Beverage Startups

The Instant Coffee Is Back, Says David Kovalevski

The Instant Coffee Is Back, Says David KovalevskiIn today‘s fast-moving world, consumers are looking for quicker and easier ways to enjoy their favorite cup of coffee. Based in Los Angeles, Waka Coffee brings great taste and convenience to one place. With the idea that everyone should enjoy coffee effortlessly, Waka Coffee gives a great solution for our generation. Today, I have a pleasure of talking with David Kovalevski, the Founder and CEO at Waka Coffee.

Who or what inspired you to start a beverage business?

My love with the coffee world started when I was about 15 years old. My goal was always to open my own coffee shop. I collected menus from coffee shops and tracked trends in the coffee industry for years.

I grew up in Israel, where even though people often drink coffee at coffee shops, the majority of people still drink instant coffee at home, at the office, or on the go. This is actually the case in most coffee-drinking countries around the world – except in America.

When I moved to New York City 6 years ago, I had to juggle a full-time job and full-time school. Coffee, as you can imagine, was a big part of my daily routine. I quickly learned that in America you drink “drip” coffee at home, Starbucks on the go, and Keurig capsules in the office. I didn’t have the space for a coffee machine in my NYC studio apartment, nor did I want to wait for my coffee to brew every time I wanted a single cup of coffee. I also didn’t want to spend almost $4 for a cup of coffee from a coffee shop, or drink 3 different types of coffee at different times of the day. I wanted to have simple and delicious coffee, just like the instant coffee I used to have in Israel, whenever I needed a quick caffeine kick. I researched the instant coffee market in the US, tried a lot of brands, and realized there is a huge untapped opportunity here for people like me looking for a good instant coffee product.

These days the coffee industry has a huge variant of different brands. What makes Waka Coffee differ in the market?

After realizing that there is a gap between the need for instant coffee and the cultural acceptance of it in the US, I started to research why people in America don’t drink instant coffee. Surprisingly, many people didn’t even know what instant coffee was or thought all instant coffee tasted bad. When I followed up to ask the last time they had instant coffee or what brand they tried, most of them didn’t know or had never actually tried it. The reason for the stigma around instant coffee is the taste and quality of traditional US instant coffee brands. These products are mostly found on the bottom shelf at the grocery store, sold in bulk, and made from inferior coffee beans to be sold as cheaply as possible.

Waka Coffee was created to change the perception of instant coffee and bring it back to its glory days. Yes, once upon a time it was popular in the US as well. We do this by offering a quality and easy to make coffee experience. Our instant coffee is made from 100% Arabica beans, which are the same coffee beans used to make your delicious latte at the coffee shop. The Arabica advantage gives our instant coffee a richer, more complex flavor. It is also processed differently. Traditional brands opt for a mass spray drying process that sacrifices taste for speed and cost. Our instant coffee is made using a freeze-drying method that preserves the coffee’s authentic aroma and depth of flavor.

Waka Coffee is an instant coffee product made with 100% Arabica beans. What challenges did you face during the development process?

It took us a long time to find the right product that fits these two important criteria: 100% Arabica and freeze-dried. We contacted many roasters and coffee manufacturers and tasted different types of instant coffee from around the world. We found our instant coffee in Colombia, and we believe the taste is as close to drip coffee as you can find in an instant form. It took us about a year to fine-tune all the pieces and source the right instant coffee before we launched the company.

In your opinion, what are the biggest trends in today’s coffee market? What consumers are looking for when it comes to coffee products?

Convenience, quality, and functionality. People are realizing that coffee doesn’t have to be complicated to make in order to taste great. Coffee should be easily available wherever we are, be it at home, in the office, or on a camping trip. As you mentioned, we are living in a fast-paced world. We expect coffee to be easy to purchase and to make, without sacrificing the quality and taste. As a direct to consumer brand, we see how more people are going online to look for coffee products that fit these criteria.

People also are more conscious about health and wellness, and they are changing their diets accordingly. Coffee already has many antioxidants, but we also see how people are using coffee as the base for other functional drinks. For example, people now mix MCT oil, collagen, vitamins, and even CBD into their coffee. Instant coffee is a great option if you like to mix different ingredients together, as they all simply dissolve in water and can be consumed on the go.

The Instant Coffee Is Back, Says David Kovalevski“Add Water, Give Water” is a slogan on your website with a short description of donation program by Waka Coffee. Can you tell us more about this initiative? Why it’s so important for brands to be socially-responsible?

Definitely. This is something we are really proud of and it was one of the first foundation blocks of Waka. We established a relationship with charity: water even before we had a product! When researching the coffee industry, we realized a large amount of water is wasted in the coffee processing life-cycle. The amount of water wasted in coffee manufacturing and processing is shocking, considering many people in the same locations don’t even have clean drinking water. We knew immediately that we couldn’t sell a coffee product without taking steps to address this issue.

Access to clean drinking water affects many aspect of life in developing countries. It affects health, wealth, education, women’s equality, and much more. Just for perspective, there are about 633 million people in the world who live without clean water. Through our program, we donate 4% of our profits to charity: water to support incredible projects that bring clean drinking water to countries around the world – in Africa, Asia, Central and South America. Charity: water is a non-profit from New York City that is on a mission to solve the water crisis in our lifetime, and we couldn’t be more proud to support them.

Being socially responsible is a win-win for any company and especially CPG brands. You get the opportunity to support a greater cause in a more meaningful way than perhaps you could have done as an individual. You also empower your customers and community to support something they believe in, by buying a product they would have purchased anyway, like coffee.

Milestones are a way to understand the progress of your business growth. What is the biggest reached achievement so far?

We are proud to have expanded our line of products in a short amount time. We see Waka Coffee as a company that makes your coffee experience easier – easy to order and easy to make. Think of it as your online coffee shop. We are excited to introduce more products that can make your coffee experience easier wherever you are. We just launched our instant coffee in a decaf version and started testing quality instant tea products, such as our Kenyan black instant tea. We are also happy to continue to grow our customer base.

What advice would you had given yourself before you started out in the beverage business?

Save more money. This business is very cash intensive and expensive. You need a lot of money to grow your company, develop new products, advertise, distribute, etc. We are trying to bootstrap as much as possible and minimize our expenses while maintaining our growth. Not an easy task!

For more information visit Waka Coffee website.

About Ugne Butkute

Ugnė Butkutė is a project manager at DrinkPreneur. Ugnė is responsible for attracting contributors, maintaining quality of content and keeping readers satisfied with DrinkPreneur

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