Food Service & Agriculture, Retail, and Small Business & Startups

Creators follow a simple process for bottled iced coffee

Diabetic owner was looking for a mellow brew without cream and sugar.

August 21, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Prospectors Coffee
Approximately 80 specialty retail outlets in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois offer the bottled version of the iced coffee. Courtesy Michael Malek

David Wentworth was looking for a way to enjoy mellow coffee without the addition of cream and sugar because of his Type 1 diabetes.

His friend, Eric Pearson, brought some cold-brew coffees back from a trip to California and introduced Wentworth to a growing national trend.

“He introduced me to the cold-brew trend, and I fell in love and started making it myself and bottling it,” Wentworth said. “I was bringing it to friends’ houses, and Eric saw it and fell in love with it.

“Prospectors Cold Brew Coffee was born.”

Last July, after obtaining a license and producing a base concentrate, the company officially began. The concentrate is available as is, and is also used to make three different varieties of bottled iced coffee: Original, Extra Strength and Almond Milk.

Wentworth and Pearson point to Starbucks’ entry into the market as proof the packaged iced coffee trend is here to stay.

Many of the packaged iced coffees, however, are loaded with additives and sugar, with some bottles nearing 300 calories.

Prospectors’ process is simple. Wentworth, who works full time with the company, takes fair trade organic coffee and a small amount of fresh mint and soaks it in water for 16 hours. It then goes through a “complicated” filter system four times.

The production is done in the Downtown Market’s incubator kitchen.

“Simple ingredients and time is all it takes,” Wentworth said. “We like cold brew. The way the coffee comes out is really amazing, and it’s less bitter, less acidic, so it’s easier on the stomach.

“And you really taste what the coffee is about.”

Pearson said the company’s base concentrate was the most important aspect of the startup: Without its versatility, Prospectors couldn’t offer what it does and all it plans to offer in the future.

The question “Do we have a unique, differentiated product?” was asked throughout the development of the concentrate, Pearson said.

“The first thing we looked at was making sure we have the right product,” he said. “It allows you to make it hot; you can enjoy it cold with ice, with milk. The applications are broad.”

The company’s name and brand give hints about the products’ simplicity.

“The whole idea of our product is a slow, simple process,” Wentworth said.

“What’s more simple and focused on one goal than a prospector?” Pearson added. “They’re living simply, hoping for that shot at gold. There’s also the correlation with cowboy coffee, which was a strong, thick, heavy coffee.”

Retail outlets for the bottled products have been Prospectors’ primary focus, but Pearson said its concentrate can be used by many service businesses as a stand-alone product.

“We like that type of business with a lot of infused products,” Pearson said. “We provide the concentrate to breweries, bakeries, bars. By us going through this process, it provides the customer with a 100 percent usable product.”

Wentworth is hard at work developing new products. The company already has a kegged nitro version of the coffee that nicely complements beers on tap, Wentworth said.

This fall, a pumpkin spice seasonal flavor will be released. Wentworth said he’s also working on a slightly sweetened version of the almond milk variety using Michigan maple syrup.

Prospectors hopes the newer, sweetened flavors will expand its network beyond the current 80 or so specialty retailers in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois and into more mainstream stores. Those first 80 stores came much faster than the owners expected, thanks to a connection Pearson set up with wholesale food distributor Lipari Foods in Warren.

Pearson said the goal is to keep the new products under 40 calories.

“We want to make sure, if we add sugar, we do it because it’s needed,” he said. “We want a coffee drink that still tastes like coffee, not sugar — the best ingredients and as simple as possible.”

Keeping it simple is in line with why they started the business, Pearson said.

“We came into it a little unorthodox, based on an individual’s need,” he said. “A lot of it is a social experiment and we wanted to see if it would even work.”

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