LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles-based brand is elevating home coffee routines while improving the livelihoods of farmers in Vietnam.
Copper Cow Coffee markets portable pour-over kits featuring dark-roasted ground coffee and individual sleeves of sweetened condensed California milk. The coffee is packed in single-use, biodegradable filters. Users add hot water to brew a strong Vietnamese-style serving or a larger, traditional American cup.
“Vietnamese coffee has really dark nutty chocolatey undertones that go so well with the sweet milk,” said Debbie Wei Mullin, founder and chief executive officer.
The company sources from Vietnamese farms that practice organic agricultural and processing methods. Farmers are paid twice the market rate, Ms. Mullin said.
“We’re really excited to work with our partners today to lay the groundwork to become the first certified organic Vietnamese coffee company,” she said.
The business combines her dual passions of Vietnamese culture and sustainable development.
“My mom is from Vietnam, and even though I was born and raised in California, I basically just ate Vietnamese food at home,” Ms. Mullin said. “From a pretty early age, I thought that my family was sitting on a gold mine, that we could show the world these flavors.”
Ms. Mullin studied economics at the University of California, Berkley, and earned a master’s degree in urban studies and planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She briefly held a consulting role in supply chain management at the World Bank. However, she craved a more creative and fast-paced career. Inspired to share the “sweet, creamy treat” so prevalent in her upbringing, she launched Copper Cow Coffee five years ago.
Today, products primarily are sold online and in more than 3,000 retailers, including Walmart, Sprouts Farmers Market and Whole Foods Market stores nationwide. Coffee flavors include classic black, salted caramel, churro, vanilla, mint and lavender, plus seasonal offerings such as rose, pumpkin spice and peppermint, which have natural herbs and spices mixed directly into the coffee grounds.
Last summer marked the company’s appearance on “Shark Tank,” an event that jolted online sales, Ms. Mullin said. During the program, she accepted a deal from multimillionaire investor Robert Herjavec, who offered $600,000 in exchange for an 8% stake in her business.
“We ended up not going through with the deal,” Ms. Mullin said. “It just ended up not being a good match after the show. The company grew so fast before we ever aired. We had a lot of growth and couldn’t see eye to eye on making the deal work.”
The company later raised $8.5 million in a Series A financing round co-led by Cultivan Sandbox and Arborview Capital with participation from Siddhi Capital. Each partner has provided invaluable expertise in key areas of the business, Ms. Mullin said.
“It’s been wonderful to have these three different perspectives come into the company,” she said.
Ms. Mullin said Copper Cow Coffee will continue to add “fun and exciting flavors in the pour-overs” while exploring innovation in creamers.
“We are the only shelf-stable all-natural creamer in the grocery set,” she said. “There’s nobody who does a single serving of sweetened condensed milk as intended to be a creamer.”
A recent addition is a mocha creamer, adding cocoa powder to sweetened condensed milk. The brand previously offered a non-dairy creamer formulated with coconut milk, but the team discovered coconut is a “difficult substance” and a “divisive flavor” among consumers, Ms. Mullin said.
“We want to launch a dairy-free creamer again, but I think the goal is to create something that’s more neutral and similar to the dairy version,” she said.
A focus of future product development is to deliver cafe-quality experiences to consumers at home, a need amplified by the pandemic.“We’ve done a lot of research and realized we’re not always your first cup of coffee, but we’re your second cup of coffee,” Ms. Mullin said. “We’re replacing the experience of a latte run, that cappuccino run you were making to Starbucks or your local roaster. That’s what Copper Cow is. I think there’s an opportunity for us to expand beyond coffee and your coffee break.”