May 6, 2021

CBD and coffee: Exploring a new market

Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, has slowly but surely slipped into the global market, a range of products, and our social media feeds. Experts now expect this US $390 million industry to be worth billions within just a few years

For many, CBD products offer pain relief and a way to manage anxiety. They can be sold as oils, tinctures, capsules, and even confectionery. Perhaps more recently, however, CBD has found its way into coffee, from cold brew to whole bean.

To learn more about CBD in coffee and ask questions about its legality, I spoke to Brandon Burdett from Mustache Barista, Laurel Winslow from Wicked Voodoo Espresso and Matt McGinn from Fly Beverage Co. Read on to find out what they told me.

You might also like our article on nitro cold brew.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring cannabinoid (also known as a phytocannabinoid). It can be derived from two different types of cannabis plants: marijuana and hemp. 

The difference between these two plants is their percentage of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the compound which predominantly triggers the psychoactive effects of marijuana.

Both marijuana and hemp contain THC, but in very different amounts. To be considered hemp, a plant must contain no more than 0.3% THC (0.2% in Europe). Any cannabis plant that has THC levels above 0.2% or 0.3% is considered marijuana.

While the various effects of CBD have not yet all been clinically confirmed, it has been discussed by many as a way to manage anxiety, depression, pain, epileptic seizures, diabetes, and more. 

Health and wellness: “People are looking for relief”

For many, the driving factors behind the decision to try CBD products are grounded in health and wellness.

Matt McGinn is the CEO at Fly Beverage Co., based in Palm Springs, California. “Many people are struggling with their mental health and looking for relief,” he explains. “People want to let loose and relax.”

CBD has been reported to activate receptors that regulate mood and anxiety, pain perception, inflammation, body temperature, and feelings of nausea. However, there is still a lack of clinical studies to scientifically back these claims. 

Brandon Burdett says that managing pain was the main reason that he started Mustache Barista, which sells CBD-infused coffee beans. 

“I got into a really bad car accident and I was taking painkillers; I still have pain to this day,” he says. “I was looking for natural alternatives to painkillers. I started dabbling with CBD products, and found the relief I was looking for.”

In the US, opioid dependency has become a nationwide issue. The US Department of Health & Human Services declared a public health emergency in 2017 and a strategy to combat what it calls the “opioid crisis”. It should subsequently come as no surprise that CBD, often branded as a natural alternative to addictive painkillers, has skyrocketed in popularity.

Laurel Winslow is the CEO at Wicked Voodoo Espresso, based in Texas. She says that before we spoke, she “got off” CBD for 8 days, to see what would happen. 

“I couldn’t sleep as well and my stress levels were back up dramatically,” she tells me. “CBD really makes a difference to my overall wellbeing.”

CBD laws are a moving target. Global regulations around the legality of CBD products change almost daily and can be hard to keep track of. However, in recent years, there has been a noticeable move towards more relaxed regulations. 

In the US, the 2018 Farm Bill legalised CBD and hemp-derived compounds and differentiated them from marijuana. As long as CBD contains less than 0.3% THC, it is regarded as non-psychoactive and relatively safe. However, legality and regulations still vary from state to state. 

The US Food and Drug Administration clarified its position on regulation of any products containing CBD shortly after the bill became law. Among other things, the FDA has signaled that marketing CBD as having health benefits will not be tolerated. 

In the European Union, each country has its own laws and regulations. While all CBD products aren’t legal in every country in the EU, it is legal at least in some form in most member states.

In the UK, CBD is legal, but regulations differ from product to product. Overall, the enforcement stance in the UK remains “soft.”

To check the legality of CBD around the world, you can use Daily CBD’s interactive map. This provides a specific legality breakdown by country.

Pairing coffee and CBD

So, CBD appears to be largely used to relax in some capacity, whether it’s in response to pain, stress, or anxiety. Coffee, on the other hand, is known for its caffeine “kick” and ability to bring greater focus.

Understandably, combining the two seems like an unlikely combination. But Matt says that “CBD and coffee is a great mix”, describing it as getting “caffeine without the jitters”.

Laurel adds: “Coffee gives a [more] direct route to CBD. It opens everything up and is the perfect vessel. We call it the ‘focus chill’.”

When Brandon started using CBD to relieve his chronic pain, he noticed that higher doses would make him feel tired, groggy, and a little too relaxed. “I started to balance it out with coffee,” he explains. “The coffee kept me awake, but I still had the pain relief benefits.” 

He says that it seemed like it would be the perfect infusion, and then noticed how well they paired when he started experimenting with products.

What about the taste?

At this point, specialty coffee purists are likely to have one major question: aren’t the coffee’s delicate flavours and aromas affected by adding CBD?

Brandon warns that historically, CBD coffee hasn’t tasted great. “I had tried a few CBD coffees before [setting up Mustache Barista], but the coffee was either stale, over-roasted, or the CBD used made it taste too ‘skunky’, like someone had smoked pot around the coffee.”

However, when he set up the Mustache Barista brand, Brandon says he spent time looking into which coffees pair best with hemp. 

“I settled on Tanzanian peaberry,” he says. “Some people even say the hemp makes it taste smoother.” 

Before starting Fly Beverage Co in 2020, Matt worked as a coffee roaster in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He says that ever since, he’s been drawing on his knowledge of and respect for coffee to develop the perfect combination, with the aim of appealing to both CBD and specialty coffee lovers alike.

CBD coffee products on the market

In just a few years, CBD coffee products have become increasingly popular in the market. There are a number of different options to choose from, but two main forms at the time of writing. 

CBD-infused coffee beans

This category includes coffee beans (sometimes flavoured), ground coffee, and pods. While flavour profiles will depend on where you buy from, the process of infusing CBD into coffee beans often does not leave a residual odour or flavour.

Brandon says that Mustache Barista offers “long life” coffee beans which are freezed, nitrogen flushed, and sealed in recyclable aluminium cans. The company’s “Cryocraft Hemp” beans are infused with 150mg medical-grade CBD. 

CBD-infused RTD cold brew

This category includes RTD cold brew which is prepared with water-soluble CBD drops.

Wicked Voodoo Espresso offers CBD-infused beans and ground coffee as well as CBD cold brew. These are made with a water-soluble CBD isolate; each cup, Laurel says, contains between 8 and 10mg of CBD. 

Public perception: “We’re breaking down stereotypes and stigmas”

For a long time, cannabis-derived products, including hemp and CBD, have been associated with drug use. There was little awareness about the fact that other cannabinoids had practical uses; hemp and marijuana were viewed as one and the same. 

“When we started in Texas, people were worried about the drug side; things like addiction, getting high, the legality of it,” Laurel explains.

Today, more information is available than ever, and people are better educated about the legality of these different products. 

“We’re breaking down the stereotypes and stigmas,” Matt tells me. “In the next five years, cannabis products will be available almost everywhere, even in liquor stores. Things are changing.”

Brandon, Laurel, and Matt also outline three key things that CBD coffee brands can do to help break these perceptions.

Careful marketing

The FDA is clear: marketing the health benefits of CBD is strictly forbidden. “You have to be very careful and general with marketing,” Brandon says. “Medical claims could shut down businesses.”

Despite the abundance of research out there, none is officially recognised, and businesses marketing CBD products need to tread carefully. But as the product becomes increasingly popular, Brandon says he expects this to change.

“It seemed like a fad at first, but now it’s booming. It doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, despite the politics around it,” he says.

Raising awareness

Laurel tells me that Wicked Voodoo Espresso has a loyal customer-base that is educated about cannabis-derived products.

“However, we also have many people coming in, asking questions about it,” she adds. “It is critical that our staff are knowledgeable, and that they can responsibly educate and raise awareness. 

“We are taking on the role of educators, because [CBD] is so new. We need to be knowledgeable and ready to inform our customers.”

Responsible business

Supply chain transparency is a key requirement, according to Matt, for both consumers and manufacturers.

“Trusting the brand is really important. Providing testing on the packaging really ups the game,” he says.

“On our products there is a QR code that you can scan to learn exactly how much CBD is in the product. We need to mainstream audits of manufacturers and product transparency so the competition can follow suit.”

At Wicked Voodoo Espresso, Laurel says all baristas are certified to sell alcohol. “We want them to understand the concept of ‘overdose’ and the responsibility that carries,” she says. “We’re very serious about that.”

Tips for getting started: “Don’t jump right in and expect unicorns to fly”

I asked my interviewees how they consume CBD coffee, and what tips they might offer to novices. Here’s what they said:

According to Brandon: “You could make your usual coffee and add a CBD tincture. In the morning, especially because of my back pain, I always have a cup of CBD coffee. I’m constantly amazed at how consistent and wonderful it tastes.”

Laurel says: “I have a couple of cups in the morning, until 11. After that, I stop; I don’t want to overdo it. 

“If you’re medicating or treating depression, you might add an oral drop to make sure you get a little more on top for extra relief,” she adds. “Start with half a cup if you’re concerned, and really monitor how your body feels and how your mind is working. 

“Work up to it, don’t jump right in and expect unicorns to fly.”

As for Matt: “You can wake up and have a coffee with CBD… for a 10 mg dose, have two cups. If it’s 20 mg, have one. Any more than that will make you sleepy.”

For those looking to balance the caffeine kick of coffee with any of the supposed effects of cannabidiol, CBD-infused coffee could be the new beverage of choice.

However, make sure you do your homework. Research dosages, regulations, and side effects and make sure you engage with brands you can trust. As CBD grows, it seems like mixing it with coffee is set to no longer just be a fad or a trend, but rather a subset of the sector that’s here to stay.

In future, this hopefully means brands will be held more accountable, and offer better quality CBD and coffee to remain competitive.

Enjoyed this? You might also like our article on spicing up your cold brew coffee.

Photo credits: Fly Beverage Co, Mustache Barista, Wicked Voodoo Espresso

Perfect Daily Grind

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute medical advice. Please research CBD before making any decisions and consult healthcare or medical professionals if you have any concerns about using CBD products.

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