(originally published in Creative Loafing)
Atlanta-based tech startup Hey Joe Coffee hopes to revolutionize the way we make coffee
When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. So what happens when life hands you scalding-hot coffee, spills it all over your car during your commute, and then leaves you with a cold drink by the time you get to work? After one too many of these debacles, Hey Joe Coffee CEO and University of Georgia grad Jordan Warren decided to take matters into his own hands. In 2014 he set out to launch a startup built around one main product: the GoJoe Smart Mug.
The idea for Jordan was simple: create a mug that brews coffee at the touch of a button. No mess, no cords, minimal effort, and a hot cup of coffee ready to drink by the end of a commute, workout, or any other activity that involves multitasking. Warren says his hope is to upgrade the Keurig model of having a freshly brewed cup every time by giving coffee drinkers the same experience beyond their kitchen.
The Smart Mug’s sleek, black design looks similar to an average travel thermos. A single silver power button controls the entire brewing process. The mug’s lithium polymer battery works much like that of smartphone and laptop batteries, but on a smaller scale. It does require charging through a plug outlet for about 45 minutes, but once charged the mug is fully portable. One cup takes about four minutes to brew.
“[It] utilizes the same technology as a Tesla car,” Warren says. “It’s currently the only technology that allows you to heat water in the period of time that it does, to the temperature that it does, from a battery.”
Once the technical aspects were in place, Warren shifted his attention to the actual coffee. As of now, Hey Joe’s proprietary pods — filled with coffee sourced from Ecuador and Costa Rica — are the only things compatible with the Smart Mug. For some coffee drinkers, particularly Keurig fans with hundreds of K-Cup flavors to choose from, being confined to Hey Joe pods could be a deal breaker. In light of this predicament, Warren says the company is exploring partnerships with popular coffee brands to make a variety of flavors available in the future.
Technological improvements made after launching the Smart Mug’s created some logistical challenges for Hey Joe earlier this year. Just a few weeks after mugs from a successful pre-sale in January shipped, the team made a major breakthrough in battery efficiency. Now the battery is able to reach higher temperatures, reach multiple brew cycles, and do that across the different temperature settings, Warren says.
Hey Joe had to send new batteries to all pre-sale buyers and ultimately had to adjust its production process. The company scaled back on sales until it could implement the newest changes and ensure every customer gets the best version of the product. A nationwide launch is planned for sometime in April, and Warren is excited for the enhanced experience customers will receive with the next wave of Smart Mugs.
Warren credits the Atlanta Tech Village, the innovative tech startup community where the company is headquartered, as a large part of what has made the company successful. “It’s been a huge resource for finding other companies that can contribute and meeting new talent,” he says. “It’s really opened a lot of doors.”
Warren says Atlantans in general have been very supportive of the company, too, which makes sense given ATL’s recent craft coffee explosion. For busy city-dwellers that depend on coffee, a product aiming to make on-the-go caffeinating more convenient than ever before is an easy sell.