Java fiends produce a newer, cooler cup of coffee
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., April 29, 2011
I'm neither a coffee snob nor a coffee aficionado, and while I don't live or die by a daily morning coffee ritual, I do appreciate the flavor, the aroma, and the overall concept of coffee. For years, my personal favorite coffee beverage was a refreshing glass of iced coffee, gently colored with milk and sugar – often difficult to come by in restaurants, but satisfying when done well. After I discovered coffee shop versions of iced mochas and ice-blended coffee drinks, I got hooked on those several months a year. But since early March of this year, the base of my new personal favorite coffee beverage is Chameleon Cold-Brew, a cold-brewed coffee from business partners Steve Williams and Chris Campbell.
Williams has been a fixture on the local coffeehouse scene for more than a decade and currently operates the popular Bennu Coffee with his wife, Stephanie Hogue. Campbell was a corporate business consultant looking for an entrepreneurial venture of his own to pursue when the guys teamed up to form Chameleon Cold-Brew about 18 months ago. Their product debuted earlier this year, just in time for South by Southwest. I first heard about Chameleon from participants in the Interactive portion of the Conference who fell in love with it during the two-day Techmunch Food Blogger Conference; I didn't realize I'd already been drinking it at Bennu.
I sat down with the partners last week to learn more about how my new favorite thing came to be.
"I first learned the cold-brew process working at Mojo's in 1999. Anyone who has ever ordered a 'toddy' or an iced coffee at my coffee shop had a drink made with cold-brewed coffee," Williams says. So what's the benefit of cold-brewed coffee? He explains that the technique of using filtered water and controlled, low-temperature brewing over an extended period of time renders a rich, smooth, slightly concentrated coffee with higher caffeine levels and lower acidity than coffee brewed in the traditional hot-water method. Once the cold-brew is made, it can be poured over ice, colored with dairy or sweetener, or heated and served piping hot. Williams proudly describes himself as a coffee snob who will take his own cold-brewed toddy with him everywhere – traveling, camping, anywhere he goes in order to always have a great cup of coffee handy.
Once the partners had settled on their product and located a convenient commercial kitchen in which to produce it, they had to address all the same hurdles as any start-up food company – branding, packaging, labels, production, sales, and distribution. Much of the help they needed came from an unexpected but very experienced source. "I went to hear Sweet Leaf Tea founder Clayton Christopher speak, and afterward I talked to him about what we were planning. He suggested I talk to a guy who had worked with Sweet Leaf and had lots of experience with branding," Campbell recalls.
Williams and Campbell sat down with Craig Steckbeck of Mixtape Marketing to describe their concept and product: an evolved, cold-brewed coffee beverage that consumers could customize to their personal tastes. "One of our main points was the question of 'how do you color your coffee?' and the idea that we really wanted people to take the product and make it their own," says Williams. Steckbeck and his team developed the chameleon concept from those conversations. Williams and Campbell were eventually won over to the idea, and Chameleon Cold-Brew was born. "We really benefited from Craig's previous experience – he already knew the solutions to problems we didn't know enough to even anticipate – like what kind of label to use on a bottle that is likely to be served in buckets of ice. He saved us lots of money," Campbell reports.
Chameleon Cold-Brew is made with 100% organic, Fair Trade-certified Arabica beans roasted by Texas Coffee Traders. It's only been on the market a couple of months, and distribution continues to grow. Look for the 16- or 32-ounce bottles in refrigerated cases at Whip In, Wheatsville Co-op, both Fresh Plus grocery stores, Thom's Market, two Royal Blue Grocery locations (247 W. Third and 360 Nueces), the Corner Market in the Domain, Hyde Park Market, and Bennu Coffee, with more to come any day.
The next phase of company development includes plenty of public education. In-store demos help inform both retailers and consumers about the new product and its myriad uses. Sponsorship of selected events is a great way to introduce Chameleon to even more coffee lovers. Williams and Campbell say a website overhaul is currently in the works, and an important aspect of the new site will be a section of recipe suggestions for customizing the coffee. I can already imagine granitas, sorbet, affogato with gelato, tiramisu, coffee rubs and marinades for meats – the possibilities are endless. This is one cool cup of coffee!
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