Wunderground is poised to change the way the world thinks about coffee. Here’s what you need to know about this disruptive brew brand created by a deeply seasoned team.
Firmly rooted in the experience-based coffee culture, Wunderground aims to launch a fourth wave in stepping by adding adaptogenic mushrooms to the mix.
There’s research-backed proof that consuming mushrooms is good for your health and adaptogenic mushrooms such as Reishi, Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps have healing properties. They’ve been shown to boost immune systems, brighten moods, stimulate deep thoughts… like who the heck would have considered adding mushrooms to coffee?
Seattle-based entrepreneur Jody Hall has deep roots in the coffee business, dating back to helping make some revolutionary moves as marketing manager at Starbucks starting in the late 1980s. “Some of those connections I made back then are part of this new project. We’ve got the band back together,” said Hall in a recent phone interview.
In 2003, Hall helped make a classic treat cool again when she launched Cupcake Royale. That smash hit included a caffeinated component in Verite Coffee, perfect alongside those from-scratch treats served at five locations around the city.
When Hall vowed to take the feel-good sensibility into the cannabis business in 2014 — when pot was legalized in Washington state — she and her team behind The Good Ship weathered some challenges. “We were pioneers and it was a bit like the Wild West, especially after Jeff Sessions tried to shut it all down,” she said.
After selling The Good Ship to a Canadian firm in 2018, Hall started brainstorming with trusted friends and colleagues about next steps. After two years of research and reflection, Wunderground became a reality with a lofty mission statement:
“To create delicious functional beverages that deliver craveable experiences, inspire wonder and make our minds and bodies healthy, focused, and strong—an antidote to the new normal of stress and anxiety. We embrace business practices that inspire meaningful human connection, build healthy communities and minimize impact on the environment.”
Hall points to Fungi Perfecti founder Paul Stamets as one of her heroes, an innovator who’s been preaching the benefits of mushrooms since 1980.
And she’s pulled together a stellar executive team that includes gold-standard experience with Starbucks, Amazon, Odawalla and Leafly among others, all who are stakeholders in the venture.
When the team pitched their project to potential investors, they describe Wunderground “a new kind of beverage company just in time for our new kind of normal.” Word.
While the practice of sipping medicinal mushroom tea dates back centuries, adding naturally grown ‘shrooms to sustainably sourced beans is a fresh concept. “We sourced beans we feel great about, grown on smallholder farms by farmers we believe in. We roasted exactly a bagazillion beans to find the perfect balance to pair with our adaptogenic mushrooms and taste incredible,” the company’s website explains.
So, yeah, the blends introduced just last week do not taste like mushrooms. There’s no earthy funk or weird aftertaste. Just the roasted-right flavor coffee drinkers want but with a micro-dose of mushroom goodness and a jolt that’s slightly softened by the presence of those ingredients.
Oh, and that attention-grabbing packaging. Just wow.
Cal McAllister is one of the Wundercoffee advisory team members whose Paper Crane Factory crafted the brand’s whimsical look: “Will Hays is the design studio creative director at Paper Crane Factory and he did all the package design work,” he explained in an email. “The illustrations are by an artist he follows on Instagram, Kimiaki Yaegashi, who works out of Tokyo.”
Turn the colorful package around and there’s a couple of paragraphs walking users through the back story of each blend, a kind of thought starter that was inspired by brain teasers that used to be featured on breakfast cereal boxes. “As kids, we used to solve the puzzles and get our brains going in the morning,” McAllister said.
On the label of the Brainchild blend, for instance, there’s just enough info to pique interest: “In this little concoction, we introduce Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps. Lion’s Mane is for brain power and keeping us out of the dumps. Cordyceps are pretty much cardio for your noodle.”
Want more? There’s a QR code on the bottom of the bag with text that prods the curious into doing a deeper dive: “Don’t be a chicken.”
Of course, coffee tastes better when complemented by a tasty snack or a palate-pleasing meal so Hall and the team are gearing up to debut sweets and savory items during a popup at Cupcake Royale’s location on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. The menu is being crafted by chef Alyssa Lyle, whose resume includes stints at Tartine and in the Thomas Keller restaurant group. Think healthy, satisfying fare such as grain bowls and fermented foods, plus pastries made in-house.
After getting a taste during the popup phase, customers can look forward to a full-on operation to debut sometime in September.
For the rollout, Wunderground has a sharp focus toward online sales. Its 12-ounce packages of ground and whole bean, as well as instant coffees are now available, as well as various combo options. A chamomile and mushroom instant tea called Dream Supply is also in the mix, its kittens-climbing-on-a-creature artwork standing out as awwww-inspiring.
And, yes, of course there will be tastings at various locations in the future because “we’re all about hospitality and connection,” Hall said.
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