Alum brews perfect cup of resilience, caffeine, community

Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Emergency room workers at Tufts Medical Center holding bags of iced NOBL coffee

Emergency room workers at Tufts Medical Center with their free bags of NOBL cold brew coffee. (NOBL photo)

As local health care workers put in long hours on today’s frontlines, they’re heartened by a welcome jolt: the delivery of cold brew coffee right to their hospital breakrooms.

It’s the latest venture of NOBL Beverages, the cold brew coffee and iced beverage company founded by Connor Roelke ’14. For every bag of cold brew coffee purchased through their website, NOBL donates a bag to a hospital of the customer’s choice. To date, NOBL has delivered more than 1,000 bags of cold brew coffee to hospitals on the Seacoast and as far as Maine and Boston — and their goal is to double that number by month’s end.

In the young startup’s five years of growth, Roelke says this is the first time that NOBL has been in a “position to launch incredible charitable giving campaigns.”

But since Day One, it’s the tipping points that have shaped NOBL’s story, ethos and leadership. Make or break moments. Moments where the only real choice was to keep moving forward. And pivoting to a landscape that closed coffee shop doors and sparked a tremendous need for goodwill? That might be its most defining tipping point yet.

While still a senior at the Paul College of Business and Economics, Roelke witnessed the “ridiculous trajectory” of the then-emerging craft beer scene and had an epiphany about nitrogen kegerators. It just didn’t happen to be about beer. 

“The first couple of weeks, it was clear that the energy in the room had changed,” he says. “We had to come together and say, ‘Let’s work through this problem and solve it.’”

No, Roelke wanted to brew coffee. Specifically, cold brew coffee. So he did, developing a business plan, prototype and pitch that would eventually cinch victory in his category at the Holloway Prize Competition.

As a newly minted graduate, Roelke soon encountered the tremendous need for capital, equipment and plain old persistence required to get his company off the ground.

“When I was getting a little over my head, it was too late to turn around,” Roelke says. “My driveway was lined with kegerator equipment.”

Then, NOBL’s first two accounts — The Juicery in Durham and The Stone Church in Newmarket, both in New Hampshire — were followed by a series of company breakthroughs. NOBL would ultimately find its sea legs by partnering with coffee roasters. After the roaster makes the coffee, NOBL turns it into cold brew and delivers the product directly to cafes in refrigerated trucks.

Then, four weeks into opening their new Seacoast canning facility, COVID-19 rolled through New England and quickly shuttered their client base. Roelke again found himself and his company at a challenging tipping point. They had a half-open, brand-new facility. They had an enormous amount of inventory. They had 32 employees on payroll.

“The first couple of weeks, it was clear that the energy in the room had changed,” he says. “We had to come together and say, ‘Let’s work through this problem and solve it.’”

That included taking stock of their assets and repurposing them to better meet the demands of the evolving economy and climate. They came up with the mission-driven 1:1 matching campaign for cold brew coffee purchases and launched an online store in just three days.

They also partnered with Age Well to deliver Meals on Wheels to elderly individuals in rural Vermont. With refrigerated trucks, NOBL drivers can drop off a week’s worth of frozen meals with no face-to-face contact. The route can be grueling, tasking the drivers with some 40 hours of work over the course of three days. However, Roelke says the company’s drivers have been energized by it. “You can see and meet the people whose lives you’re changing,” he says.

And as momentum continues to pick up for the cold brew matching campaign, Roelke says, “the cool thing is to see the flood of images coming in.” Like the recent Elliot Hospital social media post of doctors and nurses taking a break with smiles on their faces to open their cold brew delivery.

The caption reads: what a refreshing and delicious donation of cold brew coffee from NOBL.