It’s crowded when I step into the small building in Manchester that houses Confluence Coffee Co. Gleaming, silver tanks soar to the ceiling and stacks of boxes fill one corner. A huge blue grinder is ready to catch beans from Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co.
Brewer and head of production Ben Howard will use 200 to 350 pounds of coarsely ground coffee in each tank to make about 2,000 gallons of cold-brewed coffee. And when Old Dominion Mobile Canning shows up later in the week, it’ll start to get hard to walk around this place.
Confluence Coffee, which moved into the space in March, already is bursting out of it. Owners Terry Darcy and Mike Woitach say they plan to move somewhere bigger in another month or two.
“I never thought we’d fill it,” Howard says.
Confluence has gone from cold brew that Darcy and Woitach whipped up in 2015 in Darcy’s kitchen after work, to a company that turns out 16,000 cans a month. There were stops in-between at a shared kitchen in Washington. But late last year, they decided it was time to move production permanently to Richmond. By then, they’d made the leap and quit their day jobs, and Howard soon was brought on to oversee production.
“Aside from the fact we wanted to be closer to Blanchard’s — who has been a great partner from day one — and tap some of the brewery knowledge pool for our cold-brew-making process,” says Woitach, “I think Richmond is really poised to be a hub for really great craft products of all kinds.”
Confluence’s big break came from food incubator Union Kitchen in Washington. Although its coffee was selling in small stores such as Glens Garden Market on Dupont Circle and Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market, Union Kitchen acted as a distributor for its product and dramatically increased Confluence’s reach. You can now find it as far north as Boston and in all of the mid-Atlantic Whole Foods stores. The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond stocks it in guest room minibars.
Two ingredients differentiate Confluence’s coffee from the rest. The brew is steeped in oak chips to give it a rounder, warmer flavor, and at each step of the brewing process the coffee is shot through with nitrogen. Once a can is shaken, the nitrogen creates a thick, creamy head akin to Guinness stout, which gives it an almost milky flavor, despite the fact that there are no dairy products in it. There’s also no added sugar, and in the flavored coffees, there are never more than two or three ingredients.
Woitach characterizes what he makes as a clean drink. Organic and fair-trade are watchwords. “We’re using this as a way to redefine what the cold case of beverages can look like,” he says. “To move away from the carbonated soft-drinks model of adding a ton of sugar and using a ton of ingredients.”
As recently as January, Darcy, Woitach and Howard were still bottling coffee, individually screwing on caps and applying labels by hand. Now, Harris Teeter and Whole Foods stores across the country are in their sights.
“We’re kind of hitting a trend,” Woitach says. “I think people didn’t really understand what’s available in the coffee world.”