On Tuesday, Seattle-based coffee startup Atomo Coffee raised $9 million in seed funding from S2G Ventures, AgFunder, Bessemer Venture Partners and others. To date, the company has raised $11.6 million across two seed funding rounds.
What makes Atomo’s coffee so special that these investors want to get on board? Well, it actually isn’t coffee at all.
Atomo has developed the technological process to create what it calls “molecular coffee.” Instead of using coffee beans to create coffee, the startup’s molecular coffee is made by using a wide variety of different plants to create the molecular compounds that are found in coffee.
To do this, Atomo has broken coffee properties into five categories: aroma, body, color, taste and caffeine. Atomo then finds other plants in nature that have these same or similar properties as coffee. For example, it can derive the caffeine from tea or kola, it can find the color or taste from cacao, and so on. All together, these ingredients make a beverage that smells, tastes and feels like coffee — except it doesn’t actually use coffee beans.
“Our flagship grounds formula is made of upcycled plant materials such as pits, seeds and stems from locally grown agriculture, mirroring the process of traditional coffee beans,” Jarret Stopforth, Ph.D., the company’s chief scientist and co-founder, said in a statement. “Atomo’s magic comes from our proprietary bioreactive and thermal processes.”
This process also gives the company more control over what’s in the coffee and how the coffee tastes. Atomo can make its coffee have no caffeine or more caffeine than a traditional cup, and the coffee is reportedly less bitter than standard black coffee.
But why on Earth would anyone want to do this when coffee is already the perfect drink? Unfortunately, global demand for coffee has caused some harmful environmental and societal impacts. A huge demand for coffee can lead to adverse working conditions for farmers in often rural and poor countries. Demand has also pushed these farmers to deforestation in order to build coffee farms. Meanwhile, climate change is threatening coffee plants, which could make coffee harder to obtain, more expensive and lead to more deforestation or exploitative labor practices.
Atomo plans to use this new funding to help bring its product to market. This will involve building a production roastery in SODO — not far from the headquarters of another well-known Seattle coffee company, Starbucks. Atomo expects to bring its first products to market in 2021.
“Seattle is the perfect confluence of tech and craft coffee, it only makes sense that coffee is reinvented here,” Atomo CEO and co-founder Andy Kleitsch 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.”