BY MARIE LODI
A decade ago, adding a wheatgrass shot to your smoothie was the ultimate wellness move. Even more bells and whistles have been used to trick out beverages of all sorts, from adaptogens to ghee. Now, CBD has claimed the spotlight, manifesting seemingly overnight in cafes and coffee bars across the country, thus becoming as intriguing and common on java menus as those wheatgrass shots once were. Obviously, it’s not just coffee that’s gotten the CBD upgrade—the trend is abundant and ubiquitous, stretching across countless markets including beauty, personal care, the spa industry, and food and beverage.
But the therapeutic benefits of cannabidiol are not to be dismissed—stress relief, a decrease in anxiety, pain alleviation, and a sense of calm are all perks of using THC’s non-psychoactive cousin. These benefits, accompanied by the diminishing stigma of cannabis, its burgeoning legalization in the United States (including the recently-passed $867 billion Farm Bill), and its increasing accessibility, are reasons why we’re seeing CBD make cameos in our coffee cups more often.
In January 2018, Alfred, the highly Instagrammable L.A. coffee chain, began to incorporate CBD as part of its beverage offerings. For $4, you could add 10mg of water-soluble CBD to any of Alfred’s coffee drinks—from a simple cappucino to the brand’s signature $10 latte—without altering the flavor factor. “Our customers have been energized by the offering,” explains Josh Zad, Alfred’s founder and CEO. “If they’re already users, the convenience of having it in their local coffee shop makes it more accessible, which is exciting for them. If they’re novices, they trust the Alfred brand and view this as an easy way for them to dip their toes into the movement and see if it’s for them or not.” Ever since Alfred introduced CBD, a slew of other coffeehouses in the city have joined in. A quick search on Yelp reveals CBD-infused cups of joe from NoHo to downtown. At Supa Coffee, you can add CBD to one of its colorful matcha drinks; at Moon Juice, you can add a CBD booster to your Sex Dust Latte.
Later in 2018, CBD began popping up on the other side of the country in New York City, where local wellness spot Chillhouse has added it to its spa and cafe menus. After getting a CBD massage, you can order a CBD beverage or even get it on toast. Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton, Chillhouse’s founder and CEO, recommends the Purple Haze Latte, a $7 beverage made from butterfly pea flower tea, lemon juice, and CBD from Green Witch. “I also enjoy a little bit of CBD in my green tea,” she says. As for the initial reactions from Chillhouse clientele, Ramirez-Fulton admits that it took a minute for people to warm up to the idea. “When we tried experimenting early on, our customers were a bit hesitant, but as CBD awareness grew we added more options to our services and cafe and it’s taken off tremendously. It truly is the ultimate ‘chill’ ingredient,” she says.
Coffee companies that don’t have their own brick and mortar locations, but are sold in bottles at cafes and restaurants, are also wading into the CBD waters. One such brand is Superlost, which is famous for its bottled CBD cold brew and can be found in coffeehouses, bars, and even supermarkets around Brooklyn. Superlost added CBD to its cold brew after being inspired by its own customers, though co-founder Craig Deahl had been an avid user for years and was already very familiar with it. “We started noticing more and more that people were adding CBD to our cold brew themselves, and they were reaching out to us via Instagram and asking if we’d ever sell a version that came with it already,” explains Deahl and co-founder David Roa.
Prosper, a Portland-based coffee startup that retails in grocery stores across the Willamette Valley, didn’t initially plan to launch as a CBD brand, but things changed quickly. “We decided to do an experiment at the Lake Oswego Farmers Market to see if customers liked it,” says founder Savannah Case. “I called my graphic designer and told him to create a label—fast! I knew it was a great idea. A couple of weeks later, we launched as a CBD company. The customers loved it.”
One thing coffee drinkers might be concerned about are the potential effects of mixing CBD, which most consider a “downer,” with caffeine, which is obviously an “upper.” Will one cancel out the other, or create an energy crash? “What we've found is that when CBD is combined with cold brew, you get the energy and clear headedness of the caffeine, but the CBD cuts down on the negative reactions people associate with over caffeination, like jitters and anxiety,” according to Deahl and Roa. That could very well be the case: As evidenced by the current CBD coffee market, there are enough fans of this trendy combination that believe it to be a dream duo. And we’ll raise our mugs to that.