Ujjo Founder Lauren D’Souza knows that hearing the phrase “hot sauce for coffee” is going to make potential customers feel some sort of way – whether that reaction is bring it on, or the variety of rather colorful emojis received as feedback on some social media posts.
It’s polarizing, but D’Souza says it has been fun and intriguing to see how people react to the world’s first hot sauce for coffee (a statement the founder makes with confidence after extensive research – minus a community of Redditors that put Tabasco in their java).
The curious can put their money where their mouth is, as the brand launches its Kickstarter campaign today, Tuesday, April 13.
It all started as a joke. Sitting around the table with some friends, a dare was made for D’Souza to dash some Frank’s RedHot into her coffee. It tasted…terrible. But then, she started unpacking the idea more.
“The problem isn’t the spice,” she says. “The spice is actually super fun.”
The problem was the vinegar. Most people think of hot sauce as spice and vinegar. However, a hot sauce doesn’t technically have to have vinegar – it’s any liquid infused with spice.
D’Souza set out to find another base for this curious creation and was thus on the road to mashing together two products with some truly fanatical audiences.
Instead of vinegar, Ujjo uses a natural sweetener blend consisting of erythritol and brown rice syrup for its base. The thicker base keeps the hot sauce’s chili blend and spices suspended, and saves from any unwelcome chili pooling towards the end of bottle or drink.
D’Souza says getting the chili blend just right was a challenge of its own. She looked for peppers that had a quick on and off heat. That blend, consisting of peppers like pasilla, guajillo, red hatch and ghost pepper, will be accompanied by a symphony of spices to create Ujjo’s two flavors – Dark Roast and Light Roast.
Dark Roast will have comforting spices like cinnamon, allspice and vanilla, aimed at bringing out rich flavors of chocolate and molasses. The Light Roast will have some of the same flavor notes, but be a touch more on the refreshing side with additions like ginger and orange peel.
As with all hot sauces, it’s a dash in as much as your tastebuds can handle situation, although D’Souza recommends some initial restraint, like a quarter of teaspoon at a time as drinks are less forgiving.
While coffee drinks are the intended outlet, D’Souza’s initial friends and family taste testers have gotten creative in their Ujjo application, topping everything from pizza, Chipotle and burgers, to chicken & waffles and ice cream with the hot sauce.
Ultimately, Ujjo may be one of the more unique businesses to arise out of the pandemic. D’Souza says she doesn’t know if she would have come up with the idea, or had the time to dedicate to building the business, had she not been locked in the house for months on end.
The one thing that the pandemic didn’t change when it came to building Ujjo was finding support from the Columbus community.
D’Souza connected with several local coffee shops, starting with Kenny Sipes of Roosevelt Coffeehouse & Roasters. She first mentioned the idea to him in July 2020.
“I told him I wanted to make a hot sauce for coffee, you know, he’s such a supportive encouraging guy, he was like, ‘Alright, I’m here to help you,'” D’Souza says. “It wasn’t until months later where he was like, ‘Yeah, I thought you were kind of crazy for it, but you made it work.'”
D’Souza says Roosevelt’s entire team has been an incredible support, from Lead Roaster Frank Wright, to the baristas at the Long Street shop who tried the product and came up with drink ideas.
Dave Forman of One Line Coffee, and his palate, were also instrumental.
“I took the product to him, and he had very nuanced feedback on how to tweak it,” D’Souza says.
She found that in making connections, she either knew someone who knew someone who could help, or could reach out to complete strangers, who would often say, ‘This is weird, but I want to help!’
“I think this is the value of starting something in Columbus,” D’Souza says.
It’s how Ujjo also found its co-packer in locally-based MadStone Gourmet. D’Souza was walking through North Market and stopped in at Flavor and Fire, grabbed a business card, was told to reach out, and the rest is Ujjo-making history.
MadStone has helped D’Souza figure out how to scale Ujjo’s batches – an important lesson as her tastebuds quickly learned that the spice of powdered chilis doesn’t scale linearly; it gets exponentially hotter.
Ujjo’s $5,000 Kickstarter campaign will support the first commercial run of its hot sauce.
D’Souza says there was a lot of pro- and anti-crowdfunding debate among the Ujjo team, but ultimately she decided to turn to the masses for the validation of getting the product in hands outside of her network.
“I think Kickstarter not only can provide you sometimes brutal feedback, but it’s the feedback you need to grow a business,” she says. “It also give you that megaphone to get the word out there. You can tap into an existing community and audience and really just test the waters if they are interested.”
Even if Ujjo wouldn’t hit their modest goal, D’Souza says the product will still move forward.
She expects that after the campaign ends in May, backers should have their product by the fall. From there, Ujjo will primarily focus on direct to consumer sales through its website, but D’Souza sees the possibility of a multi-pronged approach.
There has been some interest from local coffee shops and the potential of stocking the product on retail store shelves. The Kickstarter could also provide validation to look into more traditional wholesale situations with big-box retailers.
Click here for more information and to support the Kickstarter campaign.