The increasingly crowded $48 billion U.S. retail coffee market — with all its expensive lattes, cold brews and espresso drinks — hasn't left much room for the instant variety, an old kitchen favorite that's fallen by the wayside. One company is trying to bring it back.
San Francisco-based Sudden Coffee is giving instant coffee a much-needed makeover, doing so by taking beans from popular coffee roasters like 49th Parallel, Ritual Coffee Roasters and Saint Frank Coffee. Sudden Coffee dehydrates the coffee beans into a powder for later consumption, and the final product can be mixed with hot or cold water.
For as little as $24 per month, or as much as $85, subscribers can receive test tube-like vessels filled with the dehydrated beans, with each container as the equivalent of one cup.
You can trust co-founder Kalle Freese's taste in coffee, after all, he is a two-time Finnish barista champion and is also ranked as the ninth best barista in the world.
Because Americans love java and are particularly fond of specialty coffees, Sudden Coffee is "the first company at that intersection," Freese told CNBC in a recent interview.
Sudden Coffee might be a coffee company but it's run like a start-up. It has already secured investments from the likes of Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake, founder of Jaiku (which was acquired by Groupon) Jyri Engestrom and Lifeline Ventures among others.
The company catered the Slush Conference in Helsinki for the past couple years, serving more than 22,000 cups over the course of two days — a feat made possible with little setup due to the nature of the product.
The concept of instant coffee hails back to as early as the 1700s, when it was invented in Britain, then made its way across the Atlantic. During the Civil War, a version of instant coffee in cake was tested. In 1890, New Zealander David Strang invented and patented the powder form now recognized around the world, beginning the now ubiquitous instant coffee industry.
Today, the despite the popularity of artisan blends, 34 percent of the world's coffee consumption is still instant coffee.
Freese told CNBC that industrial instant coffee makers commonly double brew at a very high temperature, which makes the mass quantities of instant coffee consistent and affordable but lacking in taste. His approach is a bit different, however.
"About 30 percent of coffee that you extract is water soluble and the rest is cellulose," Freese said.
"Industrially, if you make a lot of coffee at a high temperature, the structure changes and what was previously insoluble becomes water soluble," he said. By increasing the extraction, manufacturers are able to get more out of the bean, Freese said.
Sudden Coffee is already seeing so much demand that it plans on scaling to 10 times its current production rate by October. Freese described that build as "scalable hospitality," or an opportunity to use technology to make life easier for anybody regardless of their location.