Curt Jones has a thing for reinventing foods that people love. A Southern Illinois University Carbondale microbiology graduate, Jones first re-engineered ice cream in 1988 with his invention of Dippin’ Dots, a frozen ice cream treat of BB-sized pellets.
Now Jones is applying the same flash freezing process to another favorite — coffee.
The result, known as 40 Below Joe, is frozen coffee beads which can be reheated to make a cup of coffee or simply enjoyed with a spoon as a cold, edible treat. Jones said the product is the result of some curiosity and the process of freezing coffee with liquid nitrogen.
“The idea goes back to our Dippin’ Dots stores in Nashville,” Jones said. “We always talked about having coffee in them, but I wanted to do it in a different way. My vision was that customers could walk in and there would be frozen beads of coffee and they could pick mixtures and it would be steamed into a latte or cappuccino.”
Jones says he was curious if his vision could be converted to a reality and he wanted to see what happened if a shot of espresso was immediately frozen.
“I discovered that if you froze it at minus 320 Fahrenheit and kept at 40 below, you could bring it back perfectly in a day, a month or even a year,” he said.
Jones adds that he began working on the idea in earnest in 2016 and got the idea to mix the product with what he calls “little beads of creamer,” and to market the product both as something to be heated up as a drink or selling it as an edible product.
“You basically can get a spoon and eat your coffee,” he said. “It’s a new way. Grab a cup, grab a spoon and eat it.”
He admits that the company, located at SIU’s Research Park, is in its infancy.
“We’ve been working on our branding and processes. This is right out of the gate,” he said.
40 Below Joe — the name comes from the temperature at which the product is stored — currently offers a Brazilian/Guatemalan coffee blend that can be purchased with or without French vanilla, Hazelnut or vanilla creamer beads. The product is sold by the case (80 cups to the case) on dry ice directly to consumers. It’s also available a several Southern Illinois retail locations including Carbondale’s Neighborhood Co-op Grocery, Save A Lot in Jonesboro, Big John’s in Metropolis and Newman and Camden Co. in Herrin, as well as several out-of-state locations. Jones adds that diners at Fat Bottom Betty’s in Carbondale can try 40 Below Joe as coffee or frozen.
“The cold product is very popular. I think eventually more than 90 percent of our product will be consumed in the edible version,” Jones said. “People are very interested and really love it that way. Many of them are surprised.”
He says the company is working to grow its distribution network and is developing new flavors, too.
“We expect to have seven flavors within a few months,” he said.
He says 40 Below Joe usually retails for under $4 per cup and he says despite having almost a full shot of espresso, each serving has fewer than 75 calories.
Jones says the product and its reception by consumers reminds him of his first creation in the late 1980s.
“This is a lot like the early days of Dippin’ Dots,” he said. “No one had eaten ice cream like that before. Now it’s coffee’s turn.”