In his blue cooler packed with ice cubes and small glass bottles of coffee, business administration senior Sahil Gupta carries around what could change the multi-billion dollar coffee industry.
For a little more than three dollars, Gupta helps sell what he calls “jitter-less coffee” — a popular drink on campus at UC Berkeley, created by two students. Gupta works with these students to bring the product to Cal Poly’s campus.
Trial & Error
After feeling sick from high levels of caffeine and sugar while they were studying for finals, the two UC Berkeley students, environmental economics senior George Passantino and business senior Ofek Arush, decided there had to be a better way to get their coffee fix without the negative side effects.
“We were just sitting in the library and we both looked at each other and we were like wait, this could be something,” Passantino said. “That was kind of the moment like ‘what if we created a jitter-less coffee?’”
Once the pair had a solid idea for their project, they partnered up with Drink Labs, a beverage company that pairs entrepreneurs with beverage scientists, according to their website.
“They took our idea and made it a reality,” Arush said. “We came up to them with our idea and all of our findings and they basically finalized everything.”
In December 2018, they began testing different types of coffee grounds and milks. In pursuit of a perfect blend that did not have negative side effects, they went through more than 200 variations of roasts and ingredients, according to their website.
On April 7, 2019, Quokka Brew was launched.
Quokka coffee quickly became a popular drink on the UC Berkeley campus and the team grew to 11 people, with 40 brand ambassadors. As Quokka Brew expanded, Cal Poly business administration senior Sahil Gupta joined the team.
Gupta was living in the Bay Area for the summer while interning for a consulting firm when he met Arush. Arush pitched him the idea late one night, and Gupta said he knew it could be something big.
“So he’s telling me, jitter-less coffee, one gram of sugar, and I’m sitting there like ‘Dude, there’s absolutely no way you can make it,’” Gupta said. “And he said, ‘We actually got our first round of product, and I would love for you to try it.’”
An hour later Gupta said he felt no jitters, no anxiety and no crash.
That week, Gupta decided to find out if the coffee would be appealing to people outside of the college demographic. He brought bottles of the coffee into his internship and put the drinks on coworker’s desks with a small note card explaining what Quokka was. He said it was well received.
Now Gupta is Quokka Brew’s chief revenue officer. At the end of summer, he brought down 200 bottles of Quokka and a mini fridge to pitch and sell the coffee on campus.
“I try to source opportunities. Anywhere I can pitch it or sell and talk to clubs on campus. Any way to just expose the brand and just establish a presence here in [San Luis Obispo],” Gupta said.
Gupta travels to Berkeley for business meetings and events, such as the San Francisco Coffee Festival. At the festival in early November, Quokka Brew sold 900 bottles the first day and 600 bottles the second day — more than the Quokka Brew team said they had anticipated.
Quokka coffee is made of three ingredients: cold brew coffee, almond milk and a blend of organic amino acids. It contains 135 milligrams of caffeine — more than the average cup of joe, which contains 95 milligrams.
“Caffeine is a stimulant, so it acts on your brain and your nervous system and kind of gives you that jolt of energy,” Campus Dining Registered Dietitian Kaitlin Gibbons said.
However, many coffee drinks on the market right now can come with unwanted side effects from the high levels of caffeine and sugar. Quokka Brew’s organic amino acid blend works to fight against shakiness, anxiety and an inevitable crash that can come from the caffeine, according to Passantino.
Caffeine can tighten up blood vessels, according to Gibbons. Arush says that the amino acids in Quokka coffee can counteract that.
“The amino acids balance out the body. A lot of the organic ingredients are found in green tea and matcha, so we take those calming agents and transfer them to coffee,” Passantino said.
“With the amino acid blend and kind of our formula we have now, on a bell curve, 95 percent of coffee drinkers will not experience jitters, anxiousness or a crash,” Gupta said.
However, there are those outliers who are extra sensitive to caffeine and might still feel an effect.
Quokka Brew is currently working on getting “jitter-less” trademarked and their blend of amino acids patented.
All these precautions are to protect them as they enter the multi-billion dollar coffee market.
In a 400 person survey by the Quokka Brew team, they found, in no particular order, that energy, taste, price, and health are the factors consumers consider when choosing a coffee.
Using this data Quokka Brew created three coffee flavors: original, caramel and french vanilla. They have two new flavors on the horizon: mocha and a milk-free dark.
Coffee consumption in America is at a six-year high, with 64 percent of American adults drinking at least one cup a day, according to an industry study by the National Coffee Association.
Demand for coffee on campus is high as well. Cal Poly’s busiest coffee spot, Starbucks in the University Union, averages at 1,600 transactions daily.
For Quokka Brew to be sold on campus, there are a few hurdles to clear.
“We’ll do a vetting process for them as a vendor and make sure they meet all of our criteria to get them approved as a vendor. And then essentially we’d be able to sell it places like our Campus Market,” Gibbons said.
Currently, Gupta only sells Quokka out of his cooler.
“We don’t want Sahil lugging around his cooler forever,” Arush wrote in an email to Mustang News. “We would love for Cal Poly to be our next stronghold and be sold in stores both on campus and around the area.”
Quokka Brew is currently working on expanding and moving their production to a site that can meet demand. The company has already drawn attention from a few companies and investors, but the team has turned down offers because they said they want to ensure the quality of their product.
“We don’t really see this as a mobile operation to make a quick buck,” Arush said. “It’s something we whole-heartedly believe in and will be doing for the rest of our lives, or at least the foreseeable future.”
The team said they are open to investors and partners if they find the right fit who shares their company’s values.