Apr 22, 2024 - Health

Bean-free "espresso": What's inside new coffee alternative

Illustration of coffee beans with a "no" symbol forming in the negative space.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

As Americans drink record-breaking amounts of coffee, one food startup is offering what it calls a sustainable "beanless espresso."

Why it matters: Coffee farming is linked to deforestation, shipping beans creates carbon emissions and research suggests climate change could impact the global coffee supply.

What to expect: Instead of coffee beans, Seattle-based Atomo Coffee uses millet, guava, fructose, date seeds, ramon seeds, pea protein, baking soda, sunflower seeds, lemon and fenugreek to get a coffee-like flavor.

  • Some of those ingredients would otherwise become plant waste, according to Atomo.

Don't worry, there's caffeine, which comes from green tea — 100 milligrams per double shot.

Try it: Atomo's product is available in several U.S. coffee shops as of Monday. (Yes, the Earth Day tie-in is intentional.)

  • You can find it in cities including Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and Austin, Texas.
  • It will also be available in 58 Bluestone Lane locations starting in August, and potentially additional cities, Atomo says.

Carly's thought bubble: Basic millennial that I am, I sampled Atomo's espresso as part of a hot oat milk latte. My reaction: "Not bad."

  • It doesn't make for a memorably great drink, but it does taste a lot like a regular latte and could serve as a perfectly passable substitute for someone looking to scratch the itch for coffee sans the beans.
  • A bonus: It seemed to deliver a sustained caffeine buzz, as opposed to the usual coffee jolt.

Between the lines: The milk-based drinks that use Atomo's espresso alternative will cost extra, similar to the way other specialty sips like mushroom coffees have been sold.

  • Each shop determines its own pricing, according to Atomo.
  • Atomo's grounds sell for $20.99 per pound wholesale.

The intrigue: Atomo is one of the latest startups to try selling pricier foods and drinks with a "better for the environment" message.

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