Nov. 19, 2021 11:30 AM PST

Before he was TikTok-famous as Your Korean Dad, Nick Cho was specialty-coffee-famous as the co-founder of San Francisco’s Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters. Here, he assesses the new Silicon Valley caffeine obsession: highbrow instant coffees.

“Each generation thinks it invented sex; each generation is totally mistaken,” wrote sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein. I feel the same way about coffee. Sure, someday coffee may be improved to such a degree that it will feel like a reinvention. And as with sex, there are all sorts of technologies that can add to our enjoyment. But there’s really no substitute for the presence of another person who knows what they’re doing. (This is why you should tip your baristas, folks!)

Currently, the sexy new thing in coffee, especially in efficiency- and quality-obsessed tech circles, is specialty instant coffee. (Sample tech-guy tweet: “This is the most Silicon Valley approach to coffee ever.”) The trend began with the now-defunct Sudden Coffee in 2015, and hit warp speed in 2019 with the introduction of Cometeer Coffee, led by a former computer scientist, Matthew Roberts. Now there are dozens of specialty pods, concentrates, and packets on the market.

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Art by Clark Miller.
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