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Over the last year, Todd Carmichael, CEO and co-founder of La Colombe Coffee Roasters, began noticing that more than half of customers were ordering cold coffee drinks in the morning instead of a traditional hot coffee. “We watched as this cold phenomenon took hold and became actually the dominant way of consuming coffee,” he explained in a phone interview. “It’s like, OK. This is now a temperature we can play with.” Carmichael started looking closely at the cold drinks folks were ordering and was generally underwhelmed by their quality. “When I looked critically at the drinks that were happening on a cold level, I realized what they really were were hot drinks with ice in them, and I thought that didn’t seem authentic or legitimate.”
Then, he had an epiphany. “A hot latte is coffee, milk, and it’s vapor. And I realized in the cold category, we didn’t have vapor,” which is what gives a hot latte its signature fluffy texture. So Carmichael set out on a ten day-long quest—during which time, “I didn’t really spend a lot of time at home. I went crazy in my lab,” according to Carmichael—to create a cold drink that would have the same beautiful, velvety texture as a hot latte.
The result? La Colombe’s Draft Latte, which uses a patented valve system called the Innovalve to create the one-of-a-kind texture. Carmichael walked us through the design of the can to explain how it works, why you shouldn’t take the plastic mouthguard off the top, and how a draft latte can sit on a shelf, unrefrigerated, for up to six months without losing its fizz.
Sterilized Aluminum Can
The aluminum can is sterilized before liquid is added to eliminate any foreign bodies. This helps to ensure the draft latte’s six month-long shelf life, without refrigeration.
On the top of every can is a plastic sip-through lid that should not be removed, even though it looks like it might be unnecessary. This sip-through lid provides a protective layer between the aluminum can itself and your lips. “Your lips will touch something that I designed that’s more comfortable for your lips than an aluminum can,” explains Carmichael. There’s also a taste component, since the lid disrupts the flow of the liquid, and “funnels the fluid right onto the spot of the tongue we want to hit.”
The valve at the bottom of the otherwise standard aluminum can is what allows Carmichael to create a texturized cold drink, and it’s being patented by the company as the Innovalve. It is through this valve that liquid nitrous oxide is injected into the beverage. It sits in the bottom of the can as a liquid, “but the moment you release the pressure by opening the can, that liquid gas becomes vapor,” explains Carmichael. That transformation from liquid to gas is what causes the billions and billions microbubbles to form within the coffee and milk mixture and create the signature layer of microfoam. There is also a tamper-resistant indicator at the bottom, where the valve is, to help customers know if any funny business happened in transit.
The foam in a traditional hot latte is made with heat, so Carmichael needed to find a vapor substitute for the cold beverage. He decided to use nitrous oxide, which creates the bubbles in the microfoam. It’s also the gas that gives nitro cold brew its signature texture.
The can comes in a printed sleeve, made of all recyclable material, so that rather than touching raw metal, your fingers come in contact with something that “feels more solid, and it feels more weighted,” explains Carmichael.
Organic 2% Milk
“I work with real, raw milk,” says Carmichael, but it’s not without its processing. He breaks the lactose chain in it, which means that this latte is friendly for folks who are lactose intolerant. This milk is also ultra-high temperature pasteurized, which means that it’s very shelf stable, especially in a sealed can.
La Colombe’s draft latte has 50 percent more caffeine than a traditional cup of coffee, but it’s still an overall sweet drink. “I pick coffees that are sweat in nature. I brew them in a way that accentuates their sweet flavor,” says Carmichael, but the skill is in the ratio of that coffee to milk. “When I put it together, I make sure that my ratios are just right to get your brain to think, ‘I’m having some dessert here.’”