Innovative business concentrates on coffee

A South Whidbey coffee roaster with decades of experience has created an innovative product.

A South Whidbey coffee roaster with decades of experience has created an innovative product that solves the conundrum of convenience that java drinkers face every morning.

Richard Karno is hoping to convince consumers of caffeine to make the switch to his coffee concentrate, which simply requires the addition of water to make a complete cup of joe.

Aptly named Unplugged Coffee Company, Karno’s coffee concentrate doesn’t require the use of any machinery, though it does require refrigeration since it’s made without any stabilizers or preservatives.

“It should be better than what you make at home because it’s so consistent, and you don’t have to have that sound of the grinder in the morning,” Karno said.

He recommends combining one ounce of the concentrate with eight ounces of hot or cold water. Milks or plant-based alternatives can be added in lieu of water. There are no filters, grounds or other waste to contend with, making Unplugged Coffee an environmentally friendly product. The organic, fair-trade concentrate is stored in glass bottles, which can either be recycled or turned back into the company, which has a buyback program that gives $1 off the next purchase.

“A pot of coffee at home, one of the biggest consumers of that coffee is your kitchen sink because most people waste it,” Karno said. “And with coffee becoming much more threatened by climate change, you don’t want to waste anything.”

The concentrate is made entirely on Whidbey and, as Karno pointed out, is a more sustainable product than K-cup pods. Though they are convenient, Keurig pods are not biodegradable.

Karno has spent most of his lifetime focused on coffee. In 1989, he gave up a career in journalism to open a bookstore in southern California selling coffee and pastries, which he called the Novel Cafe. It was during that time that a wave of coffeehouses were opening up on the West Coast.

“After the first year, I realized I was making most of my income off of the coffee, and most of the books were getting stolen,” Karno said with a laugh.

So he bought himself a coffee roaster and started a small roasting plant.

“He was the first certified organic coffee roaster in LA,” his wife, Tessa Karno, said.

Richard Karno went on to found Groundwork Coffee Company, which operated seven coffeehouses and provided wholesale coffee to more than 500 accounts. He sold the business in 2012 and started Lucky Jack, where he created and produced the first ready-to-drink nitro-infused cold brew in the nation.

The Karnos moved to South Whidbey in 2017, ostensibly to retire. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the late Gary Smith of Mukilteo Coffee Roasters asked Richard to come roast for him, which he still does on a part-time basis.

During that time, Karno has been busy perfecting his latest product through a hot-brew extraction process, using a machine he built himself.

“There are tubes and cylinders involved,” he said, but otherwise stayed relatively tight-lipped about the equipment.

Tessa described her husband as a bit of a mad scientist.

“I’m going to get a little steampunk outfit for him,” she said with a laugh.

Contrary to what some might think, their product does not contain an extravagant amount of caffeine. Richard emphasized that the coffee concentrate is not a cold brew, since hot water is used in the brewing process.

“With cold water, you can’t extract all the flavor compounds that you want for coffee beans,” he explained.

If kept unopened in the fridge, it’s good for about three months; if opened, about one. It can also be used in cocktails and baking.

Unplugged Coffee is currently available in 16- and 32-ounce bottles. Versions made with half the amount of caffeine, as well as decaf, are also for sale. It can only be purchased at the Bayview Farmers Market, where the couple plans to be every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., until the market’s end on Oct. 21.

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Tessa and Richard Karno are the baristas behind Unplugged Coffee. (Photo by David Welton)

Tessa and Richard Karno are the baristas behind Unplugged Coffee. (Photo by David Welton)