We Got Buzzed Up With These Caffeinated Gummy Cubes. Here's What We Thought.
For some crazy-busy people, coffee in liquid form is a tough pill to swallow. If you’ve ever spilled the stain-causing stuff on your lap while driving in a mad rush to work, you know what we mean. Or if you’ve ever splashed your child’s head with scalding java (I unfortunately have) while pushing that precious cargo in a stroller, you feel our pain.
Tasty and comforting as they may be, fresh-brewed coffee fixes can be time-sucking inconveniences. They’re expensive to shell out for on the go, too.
Basically, drinking your coffee can be a real pain. Perhaps it’s better to eat it in chewable form (after accepting that your schedule has spun out of control). It's all the buzz, without the fuss. At least that’s the premise behind Go Cubes, the bite-sized chewable caffeine shots we recently told you about.
The soft, square gummies are made with condensed cold-brewed coffee, along with some sugar and glucose syrup to cut the bitterness. The little blocks are produced by Andreessen Horowitz-backed Nootrobox, a San Francisco “biohacking and human enhancement” startup that cooks up a variety of edible nootropics, so-called “smart drugs” designed to enhance the eater’s mental state.
Neatly tucked within each sugar-dusted, bouillon cube-sized lump are 50 milligrams of nervous system-stimulating caffeine, roughly the equivalent to a half a cup of coffee. On top of 6 grams of sugar in a single cube, also packed inside are several “brain vitamin” nootropic supplements, including glucuronolactone, vitamin B6, methylated B12 and an amino acid called L-theanine. They’re baked in to “improve caffeine for enhanced focus and clarity” and “ameliorate the jitteriness of caffeine.”
To date, more than 1 million Go Cubes have been purchased. That’s a lot of chewable, gelatinized caffeination buzzification.
Software engineer Geoffrey Woo, Nootropics co-founder and CEO, told Entrepreneur that the idea for them was born out of “an obsession with how to enhance human performance.” He caught the biohacking bug at the same time as his fellow software engineer co-founder Michael Brandt, back when they were students at Stanford University.
“We were always figuring out how to be better versions of ourselves, to improve our mental performance” he says. “We wanted to optimize our schedules, how we’d approach people, how we’d talk to girls, how we’d take classes. When it came to coffee, we thought we could hack it, re-engineer it and make it better.”
Not only did Woo and Brandt “hack” coffee to be more portable since launching Nootrobox in 2014, they also made it measurably more precise in terms of exactly how much caffeine it contains.
“Think about it, when you drink from a barista, from a drip pot or from a French press, who knows how much caffeine you’re taking in?” he says. “You don’t actually know.” Consuming too much caffeine can potentially overstimulate your system and lower your cognitive function overall, he points out. No bueno for the body and the mind. That’s where Go Cubes come to the rescue, or so Woo hopes.
To see if they stand up to his claims, the staff of Entrepreneur's office in Irvine, Calif., gave these bad daddies a try. We took notes on their flavor and texture, and on whether they produced the physical and mental effects Woo says they do. Mind you, we’re not scientists. We are, however, certifiably busy and tired.
So do Nootrobox’s clever caffeinated cubes, available online in packs of four (and priced at $59 for 20 four-packs), actually taste like cold-brewed coffee? Do they really “enhance focus and clarity”?
Eagerly signing up as the first guinea pig, I downed a whole four-pack of Go Cubes, which is equivalent to two cups of coffee. Apparently, three flavors come in a pack -- “pure drip,” “mocha” and “latte” -- though I couldn’t tell them apart, as they’re not individually flavor-labeled and only slightly vary in brown hue.
I tasted them three separate times, all while previously uncaffeinated -- including an hour before writing this article. They tasted better than I thought they would, hitting my tongue at first with a bold but sweet dark roast coffee flavor. The aftertaste was more bitter than the initial sugary bite, lingering in my mouth for an hour or more, right up until I felt the need to brush my teeth and gargle with mouthwash. A piece of gum wouldn’t touch the level of coffee breath left behind.
In terms of texture, I found that Go Cubes were less sticky than Dots gumdrops and Swedish fish, yet equally as firm, easily giving way when I sank my front teeth into them. I was pleasantly surprised that they didn’t get stuck to the grooves of my back teeth as I chewed. They went down easy.
Effect-wise, I detected a fully jacked caffeine rush a half-hour after popping a pair, about as potent a jolt as I’d clock from my typical two back-to-back cups of homemade French Roast brew. My heart pounded and my hands trembled. As for increased mental clarity, I don’t think I experienced any, though how would a layperson really measure such an effect? Besides, I was too distracted by my shaky fingers and feeling like I was vibrating from the inside out to really focus.
With my taste test behind me, it was time to juice up my Entrepreneur officemates on Go Cubes. Feeling a bit like I was doling out Halloween candy (after all, they taste pretty darn sweet at first), I distributed a bunch of four-packs for sampling with a spring in my step and without commentary, so as not to taint the testing pool. Here’s what my colleagues who were game to try them had to say:
Matt Vecere, marketing copywriter: “As someone who's a bit sensitive to sugar, they gave me more of a sugar spike than anything caffeine induced. After that crash, I went and got myself some coffee with Splenda. Also, if you're taking your first bite of Go Cubes, don't expect to taste something sweet. Your facial expression could revert to the one you made in childhood when you found baker's chocolate in the cabinet. In summary, you're about to consume the love/hate child of a Jujube and burnt coffee bean.”
Vanessa Campos, marketing and production manager: “I love coffee in every shape and form. Drip, espresso, cold brew, nitro and now I love chewable coffee, too. My first instinct was not to chew the square, but to pop it whole and really taste the flavor, and it was amazing. The sugar and mocha flavors ease you into the intense coffee burst that you get when you bite into them. Twenty minutes later and I'm juiced. I mean, productive. Very, very productive.”
[Campos supplied the following GIF with her review, which basically says it all.]
Kevin Chapman, digital media designer: “The mocha one wasn’t bad. It’s hard to describe, but it was sort of like a mocha Sour Patch Kid candy, at least texture-wise. The aftertaste was OK. Overall, I would not eat these over drinking coffee. I still tasted mocha in my mouth for quite a while after tasting them and my breath smelled strongly of coffee. Mocha and then more mocha. These feel like a lot of work compared to slamming something like 5-Hour Energy.”
Related: How This Company Is Making Millions In an Ultra-Crowded Market
Rick Ignarra, assistant corporate counsel: “The taste starts like a Tootsie Roll, but it quickly turns into eating sour, bitter coffee beans. The texture, which was fine, was like gummy vitamins. I didn’t feel any effects after 15 minutes. I have a high tolerance to caffeine, though.”
Adriana Angulo, digital media designer: “At first the taste started out good, but then they were harsh. The texture was like a gummy bear, a coffee-flavored one. They gave me coffee breath, just like I’d get if I’d had a cup of coffee. I definitely miss the comforting sensation and ritual of holding a cup of coffee, but I can see myself popping these on my way to class, in a pinch. Or if I don’t have time to order Starbucks on my phone and then go pick it up, I’d use them. If the aftertaste were a little bit better, a little toned down, I’d be all in.”
Rocky Vy, community marketing manager: “I love coffee, especially the taste. However, I found the taste of these cubes a bit off-putting. But, if the whole point of these chewables is to give you that jolt of energy, they definitely did their job, especially seeing as how I'm fairly immune to the effects of caffeine now. Maybe the flavor is what woke me up?”
In the interest of fairness, we gave Go Cubes co-creator Geoffrey Woo a chance to respond to our straw poll taste-test reactions. Here’s what he said:
The vast majority of the responses we've seen have been positive. But, like the taste of coffee itself, the flavor profile of Go Cubes can be polarizing. It's intense because each cube’s got a half a cup of coffee plus other nootropics concentrated into each cube for performance. We aren't a candy! I personally like the jelly-like texture as it's a unique mouthfeel to a unique product.
In terms of performance, not 'feeling' GO CUBES is a new one I've heard. If someone is a four-plus-cup-of-coffee-a-day [drinker] or [they’re] someone with low sensitivity to caffeine, I'd recommend trying more than two cubes … folks can dial up or down their specific intake depending on their own preferences.
From different viewpoints, creator and eater, there you have Go Cubes in a nutshell. An uncharacteristically speedily-written nutshell for this caffeine-addicted snail of a writer. I’m so buzzed off of them right now that I seriously need to take a breather and calm down. Uh-oh, the website for these small but mighty coffee bombs say they “last you all day.” Bzzzzzzz. I’d better get used to it.
Kim Lachance Shandrow is the former West Coast editor at Entrepreneur.com. Previously, she was a commerce columnist at Los Angeles CityBeat, a news producer at MSNBC and KNBC in Los Angeles and a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times. She has also written for Government Technology magazine, LA Yoga magazine, the Lowell Sun newspaper, HealthCentral.com, PsychCentral.com and the former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Coop. Follow her on Twitter at @Lashandrow. You can also follow her on Facebook here.