New ‘Ritual’ for cannabis, coffee lovers
For many buzz seekers, coffee and cannabis go together like cream and sugar, or Cheech and Chong.
Now the pairing is being taken to the next logical level.
San Francisco’s Ritual Coffee Roasters, beloved by aficionados for its artisanal approach, is providing the beans for a marijuana-infused, cold-brew coffee made by Somatik, a Bay Area pot-products startup. Hitting cannabis dispensary refrigerators last week, Somatik Featuring Ritual Coffee pairs one of the Bay Area’s most prominent coffee brands with the newly legal botanical drug.
“There’s no replacement for a joint and a cup of coffee,” said Christopher Schroeder, founder of Somatik. But he says his pot-infused drink “gives me a more balanced feel between my mind and my body, so I don’t feel as ‘cerebral’ as when I smoke a joint. It’s functional. It does make me feel light and fun, but also relaxed and very much in my body still.”
Somatik and Ritual’s co-branded cold brew comes in 8-ounce bottles that each contain 15 milligrams of THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana. That works out to 1½ standard doses of marijuana per bottle, which can be enjoyed straight, or diluted with milk or water.
It’s a watershed moment for marijuana branding, watchers say.
“As far as I know, this is the first instance of any edibles company partnering with a renowned coffee roaster or any other existing product like this,” said Debby Goldsberry, a veteran Bay Area cannabis activist and owner of Magnolia Wellness in Oakland, which started carrying Somatik’s cold brew this month. “It’s definitely unique and absolutely unusual, and something we can point to about the way the stigma around medical marijuana is changing.”
Bill Kerr, founder of Vertical, a Sonoma marketing agency for high-end food, wine and beer, said Somatik teaming with Ritual “builds a ton of credibility where you can inspire someone to pick up that bottle and try it the first time.”
“I think it’s really brilliant because it gives them a differentiation,” Kerr said. “Edibles up until now have been driven by, ‘Hey, there’s cannabis inside it.’ This absolutely makes sense. There are coffee connoisseurs like there are cannabis connoisseurs, and they both really care about the sourcing and all the nuances.”
The partnership was a classic San Francisco fusion. Ritual Coffee Roasters began a dozen years ago as a Mission District pop-up that rode coffee’s third wave, maturing into an importer and microroaster of highly sought-after beans. It operates cafes and is steeped in industry accolades and coffee-nerd culture.
Schroeder met Ritual founder Eileen Rinaldi through SF Made, a nonprofit supporting small manufacturers, while he was working in marketing at Rickshaw Bagworks, which makes handbags and backpacks. Schroeder had no experience with beverages or cannabis before founding Somatik last year.
Ritual Coffee had a history of branding deals. North Beach’s Gelateria Naia touts the Ritual beans in its cold-pressed espresso gelato. Bi-Rite Creamery co-brands its Ritual Coffee Toffee.
Rinaldi said she had never heard of cannabis-infused coffee before Schroeder proposed their partnership.
“I was very skeptical that you could add cannabis into coffee without it being the dominant flavor,” Rinaldi said. “Chris has done an incredible job developing a product that tastes exactly the way I would want a cold brew served in our cafes to taste.” (Until restrictions on the retail sale of cannabis are loosened, Somatik will only be served in dispensaries.)
“The thing I love about Ritual is that they have a direct relationship with all of their farmers,” Schroeder said. “They can tell me where that bean came from, how high it was grown and why it tastes the way it tastes. I think it’s very exciting to bring that to the cannabis industry.”
Schroeder said he and Ritual’s staff tasted more than 40 cold brews before selecting beans grown in Gigante, in western Colombia, at elevations between 1,400 and 1,900 feet.
“We landed on a coffee that’s really smooth, has kind of a chocolatey flavor and has some top notes of citrus and currant,” Schroeder said.
Green Gigante beans are roasted and ground at Ritual’s South of Market roastery and delivered to Somatik’s manufacturer in the South Bay, where they steep for 12 hours in cold water to produce a rich, smooth concentrate, which is then strained and blended with THC oil and bottled.
For the cannabis, Schroeder chose several hybrid strains grown outdoors, which should appeal to the same kind of consumers who seek out Ritual’s carefully selected beans. A processor turned the pot into potent cannabis oil using carbon dioxide extraction, a technique that deliberately strips away much of the pot’s skunky flavor and aroma.
“The cannabis infusion doesn’t have much cannabis flavor,” Schroeder said, “but I wanted the subtle notes that are there to work with the coffee flavor.”
“It’s delicious,” said Oakland medical pot retailer Goldsberry. “They didn’t just pick a Ritual coffee off the shelf. They really experimented with what would taste good with the infused marijuana.”
Schroeder said he sought a brew whose effects were balanced between mind and body. The company’s name comes from somatikos, the Greek word for “corporeally” or “physically.”
His business plans are grounded in the realities of California’s newly legal pot business, which, despite the passage of Proposition 64 last year, is awaiting the arrival of regulations allowing retail sales outside medical dispensaries in 2018. For now, Somatik Featuring Ritual Coffee will not appear in Ritual cafes.
“I’m focused on the next 12 months and the dispensary model,” Schroeder said.
But Rinaldi said the marketplace is just waking up.
“I believe we’ll see cannabis products more widely distributed in the next couple of years,” she said.
[Ed Murrieta is a Northern California journalist. Subscribe to the Chronicle’s cannabis-infused news coverage by emailing cannabis editor David Downs at firstname.lastname@example.org]
What: Somatik Featuring Ritual Coffee cannabis-infused cold-brewed coffee containing 15 mg of THC per 8-ounce bottle
How much: $12
Where: Available at Harvest on Geary and Harvest on Mission in San Francisco and Magnolia Wellness in Oakland.