Coffee requires a lot of natural resources to grow and harvest. In fact, according to Our World in Data, it’s the sixth-most polluting crop in terms of greenhouse gas emissions across the supply chain. Combine that with dwindling farmland and climate change, and you’ve got an agricultural industry that’s now become a center of environmental concern.
With that in mind, TechCrunch profiled a company called Compound Foods. Founded in 2020, Compound Foods aims to not only create a cup of joe that tastes great—but is also a sustainable product in the long run. How? By producing beanless coffee.
(If the idea sounds familiar, it’s similar to QOA, a startup we recently covered that specializes in cacao-less cocoa. QOA recreates flavor compounds found in chocolate in order to make a chocolate substitute that actually tastes like the real thing—sans the crop.)
Maricel Saenz is the founder and CEO of Compound Foods. She’s a San Francisco transplant by way of Costa Rica, and her love of coffee is paving the way for the company’s mission. “Temperatures are rising and combined with erratic rains are leading to lower crop yield,” Saenz told TechCrunch. “The same crop can’t grow in the same place anymore, or it will be a lower quality product. Farmers in Costa Rica are having to sell their land or go higher up the mountain. Experts predict that 50% of farmland will be unsuitable in the next couple of decades.”
To help solve the problem, Compound Foods has devised a method that uses synthetic biology to extract molecules that create coffee flavors, without the bean. It’s a matching process during which experts look at the core aspects of coffee aroma and taste, then recreate them in one harmonious product. Later down the line, the company hopes to recreate nuances you find in coffee from different locations, like Brazil or Costa Rica. Interestingly, the product can still be called “coffee” since Saenz says there’s no official regulatory definition for it.
Compound Foods is focused on a few different waste-reducing aspects, including water usage. Per TechCrunch, the normal coffee growth cycle requires about 140 liters of water. Compound Foods’ process will use ingredients that don’t require as much water to produce.
After picking up $4.5 million during its last round of funding, Compound Foods is planning on a soft launch later this year. The company will use the money to improve its formula as well as scale the business. Much like QOA is doing with chocolate, Compound Foods isn’t aiming to replace the entire coffee industry—it just wants to recreate the experience of with an alternative, more sustainable solution. That sounds pretty cool. You know, I could go for a cup of beanless coffee right about now.