Connor Roelke gives coffee drinkers a wake-up call
What keeps you up at night? Job stress? Curfew breakers?
For Connor Roelke '15, it’s coffee. He drinks it a lot, and he thinks about it a lot. That’s what happens when you brew up a business centered on the drink.
Roelke is the founder of Nobl Coffee, a nitro cold brew coffee maker in Newmarket, New Hampshire. On July 21, he celebrated the one-year anniversary of his first pour with, what else, a glass of frothy coffee.
The idea for Nobl sprang from Roelke’s obsession with good coffee, but it took off during spring semester of his senior year as a business administration/marketing major when he registered for the 2015 Paul J. Holloway Prize Competition. The annual UNH event puts great business ideas to the test before discerning judges, and the winner receives a grand prize of $10,000 to seed their venture.
Roelke and his idea made it to the semifinal round, and that’s when the judges asked for samples.
At that point, he had none to offer. Roelke cringes as he recollects. “I was like, I know this works. I know it’s going to taste good. I’m almost there.”
He made it to the finals anyway.
“It took a lot of playing around to figure it out. I had three weeks to get it dialed in,” Roelke says. He had to procure the beans, roast them, rest them, brew them, then filter and nitrogenize the product and test, test, test before he would have samples for the final round.
“We ran batches and batches, just nailing variables — water temperature, water profile, roast profile. It was a huge science experiment going on in my kitchen all the time,” Roelke says. “I was actually really happy with the final product for the Holloway.”
So were the judges. Roelke placed third, and that summer, after graduating from UNH, he left his full-time job to devote himself to building Nobl. Today, dozens of cafes, restaurants and workplaces serve Nobl on tap, and Roelke has just rolled out growlers for those who want to enjoy Nobl at home. Soon, he’ll open a tasting room in his space on Main Street.
Nitrogen gives Nobl coffee a creamy texture and helps preserve it. Restaurants with Nobl taps are reporting less waste from dumped coffee, and Roelke says Nobl aficionados are using less (or no) cream and sugar.
Although cold coffee has become a year-round obsession even in wintery places, this fall, Roelke will introduce the hottest innovation to date in nitro coffee: “We’re calling it hot draught,” he says of the method that will heat coffee instantly, one cup at a time, from the tap.
Nobl has employees in sales and production now, and Roelke says “everybody who starts here learns everything because we all do everything.”
How’s life as an entrepreneur? “It’s long days every day,” he says. But he carves time for innovation into every week, crafting new batches for Nobl’s “play tap,” sometimes borrowing concepts from the craft beer industry, like a recent super-limited run of Nobl coffee aged in whiskey barrels. He sold out of those kegs in a day.
“It’s a lot of fun to be able to do stuff like that,” Roelke says. “It’s something that people can get excited about, and it’s something we’ll be able to do more of now that we’re ramping up.”