La Colombe pilots coffee in self-heating cans

Illustration for article titled La Colombe pilots coffee in self-heating cans
Photo: La Colombe

If you’ve ever thought, wow, I really could use a nice can of coffee but I sure wish it were hot, then you are standing on the precipice of a truly golden moment in your life. La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based coffee chain that previously brought you the draft latte and other such coffee innovations (caffeinovations?), is testing a canned coffee that heats itself up before you pop the tab. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the beverage, currently available only at the chain’s flagship location but coming to Wegmans locations soon, reaches a temperature of 130 degrees in two minutes thanks to a can designed by the appropriately named company HeatGen.


How it works, we don’t know, because per the Inquirer, HeatGen won’t say, “beyond explaining it as a solid-state reaction that is safe and recyclable.” But from a user standpoint, you “twist the bottom, wait two minutes, gently shake, pull the tab on the lid, and get 10.3 ounces of coffee delivered at about 130 degrees.”

Todd Carmichael, the company’s CEO, isn’t sure how people will respond:

“I want to see how people react,” he said. “I’m experimenting with technology and I’m experimenting with people. Is it a fad or a novelty or is it a trend? I want to see how it fits in with people’s lives.” Carmichael himself could have used something like this during his daring explorations, including a 39-day, 700-mile solo walk to the South Pole in 2008.

Currently, the cans—available black and with milk and sugar—will set you back $5, should you be near that flagship café. But Carmichael says the price will drop dramatically. Some uses for the beverage are easy to see, like if you’re camping or hiking in the fall or winter; that said, it’s tough to imagine drinking from a hot can, which feels like it might be a pretty strange experience. Still, if your choices on a cold night are burnt coffee from a gas station or La Colombe from a strangely warm can, odds are the latter will prove more satisfying.

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!



Oh I misread this title as “self-sealing cans.” I was excited.

You can read the patents that HeatGen holds for a good idea of how the heater works. HeatGenie became HeatGen, so all of those patents are the ones used in these cans:

The patents include likely formulations for the heating compounds as well, so it’s not too big of a mystery as to how these things work:

“....Although other formulations could be used, an example heat-generating formulation is a mixture containing 15-25% aluminum, with particle size of 2-30 microns, 20-30% silicon dioxide, 25-45% alumina, and additives and reaction aids such as potassium chlorate, calcium fluoride, and barium peroxide.

To initiate the thermal reaction inside the heater, the reactant mixture 802 may be ignited near its upper surface by various means known in the art such as, for example, expelling a reactive “starting fluid” from a blister onto a reactive starting pellet in response to a force applied by the user via the CUI.”