Will this really be the Impossible Foods of coffee? For those who missed some of the buzz last year, Atomo is a Seattle-based startup that makes beanless brews in a lab, using leftover plant materials such as seeds, stems, leaves, and pits. After tinkering with its product and launching a $10,000 Kickstarter campaign in 2019, the company has now secured $9 million in venture capital money and is planning to open a 12,000 square-foot facility in SoDo soon, six blocks from Starbucks headquarters.
Potential corporate trolling aside, Atomo is getting a few steps closer to making its coffee available for consumers, which it plans to do in mid-2021. The company calls the new spot a “roastery,” though it also uses terms like “bioreactive processes” to describe the process of making its brews, which have garnered some positive reactions in blind taste tests — more watery, but a little smoother and less bitter than Starbucks.
Atomo says, besides attempting to perfect flavor, it’s trying to eliminate some of the negative environmental impacts of traditional coffee production. Some research suggests that the expansion of coffee farming is responsible for nearly 250,000 acres of deforestation a year, as the effects of climate change drive some farms to high-altitude areas that were previously left untouched.
But the company is not without its detractors. The respected online coffee publication Sprudge recently called Atomo “a tech bro solution to a problem that doesn’t even really exist,” and criticized its method of cutting out small-holder farmers out of the bean-sourcing process.
“Our goal isn’t to put farmers out of work, it’s to alleviate some of the pressure from demand and allow existing farmers to be able to finally charge what they need to grow coffee sustainably,” counters Atomo marketing director Cara LeDuc. “Conventional coffee will never go out of fashion, but if we can slow down the need to plant more and discontinue the expansion of coffee farming into virgin rainforest lands, we might be able to create a more sustainable future for the industry together.”
Atomo is still not revealing the exact process by which it makes the coffee, citing the continuing patent process. But LeDuc says it will be “fully transparent with ingredients before the product hits the market.”