A new coffee brand has emerged in San Diego. Red Hat Coffee began doing business in January, following a model similar to other local cold brew specialists Jupiter Coffee and Bobo Cold Brew. Rather than open a coffee shop or sell roasted beans, these companies specialize in producing batches of cold brewed coffee for bottled retail sales.
Elijah Elliott founded Red Hat, and says he first got into coffee through work. "I spent five years in the Marine Corps," Elliott says. "Then, when I got out, I went into engineering." For he and his coworkers, it was all about the caffeine: "A lot of long nights in both professions, and I had a lot of crappy coffee."
After he settled in San Diego, he began delving into the burgeoning roaster scene, searching for high-caffeine, low-acidity brews. "I learned about single origin and countries and flavors," he explains, "and got specifically interested in cold brew coffee because I thought it tasted cleaner and smoother."
He initially planned to start a coffee shop, but when an experienced partner dropped out, he streamlined his business model to focus on his cold brewing interests. He steeps coffee grounds for 24 hours in a commercial kitchen in El Cajon, and has started out selling it at farmers markets in Golden Hill and Solana Beach, and in a handful of local shops.
His first bottling, dubbed Cold Gold, features Colombian beans contract roasted by Dark Horse Coffee in Golden Hill. While Elliott plans to offer this origin consistently, he's currently looking at sourcing Brazilian coffee for a second option. In each case, his goal is to capture the general coffee flavors best associated with each nation of origin. "If we're open for 20 years we'll have 20 flavors," he hopes. "Each one will be a different country's flavor."
Though he says the low acidity of his brew lends itself to mixing well with any additive — whether dairy, dairy substitute, or alcohol — his goal for the strong brew was to make something smooth enough to drink black. So, in the run-up to launching Red Hat, he experimented with different brewing times and ratios, getting feedback from friends and family who don't normally drink coffee. "Once we found that the non coffee drinkers … could drink it straight black," he recalls, "that's when we knew we had a very powerful product."
Red Hat will be participating in the San Diego Coffee Network's Cold Brew City contest in June, and Elliott looks forward to having avowed coffee drinkers compare his product to competitors. "I strongly believe this is the kind of product — similar to beer — where you don't necessarily have brand loyalty as much as you have flavor loyalty," he says. "So, it actually helps us to have more brands out there spreading the word of cold brew, because it puts people on a pursuit to try as many brands as they can."