Boston Globe / Counting Sheep Coffee

Counting Sheep Coffee makes you sleepy. Huh?

December 16, 2014

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This coffee will put you to sleep. Huh?

In a sign of how fragmented and specialized the coffee industry has grown, a new coffee starting to gain traction is not only decaffeinated — it has ingredients that will help put you to sleep.

“The decaf market was 10 percent of the coffee market. That’s a huge number of people drinking decaf to begin with,” said Deland Jessop, the 39-year-old co-founder of Counting Sheep Coffee. “We realized there definitely is a market. We don’t know exactly how big. But the decaf market is worth billions of dollars, so there is space there.”

Jessop is no coffee hound. In fact, in his previous career as a police officer, when someone would go on a coffee run, he asked them to bring back some apple juice.

 This is a labor of love.

The idea grew, Jessop said, because his wife loves coffee but can’t touch even decaf after 3 p.m. without staying up at night. When his question — “Why isn’t there a coffee that helps you sleep?” — yielded no answers, he turned his kitchen into a science lab.

“It’s just such a simple idea,” Jessop said. “It was easily overlooked for a very long time.”

He tried chamomile and lavender, which are typically used in teas. But the taste was so bad even his wife spit it out. Finally someone suggested valerian root, an herb that is commonly used for sleep disorders.

He partnered with a coffee roaster in Newark, N.J. They combine valerian in powdered form with coffee while it’s being roasted (right now, it’s only available in K-cups or as ground coffee; they’re working on trying to sell it as whole bean coffee).

The whole concept turns one of the primary factors of coffee — that it’ll energize you — on its head. It’s captured in the company’s motto: “The best way to start your day is now the best way to end it.”

“The ritual of having a cup of coffee is a very relaxing ritual,” he said. “It’s just a nice warm beverage you want to sit and sip … With the valerian root added, it just kind of adds to it.”

The coffee comes in two versions. One, called 40 winks, has less valerian root in it and will make you slightly drowsy. The other, called lights out, will knock you out.

I brought some for a crowd of family at Thanksgiving, where several were used to drinking decaf. The smell was odd, almost like incense. For me, not having the rich aroma of fresh coffee took away a lot of the appeal. It tasted very bitter to me, but that’s how a lot of decaf tastes.

And among the decaf drinkers, it got positive reviews on taste (and it did make us drowsy, but it’s hard to tell if it was the coffee or the turkey dinner at work).

“It can become really large — but the business could still fail at this stage,” Jessop said. “We’re at that really exciting stage.”

Regardless, it’s become part of his family’s ritual. After putting their kids to bed, Jessop and his wife used to close out most nights with a glass of wine.

“Now we put kids in bed, and have this coffee,” he said. “She’ll watch ‘The Bachelor’ and then she’s out. If I’m watching ‘The Bachelor,’ I’m out even before that.”

Counting Sheep Coffee

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