La Colombe wants to crack open the market for self-heating coffee cans

La Colombe is brewing up a line of self-heating coffee cans. In the past, similar products were just lukewarm

March 10, 2020

Don’t be alarmed if the Wegmans superfans in your life start bragging about how hot their coffee is.

The Philadelphia-based chain La Colombe is brewing up a storm with a new line of self-heating coffee cans, which it plans to take to Wegmans. 

The cans are seemingly simple devices: With 1 twist and 2 minutes of time, the coffee inside spikes to 130 F. But the underlying technology is more retro — and more complicated — than you might think.

Self-heating cans have a bitter history

Turns out, the original Thermos enthusiasts were czarist Russians. In 1897, the engineer Yevgeny Fedorov introduced devices for heating meat stews, but self-heated cans didn’t catch sparks until World War II. 

During the Battle of Normandy, the US military slipped self-heated soup mugs into ration packs for its soldiers. Those mugs, however, had an unfortunate propensity for spontaneous combustion.

Caution: Coffee may be lukewarm

Since then, many of the biggest names in coffee have tried and failed to break the seal on the self-heating market. 

In the early 2000s, Nestlé UK experimented with its own product, called Hot When You Want. But the coffee underwhelmed in cold weather — inspiring customers to nickname it “warm when you want.”

That hasn’t stopped a handful of startups — like the 42 Degrees Company and HeatGen — from betting that they can beat the self-heating curse. 

But they might once again get the cold shoulder: As any market analyst can tell you, young coffee guzzlers have the hots for iced coffee right now.

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