Scientists Have Removed the Bitterness and the Beans from Coffee

Many people love the energizing effects of coffee, but hate the drink's bitter taste. Now their suffering is over thanks to a food scientist who has concocted a drink that not only removes the bitterness from coffee, but also the beans. 

Jarret Stopforth says he has created the perfect cup of coffee using science. After breaking down coffee "to its core components," Stopforth became convinced that he could "optimize" the breakfast staple by putting the desirable components together while eliminating others, including the one that gives coffee its bitter taste. 

His work soon caught the interest of entrepreneur Andy Kleitsch, who teamed up with Stopforth to create Atomo—a company that makes coffee without coffee beans. Instead, Atomo has specialized in using other ingredients that produce a more appealing beverage.

"One of the early prototypes that we created in Jarret's garage did not have any chlorogenic acid, which is the compound that contributes to the bitterness in coffee," Kleitsch told NPR. "We gave this cup of coffee to Jarret's wife and she said, 'This is what coffee should taste like.' It had the flavor and aroma of coffee without that bitterness."

The beverage's key ingredient is chicory, a root that has a long history as a coffee substitute in the American South. And while Atomo isn't prepared to give up all the details about their secret blend, they worked hard to make sure their final product was as close to coffee as possible, which meant preserving not only the effects and aroma but also the ritual of making java. 

"We wanted to maintain the ritual component of coffee, of waking up in the morning and putting grounds into the coffeemaker, and we wanted to replicate that scoop for scoop," Kleitsch said. 

That said, they aren't trying to pull a fast one on coffee fans. The Atomo team says that when their product hits the market, they will be upfront about the fact that their brew doesn't come from beans.

"We'll be very clear that our coffee doesn't come from a bean," Stopforth said. "In fact, we'll be very proud to say that, and there will be truth in labeling so we're not deceiving the consumer."

But is it still coffee? Yes, according to Stopforth, who says that there are no official rules around what can and can't be called coffee.

"Because there is no official regulatory definition, we can still call it coffee," Stopforth explained.

Beyond eliminating the drink's bitterness, there are other good reasons to make coffee without beans. Climate change has wreaked havoc on the coffee industry in recent years, which has left a significant portion of coffee species on the verge of extinction. Meanwhile, the amount of land suitable for coffee farming could shrink by as much as 50 percent by 2050.

"As we got deeper into the process, we learned more about the threats to the coffee world as a whole—threats to the environment from deforestation, global warming and [a devastating fungus called] rust, and we were even more committed to making a consistently great coffee that was also better for the environment," Stopforth says.

That means bean-free beverages could be the future of coffee, so don't be alarmed if you see them popping up at your favorite cafés.

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