Ask and Ye Shall Receive


Oct 10, 2008

I’m not one to keep my mouth shut, so the last year and a half have been a struggle for me – especially the last several months. 18 months of planning, arguing designing and delays. Stressed, yet excited as hell to finally give birth to the fruits of of our labor.


We feel that some times you need to throw the baby out with the bath water and simply start over…so thats what we’ve done. Over 2 years ago we started with pages of notes on whats wrong with machines today and lists of what our dream machine would do. We interviewed countless baristas & cafe owners and started building our own versions of what we called Frankenbots. We tested our theories with the ultimate end goal of creating a true barista machine.

So, yesterday I finally had some time to flip through the September 08 issue of Fresh Cup and came across an article on the future of espresso equipment. Check it out and please comment on what you would like to see in an espresso machine.

We’re listening.



The Future of Espresso Equipment:
What Do You Want?

Consider this fantasy: an annual event where prototypes of coffee-making equipment are on display, with features you can only wish for – for now. Think out-of-this-world espresso machines and grinders, and crazy-cool dosers and tampers.

Like Detroit’s auto shows, the Future of Coffee Equipment Show would show off practical and fanciful innovations in coffee-making gear. It would be held in Seattle or, maybe more appropriately, MIlan, Italy. We asked a handful of industry experts what they’d like to see in equipment of the future, from realistic modifications to outrageous luxuries with no concern for commercial viability.

Greg Scace, inventor of the Thermofilter (also known as the Scace device), thinks big. “I want to see infinitely variable brew parameters for espresso” he says. “A lot has been done in the last seven years to improve reproducibility in coffee machines. We have a certain degree temperature control down to an acceptable level…but there’s a lot we still don’t know because of the way machines are traditionally designed and built.” Scace notes that current stability is only about espresso being brewed at a constant temperature. “As soon as you deviate from constancy, to be reproducible you have to return to the starting point. Thats not being well done yet and not well explored. If someone says they just had the best of their life, I’d ask: ‘Why was that? Under what set of reproducible conditions can you do that again, and do it every time?’ There’s no magic in any of the processes. You should be able to replicate it with several machines if they were flexible enough.”

Scace’s dream of variable brewing would allow exploration of espresso’s profile on the level that regular brewed coffee has experienced with the Clover. “It would alter our assumptions about the right brewing parameters for espresso,” he says. “And if you can do it in a reproducible way and isolate the variables sufficiently, you can learn things that will lead to the development of better commercial machines.”

The folks at Counter Culture Coffee in Chapel Hill, N.C. are full of ideas, too. Head roaster Timothy Hill would like to see an espresso machine with “exposed groups with a flip button for semi-automatic engaging. Not a paddle. It should also have a very simple displayed pressure gauge for each group with a handle so the user can pull the lever to adjust pump pressure – in the style of an old lever machine, so it will look awesome as well. Whether the lever is attached to a variable speed drive to change the pump speed or whether it’s just a flow restrictor will have to be worked out. The goal would be instant handcrafted pressure distributed to the group head.”

While he was at it, Hill put a four boiler machine on his wish list, which he acknowledged as “really ridiculous.” One boiler would be for steam, and three smaller ones would be group-saturated and PID-controlled. “The point of this is if the three smaller boilers could have cold water inlets along with the inlet from the steam boiler, temperature changes could be almost instantaneous.” Hill also contends that steam wands should be double-lined and portafilter baskets should be ridgeless.

Peter Giuliano, Counter Culture’s co-owner and director of coffee, likes the idea of an “open” espresso machine, “one where the barista’s work could be clearly seen. Right now, espresso machines are big tanks that either sit between the barista and the customer or require that the barista turn his back on the customer.” Giuliano envisions “a low espresso machine with the groups raised like ‘taps’…the steam wands would enable the espresso bar to become more like a sushi bar, where the customer can see everything that’s going on.”

Brian Ludviksen, technical services manager at Counter Culture, believes that “temperature and pressure stability are a fairly level playing field for most of the big shots out there.” To up the ante, he’d like to see every machine outfitted with “insulated steam wands that are cool to the touch, better portafilter basket design, better portafilter design and ergonomic innovations. Right now, it seems like the perfect machine may be a Frankenstein-like creation with Franke steam wands, Synesso portafilter baskets, bottomless La Marzocco portafilters, Nuova Simonelli steam valves and handles, Synesso coffee boilers, La Marzocco group hydraulics and a Mistral body.”

Some of these bells and whistles are on the drawing boards of equipment manufacturers. Keep asking, and you just might get them.

– Julie Beals (Fresh Cup Magazine, September 2008)

Early version of the Slayer Frankenbot


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