Alumni Profile
By Ali Goldstein
Grounds for Giving Back


uring his senior year at the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, Connor Roelke ’14 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.

No, Roelke wanted to brew coffee. Specifically, nitrogen-infused cold brew coffee. So he developed a business plan, prototype and pitch for a company called NOBL Beverages and entered Paul College’s annual Holloway Prize Competition, taking first place in his category. That was enough to convince him he could make a go of his business in the real world, and shortly after graduation Roelke found himself with a driveway’s worth of kegerator equipment — and the need for more capital and plain-old persistence than he’d initially anticipated.

Connor Roelke making cold brew coffee
Courtesy Connor Roekle

“When I was getting a little over my head, it was too late to turn around,” Roelke recalls.

Soon, however, NOBL landed its first two New Hampshire accounts: The Juicery in Durham and The Stone Church in Newmarket. These were followed by others, including UNH (there’s a NOBL kegerator in Stillings’ Wildcatessen Cafe), and the company ultimately found its groove partnering with coffee roasters who produce the coffee NOBL turns into cold brew and delivers directly to cafés on refrigerated trucks.

By early 2020, NOBL was serving some 500 locations across the northeast. And then in March, four weeks into opening the company’s new Seacoast canning facility, COVID-19 rolled through New England and shuttered its client base. Roelke found himself at a tipping point. He had a half-open, brand new facility. NOBL had an enormous amount of inventory. He 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.’”

The solution Roelke and his team arrived at was not only creative, it was also service-minded. Since early April, for every bag of cold brew coffee that is purchased through its website, NOBL has donated a bag of the same to a hospital of the customer’s choice. That means that as local health care workers put in long hours on today’s frontlines, they’re fortified by a welcome caffeine kick. As of June 1, NOBL had delivered nearly 1,200 bags of cold brew coffee to hospitals on the Seacoast, and as far as Maine and Boston.

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, he adds, it’s challenges that have shaped NOBL’s story, ethos and leadership.

NOBL coffee delivery to Boston’s Tufts Medical Center

As coffee shops and campus cafes closed their doors, Roelke’s NOBL team took just three days to come up with the 1:1 cold brew matching campaign and launch an online store to support it. They also connected with a Vermont company called Age Well to use their refrigerated trucks to deliver Meals on Wheels to elderly individuals in rural parts of that state. The work can be grueling, with NOBL’s drivers logging some 40 hours of work over the course of three days. But Roelke says employees are energized by the opportunity to deliver a week’s worth of frozen meals to those in need. “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.” A recent photo from Boston’s Tufts Medical Center offers a case in point: half a dozen health care workers in the emergency department, their happiness evident despite the masks covering their smiles as they hold up their bags of NOBL cold brew, bolstered in at least one regard for another day on the frontlines of the COVID crisis.