February 14, 2013 | 7:57am
What do you start your day with? If you're like half the US population -- about 150 million Americans -- it's the first thing you reach for every morning.
No, it's not the alarm clock, or your toothbrush. And it's not breakfast. It's the coffee pot. Because, let's face it, that first cup of Joe is quite possibly the only thing that gets you out the door each day. Without it, most of us would be a groggy, grumpy mess.
But what about when you're not in the comfort of your own home to brew some fresh, nowhere near your morning latte pit stop, and miles from the closest Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? It's times like these when getting your daily caffeine fix isn't always easy -- or tasty.
Luckily, Miami's Jiva Coffee Cubes can fix that. The all-natural, 100 percent Columbian instant coffee start-up is currently being funded on Kickstarter, which means it may not be long before you see these portable, cube-shaped coffee blocks available at your local grocer or coffee shop.
All you need is a cup, some water -- hot or cold will do -- and a strong desire to ingest pure caffeine and sugar as quickly as possible...
Jiva Coffee Cubes was founded by Natalia Rodriguez in 2011. Born and raised in Miami, the half-Cuban, half-Colombian said her Latin roots helped foster a love of coffee at an early age; she's been drinking it since she was a toddler.
"I can remember the first time I tried coffee -- Cuban coffee," Rodriguez told Clean Plate Charlie. "I was four years old. And I've been hooked ever since."
The idea to create an instant cube of Colombian coffee came to Rodriguez while she was visiting her family with her mother and grandmother in Colombia a few years ago. The three women travelled to the family's hometown, a farming area in the northern state of Santander, also known as one of the country's most famous coffee-growing regions. There, in a small general store, Rodriguez found something that would change her life.
To learn more about Jiva, like them on Facebook and visit the company website. To become a sponsor, visit the Kickstarter page.
"While I was shopping something caught my eye. On a shelf I found a package that read 'café en cubos, cafe instantáneo endulcado con panela.' Even with my limited Spanish, I knew what it meant," said Rodriguez.
It meant instant coffee. Inside the wrapping: a small chunk of sugary-syrup and ground coffee beans formed together in the shape of a cube. As soon as she tasted it, Rodriguez knew the idea would be appealing to an American market -- even one that was already happy sipping fresh-brewed, artisanal coffees for close to $5 a cup.
That meant creating a versatile product in flavors like mocha, hazelnut and caramel, as well as a product that would appeal to the all-natural, fair trade and USDA organic certified crowd.
"Making an all-natural product that was free of preservatives was very important to us," said Rodriguez, who launched her first failed Kickstarter project in March of 2012. Rather than give up, she re-launched a few months later, this time with help from her current partner, Allen Gomberg. By the end of the three-month run, Jiva had over 600 backers, and the necessary $20,000 needed to begin production of Jiva Coffee Cubes in the company's Colombia-based warehouse.
To make Jiva, coffee beans are freeze-dried and crushed, which allows the flavors to be preserved into a sticky cube held together by a natural sweetener popular in Central and South American known as panela. The biggest difference between Jiva and other instant coffees: the ingredients, specifically the panela, an unrefined whole cane sugar, the end product of boiling and evaporating pure sugarcane juice.
As a result, Jiva does not use any chemical or artificial binders or preservatives. Jiva also sources beans from farmers affiliated with the Rainforest Alliance and ECO-Cert. The Don Marcos Coffee Farm that produces the beans used to make Jiva is also a part of the Kachalu Coffee Growers Association, said Rodriguez, a group of 14 families that are committed to producing a high quality coffee while preserving traceability and social responsibility.
Although Rodriguez has been able to establish her company with funds previously raised by Kickstarter, she and Gomberg returned for additional funding that will go towards purchasing a new packaging machine to expand product distribution both nationally and internationally. If funding is successful, the machine would make it possible for Jiva to increase production from just 15 boxes of 24 cubes packaged by hand each day, to about 250 cubes a minute.
"That would really help us to grow our sales to local retail buyers, and to international consumers. It would also allow us to produce more flavors," said Rodriguez. Currently, mocha and original-flavored Jiva cubes have been produced for product testing, but Rodriguez said she'd like to launch with several flavors including hazelnut, caramel, vanilla and amaretto. There are plans to role out an all-natural hot chocolate cube, as well.
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