Sudden Coffee: New instant coffee that doesn’t suck
WORDS BY: DANIEL SPIELBERGER | ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF SUDDEN COFFEE
Across American cities, there are coffee shops with beautiful house plants, hand-crafted furniture, and bearded baristas operating equipment that look straight out of Walter White’s lab. In annual coffee competitions, baristas from all around the world face off to see who can make the most flavorful, innovative brew. While plenty of us are fine with a cup of Starbucks, it’s pretty clear that coffee culture is no longer casual. Sudden Coffee is trying to bring this spirit of sophistication and ingenuity to something notoriously generic–instant coffee. But are they actually disrupting the instant coffee industry or falling short of their lofty goals?
Sudden Coffee was founded by two-time Finnish Barista Champion Kalle Freese and food entrepreneur Joshua Zloof. While working at a cafe in Helsinki, Finland, Kalle became interested in the idea of making higher quality instant coffee. He eventually linked up with Joshua and moved to San Francisco. In the spirit of Silicon Valley visionaries, they came up with their instant coffee brewing techniques in garages. At first, Kalle would pull espresso shots, freeze-dry them, and then break them down into a powder. But this was way too labor intensive and time consuming. To expand their operation, Kalle and Joshua brought on coffee guru Umeko Motoyoshi to make their brewing techniques more efficient. Before trying to disrupt the instant coffee industry, Umeko spent ten years working for specialty coffee companies like Blue Bottle and Four Barrell. When I asked her about how Sudden Coffee is made, she was elusive, telling me that now they do a “totally unique, proprietary method” that is more “consistent” than what they were doing before. Their website is similarly vague, stating that their product comes from “sustainably grown, top 1% beans” that undergo “a unique brewing process.”
Despite maintaining some mystery, Sudden Coffee aims to be intimate and charming. Umeko spoke extensively about how she wanted to create instant coffee that feels “like it’s from a person” and that had a “kindness and humanness.” Additionally, the San Francisco based company hopes to strip away the pretentiousness that’s associated with speciality coffee. Umeko described how some of her customers are suburban, “hardworking” people that care about coffee but simply can’t access upscale products because of geography. Sudden Coffee’s catchy slogans also try to sell you on this idea of accessibility—“Tastes like pour over. Works like instant” and “Skip, the lines avoid the mess. Get on with your day!” On their website, they even go so far as to say that they are better than major third-wave coffee players like Blue Bottle and Philz.
Does Sudden Coffee live up to all this hype?
Not really. When I got my order, it truly did have a “kindness and humanness” to it, coming with a handwritten letter welcoming me to the “family,” a cute pin, and an aesthetically pleasing pouch. There’s no doubt that they have put a lot of time and care into their packaging and customer service. But the coffee itself fell short of resembling actual third-wave products. Though it had a pleasant, chocolate smell, it had the watery consistency and underwhelming weak taste of most instant coffee.
High quality, accessible instant coffee is a fantastic idea. It would be wonderful if instead of spending half an hour in line at a coffee shop or buying expensive brewing containers, you could simply pour some powder into a cup of boiling water. The problem with Sudden Coffee is that their marketing makes it seem like their instant mix could actually replace expensive coffee. But it’s just the same old product in fancy new packaging.