What’s with Death Wish Coffee?

If you watched Super Bowl 50 you may have seen the commercial for Death Wish Coffee. Vikings rowing a long boat on a stormy sea that turns out to be… Death Wish Coffee! So what’s with Death Wish Coffee? Forbes published an article about the commercial, the company and a small business ended up with a Super Bowl commercial.

Mike Brown, the founder and owner of Death Wish Coffee, a blend with twice the amount of caffeine of most coffees, won a contest for small business owners who wanted to advertise during the Super Bowl. In the commercial a Viking ship forges through stormy seas, which turn into a river of strong brew that flows into the mouth of a satisfied coffee drinker. The contest sponsor, Intuit QuickBooks, paid for the production plus the cost to air it during the Super Bowl, a reported $5 million for 30 seconds.

Mr. Brown started packaging and selling his coffee online in an attempt to add some profit to his coffee shop business. While the commercial was running the visits on his web site went up to 10,000 a minute and his sales have doubled. But, what’s with Death Wish Coffee and why is it so strong?

Robusta Arabica Mix

Mike Brown mixes Arabica and Robusta coffee beans to make Death Wish Coffee.

Robusta coffee is properly named Coffea robusta, or Coffea canephora. This variety of coffee is a more hardy plant than the Arabica variety. It is less prone to infestations of insects or plant disease so it is also cheaper to grow. Originating from plants in the western and central sub-Sahara Robusta yields more coffee beans than an Arabica plant and Robusta coffee beans contain about 2.7% caffeine as opposed to 1.5% for Arabica. The Robusta plant can grow as high as thirty feet. It is the primary coffee grown across most of Africa from Ethiopia on the Indian Ocean to Liberia on the Atlantic and South to Angola. The most recent export of Robusta coffee beans has been to Vietnam where coffee farmers produce the second largest volume of coffee in the world after Brazil.

Caffeine in non-coffee drinks comes from Robusta coffee beans. And a Robusta Arabica mix is used in Italian espresso blends.

Espresso Blending

Years ago David Schomer, a coffee lover and owner of Lucid Café, wrote about espresso blending.

Four years ago I sat down with Italian roaster Andrej Tricci. He explained that Italian gourmet roasters devote most of their time and energy searching out fine robustas to add to their blend. They look for coffees that will give them the longer lasting crema and at best will not detract from the flavor of the finer Arabicas in the blend.

Thus Death Wish Coffee has its origins in Italian espresso where robusta is used to increase caffeine content and Arabica is used for its superior flavor. According to Mr. Schomer it is possible to find single source robusta that has excellent flavor and is not just a caffeine enhancer.


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