movie. Where the OXO is rounded-off and unassuming, designed to disappear in a modern kitchen, the KBGV is bold and shiny.

The coffee it makes is bold, too: reliably strong and flavorful. Its #4 filter process to me was also pretty efficient with grounds.

The squat glass carafe sits on a hot plate that remains on for an hour or so after brewing, which is great but also means you must remember to turn it off — it won’t start a fire or anything, it’s just going to sit there being hot.

My main issue with the KBGV is that the reservoir and basket covers just sit on top rather than being on hinges, making the process of brewing involve removing and replacing several pieces. A small complaint, but they, like the carafe lid and basket, are also made of a rather ordinary plastic rather than something more durable. I feel like given the premium price you should be given something a bit more classy and convenient.

The good news is they’ll be easy to replace if they break, and Technivorm has an excellent warranty.

Price: $330 from Technivorm

For the ‘gram: Ratio 8

Pros:

  • Extremely handsome
  • Excellent materials
  • Very simple operation

Cons:

  • Nothing to keep coffee warm
  • Quite large!
  • Very expensive

Objectively the most good-looking of the machines here (even if I prefer the quirky charm of the KBGV), the Ratio 8, with its wood and textured metal finish, is obviously meant to be a display piece. And you couldn’t hide it if you wanted to — this thing is big, and the thick power cord juts straight out of the back, making it difficult to put anywhere but somewhere central.

The machine is basically an automatic Chemex brewer (Chemex makes one of their own that I tried to test but never heard back on), which kind of tells you everything you need to know. Chemex, with its wood-collared, single-piece carafes and luxuriously thick filters, is almost like the BMW of drip coffee, with all that implies. I like it, but I also acknowledge that it’s a bit over the top. And a machine that does it for you — well!

But as a Chemex brewer goes, it’s a lovely thing. You get that special extra clarity that the Chemex process brings, and there’s something wonderful about the way the coffee comes out of those carafes. Operating the machine is a single-button affair, which activates a short bloom period then showers the grounds over time with however much water you put in the reservoir.

I found that the Ratio 8 was best when making a full carafe, as with a half-portion I felt it over-watered and consequently under-extracted what I put in there. Unfortunately that full carafe will have to be consumed with a quickness as the Ratio 8, despite its size and price, has nothing to keep the coffee warm once it’s been brewed.

For a showy and unique machine the Ratio 8 is great. But if all you want to do is make great drip, the OXO or KBGV is a much better use of your funds.

Price: $495 from Ratio

More exotic methods

There are lots of ways to make coffee, and while drip is the easiest and most reliable for most people, the following slightly more unusual options are also viable and perhaps more interesting as gifts.

FrankOne

PA150003Want to get the first coffee maker to come out of Colombia — you know, coffee central? The FrankOne is a cool device that quickly makes a pourover-like cup by steeping the grounds then creating a vacuum in the chamber below it, sucking the liquid out but leaving the grounds up top. It works great, operates on a rechargeable battery, and is easy to clean (especially if you have a garbage disposal).

Price: $80 from FrankDePaula

ROK manual espresso maker

Image Credits: ROK

I avoided the many fancy espresso machines out there for this review mainly for the reason that they are complex, expensive, and require considerable upkeep. The ROK is about as simple an espresso maker as you can get, bested only by a stovetop Moka pot.

To work the ROK, you pack your grounds into the included espresso filter and attach it to the machine like any other. Then you pour your hot water into the reservoir up top, raise the arms, and depress them with a slow, steady pressure that forces it through the filter. It really is that simple.

It may not be quite the high-pressure espresso you get from a “real” machine but it’s quite good, and the process can be repeated to increase the volume and produce something like an americano. The coffee produced by the ROK is a bit like a Moka Pot’s, but a bit less strong and far less likely to be burnt.

The machine itself is bulletproof — and I mean I think it’s actually bulletproof. It’s practically solid metal, though the reservoir and bellows are rubber. Use this to make coffee while camping and then fend off a bear attack.

For a unique, electricity-free coffee experience the ROK is a great option, though not necessarily a practical one.

Price: $189 from ROK

Osma

Image Credits: Osma

I haven’t gotten to test this one yet (though I will), but designer Joey Roth hasn’t done me wrong yet. This new device from his workshop uses a completely new method of circulating hot water through grounds, making a drip-like cup in a very short time, or cold brew, or tea. If your loved one is a gadget fiend, this is one they probably haven’t had the chance to covet yet. Technically it uses pods, but they’re totally biodegradable and you can fill them with your own grounds or leaves.

Price: $185 from Osma

Pourover cones

I’ve used pourover as my main method of making coffee for years, and it reliably produces the best single cup you can have, though at the cost of being somewhat time-consuming.

Kalita Wave 185

Kalita makes a couple sizes of these pourover cones, and although I have happily used my 155 for many years, if I could do it over again I’d opt for the slightly larger 185, which is more forgiving when you’re pouring and can brew more than the 16 ounces that is the realistic upper limit of mine.

Price: $36 from Amazon

OXO’s pourover cone with tank

If hovering by the stove and watering your grounds for the two to three minutes it takes to make a cup is not something you enjoy, OXO has a nice little gadget that simplifies things. It’s basically a pourover cone with a reservoir that sits on top, dripping water through a few tiny holes at a steady rate.

It made a good cup and with minimal fuss, but the capacity is limited, so if you want more than 12 ounces you’ll have to refill the reservoir.

Price: $16 from Amazon

Kone and other metal filters

These permanent filters have gotten quite good, and I have one that sits right on top of a cup. No more paper! However I would recommend these only to people who have a garbage disposal or sink that can handle a lot of grounds, because cleaning the filter involves losing a lot of grit down the drain. Occasional deep cleaning is required but it’s nice to reduce waste even a little bit.

Price: Around $30-40, depending on brand.

Coffee subscriptions

Just as a general note: These types of subscriptions are great, but you need to do a little bit of research or your loved one will end up with a roast they don’t like. I don’t want to recommend any in particular, since they all specialize in different things, but aim to prop up independent roasteries and fair trade rather than just getting a steady supply of the same old thing from a major chain.

Some good options:

 

#coffee, #gadgets, #gift-guide, #gift-guide-2020, #tc

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The need for caffeine was the mother of invention.

“I love coffee and I was worried that our standard freeze-dried brew wasn’t going to cut it,” one astronaut said.

#coffee, #international-space-station, #inventions-and-patents, #space-and-astronomy

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Do Dunkin’ and Arby’s Go Together? Private Equity Group Bets $11 Billion They Do

Inspire Brands, backed by Roark Capital, is assembling a portfolio of quick-service restaurant chains it thinks will withstand the pandemic.

#arbys-inc, #baskin-robbins, #buffalo-wild-wings, #coffee, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #dunkin-donuts, #fast-food-industry, #inspire-brands-inc, #mergers-acquisitions-and-divestitures, #private-equity, #restaurants, #roark-capital-group, #sonic-drive-in

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Dunkin’ Brands Is Said to Be Near Deal to Sell Itself and Go Private

The parent of Dunkin’ and Baskin Robbins is in talks with a private-equity-backed company for a takeover that values the company at nearly $9 billion.

#coffee, #doughnuts, #dunkin-donuts, #mergers-acquisitions-and-divestitures, #private-equity

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The Baristas Finally Get to Recommend the Champagne

Early into the pandemic, Helen Kim and Peter Moon had to delay their wedding to keep their small Chicago coffee shop afloat. They became as ‘essential’ to their neighborhood as it was to them.

#coffee, #coffeehouses, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #weddings-and-engagements

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The New York Cafe Where Writers Go to Work — and Eat Cake

The Hungarian Pastry Shop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side has fed generations of authors and students.

#bakeries-and-baked-products, #books-and-literature, #coates-ta-nehisi, #coffee, #delbanco-andrew, #englander-nathan, #galchen-rivka, #hungarian-pastry-shop-manhattan-ny, #morningside-heights-manhattan-ny, #restaurants, #writing-and-writers

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Parisians Savor More Than the Coffee as Cafes Reopen

With no service inside, and tables on terraces spaced at a safe distance, the French came back together, while remaining apart.

#balconies-and-terraces, #coffee, #coronavirus-reopenings, #paris-france, #quarantines

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China’s embattled Luckin Coffee adds lifestyle products to its menu

The Luckin saga continues as the Chinese coffee challenger seeks solutions to the undesirable consequences of a $310 million fraud. On Tuesday, the company announced sacking chief operating officer Liu Jian, the alleged mastermind behind the fraud, and chief executive officer Qian Zhiya, a rare female leader of a Chinese internet firm. Despite the scandal, the company is reportedly on an expansion spree, opening ten outlets per day in the second quarter.

Another recent endeavor of the coffee delivery startup offers a reminder that the NASDAQ-traded company not only aims to take on Starbucks but also has its eyes locked on hundreds of thousands of convenience stores, as stated early in its IPO prospectus. On Thursday, the coffee chain announced a one-week sales campaign (in Chinese) to promote its line of lifestyle products, which range from beauty masks and hand soap to Apple Airpods and Beats headphones. Most of the non-beverage merchandise is third-party, except for a small collection of Luckin-branded items such as coffee mugs.

Luckin began touting lifestyle merchandise in the third quarter of 2019 and has been gradually broadening the variety of its offering. These items are easily discoverable on the app by tapping the “Trendy Items” (潮品) icon placed right next to the entry to the coffee menu. The share of Luckin’s non-beverage items, which also include packaged snacks, climbed from 14% of total revenue to 23% between Q3 2018 and Q3 2019.

It may seem odd that a coffee chain is selling sanitized wipes and trash bags, but the approach could point to a long-standing strategy in the internet business in China: To quickly build up a user base through a competitive product and monetize later through a peripheral but lucrative business.

Heavily subsidized coffee has been Luckin’s engine of user acquisition. Its lifestyle products currently come with deep discounts as well, so the question is whether they will comprise the company’s cash cow when the perks are gone. After all, why would consumers shop for daily essentials from a coffee ordering app when dozens of larger ecommerce outfits offer greater selection and more mature logistics management?

Luckin received an unexpected boost on the heels of its accounting fraud. With patriotic drinkers rallying around the home-grown coffee brand and thrifty consumers rushing to redeem coupons before a potential business collapse, Luckin’s daily active users shot up 12-fold to 4.4 million when the scandal came to light in early April, according to data provided by third-party analytics firm Aurora Mobile. The growth was short-lived, and its DAU has fallen and hovers below 1.5 million as of this writing.

#asia, #china, #coffee, #drinks, #food-and-drink, #luckin, #luckin-coffee, #starbucks

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Taika is building a better coffee through natural chemistry and adaptogens

So, an eight-year product veteran from Facebook and an internationally renowned barista walk into a coffee bar…

It’s not a joke. It’s the origin story for Taika, a new startup that’s aiming to bring natural stimulants to the masses through its juiced up coffee-beverages.

The two co-founders, Michael Sharon, an eight-year veteran of Facebook’s mobile product division, and Kalle Freese, a champion barista (it’s a thing) and the co-founder of Sudden Coffee are on a mission to bring consumers what Sharon calls “stealth health”.

 

Talk to any of Sharon’s friends and it’s plain to see that the man loves his coffee. While at Facebook he’d down pour overs in the morning and espresso shots throughout the day, but the side effects left him… “tweaky”.

So, like any good product designer and engineer, Sharon set out to try and make a better cuppa. The South African native developed a stack of different natural additives that he would add to his morning ‘joe in an effort to provide a steady source of stimulation — without any side-effects throughout the day.

The cornerstone of Sharon’s putatively potent potables is an ingredient commonly found in tea called L-theanine. “I had these compounds and these stacks that I was putting together for myself,” said Sharon. “[And] I realized they were super beneficial, but when i tried to get my friends interested and said ‘Here are the twenty things you need to buy,’ people would lose interest and walk away.”

It was in those moments that Sharon came up with the notion of “stealth health”, if his friends were rejecting his attempts to try out his curated stack of ingredients on their own, he’d just make a product that would package them into a handy beverage and foist them on an unwitting world.

Sharon stresses that his company is based on the latest science and that nothing that’s included in Taika’s coffee-based drinks is a novel compound or regulated substance. They’re all supplements that are known quantities in the wellness world.

We are, as a company, we’re very much science aware and science supported,” said Sharon. “We’re not science blocked… The compounds that I’ve experimented with.. I’ve experimented with them myself and experimented with them on my partner and started this larger beta program.”

Bringing software-style beta testing to the beverage business

Sharon met Freese in 2018 after a two-and-a-half year hiatus from Facebook that saw the veteran product designer try his hand at kite surfing, wind surfing, surfing, photographing polar bears in Svalbard, and visiting the world’s only desert with fresh water lagoons.

That summer the coffee snob met the world’s best barista and a friendship was formed that would blossom into the partnership at the heart of Taika. Sharon had already made an investment in the coffee world through a small stake in Blue Bottle and was ready to take the plunge into startup land.

“When i met Kalle we started riffing on a whole bunch of insane ideas,” said Sharon. “After two months we were like… Why don’t we try to take some of these compounds and put together a formula.”

Since none of the compounds that the company uses need to be approved by the FDA, because they’re classified as “Generally Recognized As Safe”, Taika was able to begin formulating.

The company started off as a direct sales business, giving away coffee to friends and friends-of-friends. Then they started delivering to what Sharon called micro-kitchens. From there, the business grew and continued growing. the two co-founders began dropping off their brews at corporate offices.

Their first big human beta test was at the offices of the now-defunct legal startup Atrium. “They were — like — 80 people at that stage,” said Sharon. And they were also providing legal services to Taika as a newly launched startup. “They went through the coffee in the first two weeks,” said Sharon.

From the initial run of a regular coffee, the company added an oat milk latte and that’s when Sharon and Freese knew they were off to the races.

“This coffee is like secretly healthy,” said Sharon. “We have no added sugar in the coffee. We know coffee is a healthy compound and we have a bunch of these compounds that are very healthy but not widely known. This stealth-health concept stuck around.”

Taika includes a phone number for customer feedback on the packaging and the company is constantly tweaking its formulations. It’s now up to version 0.8 on its three drinks, which include a black coffee, an oat milk latte and a macadamia nut latte. The drinks also include functional ingredients like L-theanine, ashwagandha, and functional mushrooms like cordyceps, reishi, and lion’s mane. The company uses allulose as a sweetener, which doesn’t impact blood sugar levels and is better than table sugar, Sharon said.

“We definitely think that it’s healthy, but we don’t think you have to compromise on the taste,” said Sharon. “We asked ourselves what are the right extracts that we can use that will have an effect.. Everybody is different and everybody psychoactive compound effects people differently.. The compounds we put in this coffee are going to affect people differently.. 

Repeatedly, Sharon returns to the concept of providing a stealth way to introduce healthy compounds and chemicals into a consumer’s day and diet.

“There are established supply chains for these things,” said Sharon. “One of the first things we worked on was the formulation. We ended up with this specific mix of five. They helped us dial in the right headspace and they’re all natural compounds. These are things that have been consumed by humans for thousands of years.”

It’s working with the coffees. So far the company has sold 50,000 cans and it’s now available at stores across San Francisco including Buy Rite, Epicurian Trader, Rainbow Grocery and has even managed to make its way through COVID-19 shelter in place orders to the five Erewhon locations in Los Angeles.

Taika takes its name for the Finnish word for magic and, according to Sharon, it’s a good corollary for how the beverage makes you feel.

The company has raised $2.7 million in seed funding to date to take its product to market from firms like Kindred Ventures (which has backed companies like Coinbase , Blue Bottle Coffee , Postmates , Zymergen) and individual investors like James Joaquin.

And coffee is just the beginning, according to Sharon.

“If we’re able to take sugar and milk out of their day… and we’re not beating them over the head with the health aspects… there are a ton of products out there that we could turn into stealth health products,” he said.

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