Elixir is a new coffee beverage purportedly brewed with sound waves. A few articles across the web have referenced the drinks' curious origins, which began in Sydney, Australia, home of founder Lee Safar. But Eater was able procure the first official interview with the Elixir engineer.
While Safar spoke broadly about consumer reactions to her creation, she was coy as to how the product is actually made. She believes that there isn't any point in knowing how Elixir is produced —just in how it tastes and makes one feel.
Safar, an electronic music singer and songwriter, says that while working at coffee bars in Sydney, she came upon a new method of extracting coffee that uses sound waves over a discrete period of time, specifically in hours, producing a drink that just might defy genre categorization. She's produced an entire vertical of Elixirs numbered from hours one to 24.
Safar ... came upon a new method of extracting coffee that uses sound waves over a discrete period of time ...
The result—stained various shades of brown that intensify in color as the number of hours "extracted" increases—uses only water and coffee. Placed into a small cylindrical vial that's meant to recall potions and medicines of lore, Elixir's label simply lists the coffee varietal used, the number of hours the concoction was exposed to sound waves, and the company's trademark symbol. While the Australian vial is slimmer and sexier, shaped like a powerful tonic of magical abilities, the American bottle is a little more stout and utilitarian.
According to Elixir's Instagram (they don't have an official site), the drink "looks like whiskey," "feels like tea," and is "made from coffee." The official tagline? "Purity & Clarity!" Yet oddly enough, Safar and her American partner Nick Griffith have tried to maintain that the origin and methodology of Elixir's production are "beside the point." Griffith is a seasoned coffee pro who has worked at Intelligentsia Coffee and Toby's Estate, connecting Safar and Elixir to a wide network of contacts and potential dealers who might be able to produce the beverage across the U.S.
For those who have read Elixir's previous media coverage, no articles mention how the beverage's coffee flavor is extracted other than citing sound waves. On Elixir's Instagram, some are hashtagged with "#cymatics," which refers to the visible representation of sound waves, but there's no explanation beyond that. There's a cheeky reference to EDM collective Robot Heart "producing" a batch of Elixir with its sounds. So it's not like Elixir is employing a scientific instrument such as a sonicator to extract flavor.
When Eater asked Safar point blank how she produced Elixir, she tried to skirt giving an answer. But not providing an extraction method was exactly Safar's way of introducing Elixir as a kind of revolutionary beverage that eschews the standard "this is how it's made" jargon. The mysticism surrounding this marketing approach, as opposed to just being open (or frank ...or clear) about how Elixir is made, is supposed to move the imbiber to think simply about what the beverage tastes like.
When I came to Copa Vida, a bright coffee bar located in Old Town Pasadena and currently the only licensed dealer for Elixir in the United States, I arrived with a fair bit of skepticism. At the cafe, Copa Vida commissioned a local woodworker to craft small custom trays that hold both the vial and a standard Libbey stemless white wine glass. The batch I tried was an Ethiopia Konga single origin roasted by Copa Vida and poured at fridge temperature. It's best enjoyed swirled and sipped like wine or a gentle liqueur, allowing the flavors to develop as the drink warms to room temperature.
Upon initially trying the eight hour extraction, I immediately thought of watered down cold brew coffee, though not so much with the taste of melted ice, but more of delicately brewed tea with distinct notes of coffee. The finish, just slightly oxidized, was reminiscent of oloroso sherry or perhaps a Jura wine, without any sweetness or acidity to match. With a slight herbacious, almost vegetal note, it would remind any Korean like myself of boricha, or roasted barley tea.
For a long time I contemplated what Elixir reminded me of, but the more I tried to reach into what it tasted like, the more I wanted to place the drink itself in a class of its own. Sure, it's basically a coffee drink that has just a fraction of the full coffee flavor, but also a minute amount of caffeine and acid. I'd like to think I'd feel comfortable giving this drink to a child as an introduction to what coffee can taste like.
When I shifted over to one of the longer extracted Elixirs, which was listed at 14 hours, I tasted slightly more intense flavors, perhaps a waft of dried fruit on the nose, but the differences were subtle.
Over the phone, Safar explained in an optimistic tone about what Elixir could be and how people were responding to it. In an email response after our interview, Safar quoted a customer's reaction to the drink:
This has completely changed the way I view coffee. I feel different drinking when I drink it. It tastes pure and feels pure. It feels like it's somehow doing something to fix my body. It's like there's something else in it other than ingredients. I know that sounds weird but I can't really explain it. It's refreshing, but there's something else about it.
Safar sees that it's less productive to try and explain what the drink is, and better to just let customers' minds expand by experiencing her product for the first time. The coffee world, especially professionals, has always been obsessed with the methodology of a brewing technique, with entire websites and countless videos dedicated to proper coffee extraction.
For a long time I contemplated what Elixir reminded me of, but the more I tried to reach into what it tasted it, the more I wanted to place the drink itself in a class of its own.
By removing the technical process about how Elixir is made, tasters are forced to find their own verbiage to describe the beverage. In some sense, that's a helpful exercise because it pushes the imbiber to think critically about the flavors and aromas he/she is experiencing without any preconceived notions.
And its this kind of consciousness that Safar is trying to encourage, versus the obsession toward method and brew technique. Empirically at least, people who drink wine thinking it's "expensive" or "sophisticated" tend to think it tastes better. Because Elixir is presented and served without any pretense (except for the fact that it comes in that cool looking bottle and is poured into a stemless wine glass), tasters experience the drink in a more authentic way. At least in theory.
But perhaps the flip side of the coin is that the actual extraction is so simple, so straightforward, so easily replicable, that Elixir is trying to get a foothold on the market before other producers realize how to make the concoction for themselves. Currently priced at $6 for an eight ounce bottle, Safar is certainly putting a premium on her discovery.
When I observed customers drinking Elixir for the first time at Copa Vida, the results were almost universally positive. Without any similar drink to judge it against, people commented on how delicately flavored it was, and how they got a mild caffeine kick versus a swift rush from normal brewed coffee or espresso. This was coffee like they'd never had before.
At the moment, Copa Vida is the only Elixir producer in the country and they're distributing single origin brews at their Pasadena cafe, as well as Culver City's Cognoscenti Coffee. As more dealers sign up, Elixir will no doubt start appearing at forward-thinking coffee shops around the country. When a tan-colored vial sits on a cafe's countertop and a barista explains that it's a coffee drink made with "sound waves," it'll be hard to resist trying.