“When we first launched on Kickstarter last year it was with the idea that you should be able to offer specialty coffee in a single-serve method that doesn’t totally destroy the planet as far as plastic waste [from pods does,] … and also doesn’t compromise on the taste of the coffee by dehydrating it like instant coffee,” Nate Appel told FoodNavigator-USA.
The company’s solution: premium coffee in single serve bags akin to what most tea drinkers dunk in steaming mugs of water, which are fully compostable and use a third of the packaging of most single-brew pods on the market.
But don’t let the simplicity of the concept fool you, Appel said.
“Turns out putting coffee in single-serve bags is a lot more difficult than it seems,” he said. “There is a lot that goes into the material, the packaging and coffee in order to present the beverage the way it was intended and also make it entirely compostable using renewable materials.”
More than a tea bag filled with coffee
He explained at a functional level simply putting coffee grounds in a regular tea bag doesn’t work because the permeability isn’t correct.
“The grounds are just going to fall out basically,” he said.
After testing different options, Steeped landed on a full immersion non-GMO filter “that regulates ideal water-in and maximum flavor-out interchange,” and which is sealed with ultrasonic edges – meaning not glue, staples or washed materials “for maximum steeping” and minimal waste.
The coffee-packed filters are then placed in nitro sealed wrappers that remove the oxygen to effectively preserve the taste, aroma and experience of freshly ground coffee.
“When you grind coffee, as soon as you grind it the clock starts ticking on freshness. But by flushing each package with nitric oxide to evacuate all the oxygen, we were able to get a best by date of about six months from when the coffee was ground and packaged. That means you get this really great experience right from when you open the package. It smells like it was just ground moments ago,” Appel said.
The final cup “is amazing – essentially just like you would get from a French press or a pour over,” but with less mess, Appel said.
He explained that the bags are dunked several times in water heated to 205 to 207 degrees and left to steep for five to seven minutes depending on the “personalization of the flavor notes of the coffee you are using.”
Indeed, the finished product even passed the sophisticated taste test of multiple independent specialty coffee Q graders for freshness, quality and flavor, Appel said, pointing to the company’s award for best new product last month at the Coffee Expo.
A two-prong strategy for growth
While Steeped offers its own house brand of the coffee, it also outsources its technology to other roasters who want to offer their consumers a more convenient branded experience.
This strategy not only creates a second line of revenue, but it is helping to educate consumers by offering them a familiar brand they love in a new format – effectively lowering the barrier to trial, Appel said.
Looking forward, Appel said, Steeped is expanding its partnerships with regional roasters and hoping to place the finished products everywhere that single-brew pod machines currently are – which means targeting offices and the hospitality industry as well as end-users through retail and online subscription sales.
Ultimately, he concluded, the company – and its partners – are showing consumers and the industry at large that they can be mindful of their environmental impact and still enjoy a convenient, high-quality cup of coffee.