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La Colombe’s new self-heating coffee can: A hot cup of joe in 2 minutes

The coffee company's CEO says he wants to see if consumers really want something like this.

La Colombe is developing coffee in a self-heating can.
La Colombe is developing coffee in a self-heating can.Read moreMICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

Problem: You’re miles from a coffee maker or a convenience store, without a vacuum bottle, and you need a hot cup of coffee.

Solution: Philadelphia-based La Colombe is test-marketing a self-heating aluminum can of coffee. Simply twist the bottom, wait two minutes, gently shake, pull the tab on the lid, and get 10.3 ounces of coffee delivered at about 130 degrees.

The joe is hot, in other words, but not McDonald’s hot.

The secret is a small, patented heater built inside the shelf-stable can. It was designed by a company called HeatGen, which keeps a lid on exactly how it works, beyond explaining it as a solid-state reaction that is safe and recyclable. Other companies have tried the idea of a self-heating can without much success.

Even La Colombe CEO Todd Carmichael, who worked with HeatGen’s developers for five years, isn’t sure there’s a market for this.

Carmichael, an inveterate tinkerer who pioneered such innovations as cold lattes on draft and creamy lattes in cans, said in an interview that he was being cautiously optimistic.

“I want to see how people react,” he said. “I’m experimenting with technology and I’m experimenting with people. Is it a fad or a novelty or is it a trend? I want to see how it fits in with people’s lives.” Carmichael himself could have used something like this during his daring explorations, including a 39-day, 700-mile solo walk to the South Pole in 2008.

Carmichael said the self-heating can soon will be first made available in a large scale at Wegmans stores. For now, they’re available in limited supply at the La Colombe flagship store in Fishtown. Carmichael said the $5 retail price would drop considerably.

The two varieties — regular and milk and sugar — that I tried performed well, giving me hot coffee as advertised. I didn’t care to drink the hot coffee directly from the can because the pull tab was off-putting. I simply poured it into a mug and it tasted like ... La Colombe coffee.

The $10 for the two cans, however, will make the paper’s accountants switch to decaf.