SteepFuze, a Colorado company that specializes in CBD-infused coffee, came together through a series of coincidences that could only happen in this state. "It was a total accident how the idea came about," admits Devin Jamroz.
Ben Glennon and Jamroz met in 2012 at a Red Rocks concert through mutual friends. Neither lived in Colorado at the time, but they both moved here within months of each other and decided to room together.
Jamroz started using CBD for pain after he herniated two disks in his back snowboarding. He was on a cocktail of pharmaceutical drugs before he found cannabis. "The impetus to get on the tinctures was to get off pharmaceuticals," Glennon says.
Initially, Jamroz would use his tincture when he drank his morning coffee. That's when he decided to start brewing his own CBD-infused coffee using a popcorn maker and a thermometer. Glennon remembers that the first experiments tasted like drinking hot, grassy "swamp water," Jamroz says, finishing his sentence. "It wasn't glamorous."
They were talking about Jamroz's creation in the yard when a neighbor overheard them. "I couldn't see who it was because there were bushes between us," Jamroz recalls. "But he couldn't see the bushes."
Gerry Leary has been blind since birth, but after working as a mechanic for forty years, he founded the Unseen Bean, a Boulder coffee shop, in 2003. When he heard what Jamroz was doing, he wanted to get involved. And so a partnership was born.
"We're definitely a first, dipping the toe in the CBD world," Jamroz says. "People get this idea that edibles have this scary connotation and vaping is like smoking, even if it's just CBD — there are these mental and psychological barriers. But almost everybody loves coffee, so being able to introduce CBD in a product that people already use is important."
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Jamroz and Glennon sit on trash bins full of beans as they talk about how SteepFuze got its start. Each bin has a tag with the type of bean written on it, both in marker and in Braille. Leary is preparing the next roast, spinning the beans. When they're done, he takes a scoop, grinds the beans and brews a pot.
"Gerry coming on board was a total game-changer, because all of a sudden I had standardization for the coffee," Jamroz says.
Leary had spent fourteen years developing the perfect roast, and adding CBD was a natural fit, he says. "I roast the coffee so that the oil that is in the bean stays in the bean," Leary explains. "That way, when they infuse the bean, the oil that they use combines with the oil that's still part of the coffee bean so you don't lose the infused oil in the grinder or in the edges of the bag."
The team spent two and a half years in product development before officially launching SteepFuze. The operation is still small; the three-man team produces about 1,000 pounds of coffee a day, usually filling orders as they come in. All of the coffee is hand-packed by Jamroz and Glennon.
While Leary roasts the coffee, Glennon concentrates on business development and Jamroz focuses on developing the product. Among the company's most popular blends are its seasonal releases.
SteepFuze's Spring Release has an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe bean base. The beans are roasted to a medium level and then infused with a solvent-free, full-spectrum, hemp cannabinoid extract. Then it's time for Jamroz to add playful flavor combinations; this particular version mixes thin strips of fresh dried lemon zest, a touch of California mandarin orange peel, and a handful of Tasmanian pepper berries.
The team has a rule: Whoever comes up with an idea has to put in the work to make it happen. Jamroz knows exactly what it takes to get the zest for this seasonal release, since he has to peel six lemons for every pound of coffee. "I wouldn't describe it as tedious, but some might," Glennon jokes.
"When it's two in the morning and I'm peeling lemons, it's not a joyride," Jamroz admits.
Jamroz scoops the additional flavoring into each bag to ensure that everyone takes home a product with an equal flavor profile. "You are getting more of those flavor molecules, but we want to preserve the terpene profile in our extracts," Jamroz says. "We spent a long time finding an extract that had a taste profile — not just a high-enough quality, but a taste profile that blended with the coffee.... We're all about working with the natural flavors and finding that balance."
With the rich coffee flavor and added seasonings, it's not easy to detect the cannabis flavor. "Most people, I would say, can't taste it at all," Jamroz notes, "but those who can, who really have a taste for it, tend to like it."
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Those who have a taste for it also understand the price for a bag: $59.99. "You tell them $60 for 450 milligrams of CBD, and even in a tincture, that's pretty good," Jamroz notes. "You tell them the same price for a pound of coffee, and they have this idea of what coffee should cost, so we deal with sticker shock more than probably anybody."
The price works out to about $1.33 a cup, Glennon says, which is fair for a CBD product.
Early on, they experimented with THC, but decided to go with a solely CBD product. "In terms of getting acceptance for cannabis and hemp, CBD is probably a better figure for that than THC," Glennon explains. "That's the other thing that's important for us: giving back and building the industry as a whole."
"This industry is so fragile, it's so new, that there's not room for a whole lot of harsh squabbling," Jamroz adds. "In a greater sense, we all have to be working to develop the industry and to get the industry stronger before we can worry about throwing elbows at each other."