Introducing COBA — The Coffee Bar

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COBA is a coffee startup that is trying to solve many of the inefficiencies in coffee consumption. Their current product is a coffee bar which resembles a chocolate bar in terms of taste and texture. Each bar contains the caffeine equivalent of 1 cup of coffee.

Their mission is to be ethical and mindful about where coffee comes from and let people feel good about what they’re consuming.

They recently launched a Kickstarter where backers can pledge different amounts to try different COBA bars. They were also featured on the NowThis Food Facebook page with over 270k views.

We recently sat down with Josh from the founding team to learn more about his experience starting COBA.


Part 1: The Idea 💡

Q: How did you come up with the idea to create a bar?

Josh: “Coffee takes 5–6 years to grow in South America. Farmers in Ecuador check the crop every day to make sure the product is perfect and the process is very labor intensive. After the beans arrive in the US, they get roasted and ground up into a drink. Most people don’t know that the coffee grounds thrown out after this process have almost 80% of the caffeine content from the bean. After noticing how inefficient coffee consumption is right now, we wanted to come up with a product that would utilize the full bean.”

Q: When did you think about turning that idea into a company?

Josh: “When Peter and Doug started this in 2016 it was mostly them testing out different combinations of ingredients. We turned this into a company when we really started utilizing resource in Berkeley. At first it was a science experiment at home, but this year we realized there is a real market for this type of product.”

Douglas & Peter

Q: How has your experience been as a founder at Cal?

Josh: “I’m a senior right now taking 17 units and am part of many organizations outside of classes. It’s tough managing all aspects of my life. Being a founder can sometimes be over-hyped in Berkeley. People don’t realize I’m going through the same struggles as any other student. There’s a lot of hard work that goes behind the small details and sometimes it’s not as glamorous as people think”.


Part 2: Creating the Bar 🍫

Q: “How did you source the ingredients for the bar?

Josh: “Peter had some connections in South America. Recently, he went down to Ecuador and met with direct trade coffee farmers. These farmers aren’t big enough to afford certifications, memberships, and fees that bigger entities can pay for. We wanted to develop personal relationships with these farmers because it gives us a more human element to the process. We aren’t just helping our customers who buy the bar, we’re also helping the smaller farmers.”

Q: How did you test different combinations?

Josh: “Since 2016, Doug’s made close to 190 batches of COBA. The taste and caffeine levels have varied. We tested the batches by having small pop up sales. Last semester, we gave out our bars for free on Memorial glade to get feedback from students. We now have COBA milk and COBA dark (which is vegan). We came up with COBA Dark because someone on our team is lactose intolerant so she couldn’t eat the COBA milk bars. We soon realized there are many people who want to be more health conscious and it opens up the possibility for new products in the future.”

Pouring the mixture into the bar molds

Q: Why is this the best way to consume coffee?

Josh: “The key distinction is that the bar is solid versus drinking a cup of coffee, which is how coffee is usually consumed. Having a bar solves many problems. It’s easier to carry, takes up less space, and utilizes the whole coffee bean.”


Part 1: Growth 📈

Q: What is your progress in Berkeley, so far?

Josh: “We had a public crowdfunding campaign when we joined FreeV in September. We were 100% funded in 24 hours. We wanted to focus on Berkeley first because we’re leveraging our personal connections and the Berkeley community to establish a foothold here as our ‘home base’. Since then, we were able to create a second product (COBA Dark) and build relationships with other food startups to set up a supply chain.”

Q: What is the product vision?

Josh: “Of course this is all hypothetical, but there are 2 routes I can see COBA expanding on for the future. 1) We consider expanding on our original product of bars by having as many possible flavors of bars (Matcha, Vanilla, etc). 2) We build a COBA ecosystem that would supplement different parts of your coffee experience. This includes things like a high-tech carrying case for your COBA bars, new types of coffee beans to match your personal preference of coffee bean profiles, an online community based around COBA, etc.”


If you’d like to personally get in touch with Josh, feel free to reach out to me at pratik@freeventures.org and I can help set up an introduction.

Visit the Free Ventures website to learn more about our current and past batches, and subscribe to FreeV Spotlight for monthly updates and articles about our amazing founders!

The FreeV Spotlight and article were written and edited by Pratik Bhat, from the FreeV Internal Team.