Bay Area Cannasseur: Dispensaries serve up cannabis-infused coffee
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While many neophyte companies in the cannabis edibles market are finding that dispensary shelves are already full, Christopher Schroeder is getting a warm welcome when he drops off sample bottles of his infused cold brew coffee.
Schroeder, a 36-year-old gay man, launched Somatik (http://www.somatik.us/), a cannabis-infused coffee, in Bay Area dispensaries earlier this year. The bottled beverage, which he produces with coffee from local brewer Ritual Coffee Roasters, is now in 20 dispensaries, including a handful in the Los Angeles area, where it was introduced last month.
Sales are building, according to Schroeder.
"We haven't been turned down" by a dispensary yet, Schroeder said in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter. Buyers at medical dispensaries say Schroeder's experience is an anomaly, with most new products being turned down.
Chase Chambers, the general manager of the Apothecarium dispensary, which carries Somatik, told the B.A.R. in an email that infused beverages have not "typically" been very popular with the company's customers.
But when the Apothecarium first received a sample of Somatik, "we knew this was something local and of good quality that would be a popular addition," he wrote, a prediction that came true after the product was on the shelves. Somatik events at the Apothecarium "are among the most popular," Chambers added.
While there were already several other, less expensive cannabis coffee products on the market before Somatik was introduced this year, Schroeder attributed the company's initial acceptance to its partnership with Ritual, a prestigious brand that has been embraced by Bay Area coffee aficionados since it was introduced at its Valencia Street shop in 2005.
Retailing for $8-$12 per bottle, depending on the dosage, Schroeder pointed out that the beverage is produced with Ritual's $22-per-pound Colombian organic, single origin beans. The marijuana is sourced from a collective of Humboldt County cannabis farmers, he said.
Priced in the same range as a cocktail, Schroeder said that's the way he enjoys the beverage.
As the workday winds down, Schroeder said he typically enjoys 5 mg. of Somatik, which brings on a "feeling of relaxation with a clear euphoric mind."
"You can definitely still get some work done, but you're more relaxed," he said. While most edibles don't take effect for up to 45 minutes, Schroeder said the typical user of Somatik feels the effects in one-third the time.
For Schroeder, a Bay Area native whose background involved marketing for other "mission driven" businesses, the ability to partner with a company with similar values was important to him.
Schroeder got interested in working for local businesses after a stint with Wildlife Works, a conservation company, and becoming active in the local nonprofit, SFMade, where he met the founder of Ritual Roasters.
He studied music in college, but realized that a music career likely would involve "spending lots of time alone practicing," which did not appeal to him.
After jobs with a handful of other local businesses, Schroeder decided it was time to launch his own company.
"Cannabis was a passion of mine," he said, "so it was a natural for me."
Schroeder also said he wanted to make a product that was "accessible" to both experienced and new cannabis users.
"When I went into a lot of dispensaries, it could be an intimidating experience," he said. "There were so many choices of products that it could be difficult to figure out what I wanted to buy."
Aware that the market was already crowded with thousands of different edible products, Schroeder realized he'd have to do something different.
Already a consumer of Ritual coffee, Schroeder was intrigued with the idea of partnering with the company, impressed that it had direct trade relationships with its farmers, paying them two to three times more than companies that had fair trade arrangements.
Months of experimentation followed, with tastings of 48 different coffee bean combinations to determine which would make the best product, Schroeder said.
"The tastings were a lot of fun," he added.
Schroeder's life partner, Clayton Coker, who has a professional background in laboratory science, heads up product development, said Schroeder, which has enabled the company to do its own manufacturing. Four other employees have also joined the firm.
Schroeder and Coker each now put in "at least" 70 hours per week working, and a lot evenings and weekends are spent at events promoting the product "which we both enjoy very much," he said.
In addition to dispensary tastings and industry events, the two also go to music festivals, "where we get a chance to meet new customers," Schroeder said. "Our idea was to work at something we enjoyed. So far, so good,"
While the company continues to slowly add new dispensaries to its customer list, Schroeder said they are careful to choose locations where they think they will be readily accepted.
"We have found that the kind of people who like Ritual coffee are often the same people who will like Somatik," he said.
Next up is a new product, an infused chocolate-covered coffee bean produced in partnership with another local company, Endorfin Foods, a Berkeley chocolatier. Next year, Somatik intends to produce a non-psychoactive CBD-based coffee product, he said.
The company is also preparing for 2018, when cannabis products will be able to be sold in many new outlets that will be licensed to sell cannabis to adult recreational users.
"As anyone who works in a startup will tell you, there are lots of emotional ups and downs in a new company," he said.
"Cannabis has a few more of those because of the uncertainty of the regulations, which are still being molded around us," Schroeder added, "We look forward to having a sense of stability in the industry, even if every aspect may not be to our liking.
"Our goal is to continue building a community of people who are interested in integrating cannabis into their life," he said.
Bay Area Cannasseur runs the first Thursday of the month. To send column ideas or tips, email Sari Staver at firstname.lastname@example.org .