Waking Life Espresso takes a lesson from the beer world

Photo by Kat McReynolds

Like Asheville’s notoriously crafty beer community, Waking Life Coffee co-owners Jared Rutledge and Jacob Owens take their brewing seriously. By borrowing the concept of flash-chilling from brewers, the two say they’ve surpassed other methods of preparing iced coffee, including the popular cold-brew process. And with a new distribution deal with locally based beverage distributors Sour Grapes, a recently launched online sales portal and a promising second location in East Asheville, Waking Life’s caffeinated creations are poised to please coffee lovers near and far.


A blend of factors determines each morning java or afternoon pick-me-up’s final taste, but Rutledge and Owens focus on brew temperature over time.

“The core concepts you have to use when brewing coffee remain the same, no matter what,” Owens explains, “and the previous cold-brew methods were breaking all those rules” by attempting to replace higher initial water temperature with a lengthier brew time. Even in the recommended 12- to 24-hour steep, room-temperature water can’t extract each bean’s unique terroir, he says. That often results in a “flat, generic taste — maybe with some chocolate notes.”

Another common mistake is slow cooling after a hot brew, say both baristas. “Coffee oils are volatile, and they degrade very quickly,” says Rutledge. “So if coffee cools down slowly — especially as it goes through the food-temperature danger zone — the aromas degrade, and you get a nasty, funky taste like cardboard.”

Waking Life’s 4-minute method resolves both problems — incomplete extraction and flavor degradation — by brewing hot and chilling quickly.

“The water goes in at 200 degrees, and by the time it’s done brewing, it’s below 80 degrees,” says Rutledge. The pair credit Wicked Weed’s Walt Dickinson and Mountain Air Roasting’s Marshall Hance with the suggestion of using a wort (pre-fermented beer) chiller on their coffee in early 2014, when the three companies teamed up to make a collaborative coffee stout.

While the process of manipulating temperatures does require additional energy and, thus, added expense, Owens and Rutledge say their unique beverage will continue to impress casual drinkers and fellow coffee geeks alike — especially when the Flash Dream slushy (made with Waking Life’s flash-chilled coffee plus other local ingredients) debuts later this summer.

“It’s kind of a shame to brew [coffee] any other way than perfect. [The flash-chilling] method allows us to do that,” says Owens.


“We’ve been doing it all ourselves,” says Owens of the new brew’s local distribution. Waking Life’s cold elixir is already available at many grocery stores and specialty shops around Asheville. The Sour Grapes partnership, however, will introduce the product to  consumers in Charlotte, the Research Triangle, Greenville and Charleston in South Carolina and Atlanta in addition to smaller towns in between.

The busy partners also launched their product for sale online at avl.mx/0ul in February, making their bottled four-packs accessible anywhere in the U.S.

Waking Life’s draft nitro coffee (yes, you read that correctly), which they hope to start canning later this year, will also be available in both the West Asheville shop and the soon-to-be-finalized East Asheville location.

Stay tuned for details about the new East Asheville store. Waking Life Espresso is at 976 Haywood Road in West Asheville. More info: wakinglifeespresso.com


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

3 thoughts on “Waking Life Espresso takes a lesson from the beer world

  1. Ashevilledoesntlikesyou

    Will NEVER support this company or it’s disgusting owners. Jared Rutledge you are scum.

  2. Debbie Metcalf

    Waking Life is done, as are the two of you. Asheville has spoken loud & clear that we will not support businesses or people who are hate filled for women or any minority. Your arrogance in discussing your “exploits” demonstrates a level of ignorance that I have not seen in any of the owners of our other local businesses. You have a lot of growing up to do boys.

  3. sammy davis sr

    Going to miss all those immaculately sourced beans and cougar juice.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.