Cold coffee innovation continues – with its sights on the at-home market

  • In summer 2024, Howard Schultz-backed Cumulus Coffee will start selling its countertop home cold brew machine
  • Cumulus will allow home users to quickly produce cold brew, nitro cold brew, and cold-pressed espresso
  • Cold coffee has been touted as the next big thing for years – and now investors are going after the at-home market

IT’S NO secret that cold brew has exploded in popularity in recent years. Over the last decade, we’ve seen innovation across the board, largely aimed at coffee shops and businesses. But what about the at-home market?

Last week, Cumulus Coffee Company started accepting pre-orders for its home countertop cold coffee brewing machine, priced at $599. The machine and its specialised coffee capsules are expected to launch in summer 2024.

The company secured $20.3 million in seed funding, with Valor Siren Ventures and Valor Equity Partners leading the investment round. Other contributors include Maveron, Howard Schultz, Linden Ventures, Carter Reum, and Ryan Tedder.

Valor Siren Ventures’ presence in the investment round is particularly significant. The Chicago private equity firm was established with anchor investments from Starbucks, Nestlé, and several other Fortune 500 food and retail organisations. Mesh Gelman, the CEO and founder of Cumulus, previously held leadership positions at Starbucks for over six years.

Cumulus’ cold brew machine is the latest in a slew of high-value, well-funded product launches in the cold coffee segment. What sets it apart is its focus on the home market – combined with the strong industry experience behind it.

Innovation in commercial cold brew systems and solutions is nothing new. But with surges in home coffee consumption over the last few years, it makes sense that the at-home market is the next step for cold coffee. 

This also reflects the increasing number of specialty coffee consumers who are willing to invest in a premium home equipment setup, especially since the pandemic. Cumulus’ machine has tactically positioned itself at the intersection between the booming popularity of cold coffee and a growing market for premium at-home consumption.

Leaps and bounds

Two decades ago, making cold brew involved buckets and cloth filters – an era which has clearly passed.

Cumulus’ machine uses “cold cloud technology” that can produce nitro coffee without the need for a cartridge. It can also produce a 10-ounce cold brew, and a cold-pressed espresso – all under 45 seconds.

It has been historically difficult to integrate cold-pressed espresso technology into semi or superautomatic coffee machines – it was a drink often reserved for the niche home barista with a manual lever machine.

While the details of Cumulus’ technology remain undisclosed, cold-pressed espresso relies on pressure to extract the volatile compounds that traditional cold brew methods previously couldn’t – resulting in more nuanced and complex flavours. Bringing this method into a compact system represents a significant leap forward in cold brew technology.

Having said that, it could be argued that Cumulus’ innovation isn’t necessarily in the pursuit of quality, but of convenience. Consumers increasingly seek compact, single-serve solutions, and the machine’s ability to deliver a range of beverages in under 45 seconds clearly prioritises this aspect.

As such, it’s important to note which consumer demographic this machine is targeting. The very fact that it’s a pod machine indicates that it’s not for the specialty coffee market. Additionally, the press release makes little reference to the quality of the coffee used in the capsules, with no mention of origin, cupping scores, or any other quality-related details – unlike the Blue Bottle capsules released earlier this year.

Instead, it uses language that appeals to the mass market; more specifically, the growing number of home consumers willing to invest in premium, high-convenience coffee equipment. It writes, “The coffee is also never exposed to heat, which allows it to retain its smooth and subtle taste.”

A prevalent argument within the specialty coffee community is that some degree of heat is needed to unlock the full range of flavours in coffee, and “smooth and subtle” is the lexicon of the mass market.

Nevertheless, this clearly marks a substantial step forward for cold brew technology. Cumulus has introduced a compact system that is able to deliver a range of cold brew drinks that, twenty years ago, would have boggled minds. 

More to come

At the same time, this launch shows that cold coffee cuts across markets; it’s not only for those interested in specialty coffee, but it’s also important for the mass premium market – a consumer demographic willing to invest in premium equipment, without dedicating any more time and resources to learning more about the coffee they are drinking.

This is why it’s such a lucrative segment – because it appeals to consumers on either side of the specialty coffee divide. In this way, Cumulus is occupying a similar space to Nespresso – just in the adjacent and faster-growing cold coffee segment.

It also shows that major industry players recognise the enormous potential in the at-home cold coffee market, where significant investments are being made in this relatively untapped space.

Having attracted the attention of Howard Schultz and his band of merry investors, it’s very likely not to be the last big product launch we see in this corner of the market.

Coffee Intelligence

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