The Marco Über Boiler

This will probably end up being quite a long post, and sorry for being a bit cryptic on here the other day.  I want to explain the history of this little project, and give credit where it is due.

This morning I got up early to fly over to Dublin, to the CatEx show there.  Apart from catching up with Stephen, and lots of other lovely coffee people, and catching a little of the Irish Barista Championship, I was really there to see the guys at Marco and the new machine they had on their stand.

I am not going to be able to get very far in all this without talking about the Clover first.  The reason that the Clover got me excited initially was that it was going to be a potential way to keep promises 1 made when serving coffee.  Some people hated the amount of control it offered (deeming it soulless automation), while others got excited about dialling in coffees.  No doubt the profiling it offered really appealed to the people who bought the company.

After the Clover disappeared from the market the industry seemed to take a step back and then dig out all its old coffee brewers and start playing with them again.  More French Pressing, Vac Pots popping up everywhere, and every self respecting coffee nerd having a Chemex in cupboard.

While researching different bits and pieces for a potential cafe Anette unearthed the Quooker Tap. Nice idea, but some problems when it came to coffee!  I began to wonder if it was possible to add a mix tap to add cold water, maybe drill a little hole in the end of the spout and put a probe in and live mix a desired water temp.  Stephen, Anette and I hammered the idea out a bit more but didn’t really know what to do with it.

At the Caffe Culture show last year we got chatting to Paul Stack from Marco about how possible the idea was.  His proposal was awesome – they would take on the project and build us one.  For them it was a great research project, and they are a bunch of wonderful coffee obsessed people who immediately understood where we were coming from.

Paul came over to the roastery in August last year and we went into greater detail about what we wanted.  I demanded typically ludicrous things:  I wanted a built in scale, a live temperature display, I wanted to be able to jump between temperatures for different coffees quite quickly.

During development Paul sent across piles of data and I was extremely impressed in the consistency of water temperature delivered – a swing of around 0.2°C with their testing kit once the boiler had stabilised.

What I worked with today is still very much a prototype – it will be developed a little more before it is shipped over to us for further testing.  Hopefully a drip tray, a built in timer unit and a few other bits and pieces will be added soon.  I am not going to go into great detail about how it works operationally because it is likely that that will change to something a little more intuitive.  Before use it requires switching to ‘BOOST’ mode that cycles water right up around the font to heat and stabilise the water lines for consistent delivery.  We’re going to work on more intuitive movement between brew temperatures and I probably don’t need to explain how to use a scale.

Water delivery speed was relatively slow – good for Chemex, and not too slow to be frustrating when making a press.

Some pics (remember this is a prototype!):

Marco Boiler
Scale control and water delivery
Scale control and water delivery
Live brew temp
Live brew temp
Built to fit a large Chemex underneath!
Built to fit a large Chemex underneath!

All credit to Marco for working towards a very creative, versatile boiler that would suit people who want to embrace all brewing methods yet still want control and repeatability.

Initially the plan was just to build one for us but I think the reaction it has recieved at the one tradeshow alone means that they will be looking to produce more units if the demand is there.

For those interested I’d recommend e-mailing Marco, and they will keep those interested up to date on the boiler.

Oh, and it doesn’t have a name yet – suggestions welcome!

If people have thoughts or questions then please post a comment and I will do my best to answer.

  1. there is a big long post coming baout making and keeping promises with brewed coffee – soon!  ↩︎

53 Comments

  1. My initial idea was to have a lineup of 3-5 of these taps on a counter, like a brewed coffee station where you could brew chemexes, presses and whatever else all in one go, at temperatures individually suited to the coffee and vessel. We’re not far off, I’m excited! Thanks Marco, yay for being willing to build our crazy idea!

  2. Oh and awesome for stellar tea service too.

  3. Interesting!

    I actually was interested in the Quooker Tap myself a while back for the shop to have for Tea service—the problem was health and safety–to have water that hot coming from a tap that’s right at the sink would have posed a possible lawsuit which is why I refrained, whereas on our coffee machine it’s fairly obvious–‘hot!’

    What happens if the machine were to accidentally keep running water? Is there a drain anywhere?

  4. Damn…you all are awesome. Chris and I talked and talked about something like this, but I never hit on the idea of the live mixing. Beautiful. I am absolutely in love. So so so so excited, and a bit jealous that you all actually made it happen. Keep it up!!!!

  5. I’m very interested in this technology- thanks for posting this.

  6. Looks really cool! I like the built-in scale a lot.

    It doesn’t make a splashy mess in shorter receptacles? I thought those Quooker taps look like they blast the water out fairly hard, but maybe it’s just the scary steamy noise throwing me off. :)

  7. A bunch of conversations with filter-coffee brewing technology experts over the past 6 months gives me a little concern over this design: you don’t want the water to be “shot” too hard onto the bed.

    The more gentle the “fall” of the water onto the coffee bed, the more even the extraction will be. This isn’t as much of an issue with french press, but for Chemex or other drip-style brewing, it could be an issue.

  8. “Some people hated the amount of control it offered (deeming it soulless automation)…”

    This has gotta be directed at me…

    I think you’re misunderstanding my criticism of The Clover. It was a nice machine. It was a precise machine. And considering I own the Polyscience Immersion Circulator, Antigriddle and a host of other precision gadgets, I’m very open and willing to use precision instruments in our craft.

    My criticism of The Clover has always been that the price of the machine didn’t justify the produced results. Further, my commentaries about it being an “automated brewer” are spot on and a criticism of our Third Wave cultures’ attitude of poo-poo-ing automated brewing devices (like a Franke SuperAuto espresso machine) while lauding the “push this button once” usability of The Clover. Both are simple, one push of the button machines.

    That said, I’m looking forward to seeing this water delivery system develop for export to the United States. I think I’ll be needing one soon!

  9. One more comment…

    While I do like the prototype design, can you ask them to shrink the base/footprint of the unit? Narrower is better. I don’t know about the rest of our crew, but I’ve always found countertop space to be at a premium and the more a manufacturer can recognize this and keep the footprint small, the easier (I think) it will sell.

    Also, I’m concerned about the buttons, displays and controls being at counter level. Seems very prone to liquid damage from spills, cleaning agents, coffees and everything else that gets tossed onto a working countertop.

  10. Wow that really does look like a great idea and implementation, my suggestion (Everyone’s a critic, I know) would be for the buttons and displays to be placed ontop of the column, this would move the buttons out of the splash zone and allow for a smaller footprint, although a shroud of someform might be needed to stop steam coming between you and the controls.

  11. This hot water tap has nothing to do with the Clover. The tap is no more automated or complicated than a Fetco brewer. This tap would probably be a better idea for a full immersion brew style as opposed to a traditional pour over where agitation is an issue. The funny little spouts on kettles are there for a reason.

    This idea reminds me of something. I was once using the hand mill and after grinding for a good five minutes for a travel mug… I thought, why don’t they put a motor on this…

  12. To address a few questions:

    First flow rate:

    I didn’t take a measure of the flow rate but it is a soft, relatively slow flow. The engineers who worked on it were forced to watch my little Chemex videocast. It isn’t pouring kettle slow, but not far off. We have discussed how to achieve variable flow rates, and is something still being worked on.

    We’re also looking at different dispersions screens so you could switch it out for a spray head instead of a stream.

    This boiler doesn’t live mix – that was just an initial idea that turned out not to work very well at all.

    Footprint wise – it could easily be much much smaller. The boiler under the counter is smaller than the footprint above. As for control placement – anything is possible. I quite enjoyed having the buttons on the bench but once I’ve played with it for a while I guess I’ll have a bit more feedback on the ergonomics. Comments on potential for spills etc are noted and useful.

    And just to re-iterate once more: it will have a nice drip tray.

  13. Design is nice at the first glance, but, perhaps, I don’t actually get a point with one thing :)

    I assume that you’ll put a cup (or anything) on that glass surface, right? If so, you can easily beat it down and spill water on the device. Or I don’t get the thing?

  14. It was directed only at you – you weren’t the only dissenting voice on that particular side to the brewer (though perhaps the most vocal!)

    Talking to Marco about what is possible we did discuss tying the delivery volume into the gram scale but then that suddenly felt too automated so we left it alone for now.

  15. “It was directed only at you…”

    So it was directed at me! Touche, Hoffman! You know I like a good ribbing.

    I think tying the delivery volume to the scale could prove to be quite interesting. Perhaps it could weigh the amount of coffee in the brew vessel and calculate the appropriate amount of water? Maybe even store the temperature (and brew ratio) parameters for different coffees to make it easier during heavy service loads.

    One of the things I try to think about is how to provide a more hand-brewed coffee as part of our regular coffee service? Our bar uses French Presses and even a few seconds shaved off the prep/brew time will be a great step towards quick, efficient and fresh brew-by-the-cup service.

    I know you’re a bit cautious about making it “too automated” but if we can utilize technology to deliver a quality product that meets our standards, how is this a “bad” thing? Perhaps this may sound at odds with my previous position but it’s not. My concerns with The Clover stemmed from the blind idol worship I was seeing within the community, the lack of perspective. It was an expensive machine that didn’t deliver coffee as significant as its’ price. I have a hard time getting excited about that – just as I have a hard time justify purchasing the Eppendorf High Capacity Centrifuge for $10K.

    But I am looking forward to seeing this water system develop!

  16. That is one beautiful tap. It is amazing how consistent you were able to keep the temperature. I only wish that I were worthy enough to recommend a name such a piece of equipment.

  17. I quite like ‘The Marco Über Boiler’.

  18. I love the possibility of making it easier to offer customers a number of coffees and brewing methods!

    What if the tap had a handle that controlled the pressure of the stream? Is that possible? Baristas could adjust the flow rate as needed by moving the handle. Something like this?

  19. A great idea, pretty much needed too, provided it’s offered a price point that’s sensible, as the Clover’s precisely wasn’t!

    My initial thoughts…
    For the variable shower adjustment…most powershowers do that very simply, a lever with 4 settings could allow fast pour, slow shower pour, trickle or massage.

    Like that sexy wall mounted grinder from Malykke, it’d be wonderful if it could be taught to recognise what was on it…size wise, and then pour the correct volume & temperature of water. This could all be preprogrammed and a display could tell the user what it thinks it’s going to do before a pressed button let it do it, avoiding cockups.

    Would this whole thing be better wall mounted? It could shrink the footprint to the size of the scale….

    On a lateral thinking note, I can programme my espresso machine to produce a precise volume of water at a precise temperature with a gently shower-like delivery from a thing called a grouphead. No further investment needed…just the headroom issue to solve. Now I wish I’d bought a longdrop machine…

  20. I love it ( and ‘uber’ name!)
    in a busy cafe I quite like the idea of having the controls on the counter – maybe it would prevent staff from putting receipts, tips, mobiles and general c**p in a food prep area!

  21. Problem with it’s current design it that you’d have to rip your bar apart to install it… smart looking but it’s cut it’s future market to refurbs and new openings because I don’t know many cafe’s with a spare area of bar that wouldn’t mind a chunk missing above a space with power and water… Could they fit the technology in a water boiler shell to sit on a bar at least?

  22. Wow!
    Fantastic feedback. Practically all issues/suggestions/observations raised are resolvable/implementable/valid. All comments welcomed with open arms, both the cuddly ones and the spikier ones. Keep ‘em coming. We’ll keep all interested in the loop on progress made. Thanks again to James Anette and Stephen for the embryo.
    ….and the name Marco Uber Boiler just might stick!

  23. Paul made me some Muchoki in a press with the boiler yesterday, and I must say it topped my efforts with the Muchoki on a Chemex, with a kettle, a scales and a K-type thermocouple (turns out I should’ve been brewing about 2 degrees hotter). Strikes me as not only a great cafe tool, but a great cupping lab tool. Kudos to all involved in the design.

  24. Some thoughts on this too, after reading all the other comments – kind of a dream wishlist:

    – variable flow rate, from drip to maybe 10-20psi flow (about what, 1/4 to 1/3 normal line pressure) – and maybe up to full line pressure for times when you just want access to hot water quick
    – an innovative way to modulate spray from fine to wide
    – adjustable height
    – some kind of agitator so it can spray a random pattern across a set diameter
    – control panel elevated to avoid water damage from spills
    – multiple program settings for different brewing apparatae
    – for it to not cost $10,000 ;)

  25. Employee operated might work…I would be very concerned if the customer came in contact with the equipment

  26. It seems like this device has some consumer-level (or at least pro-sumer) potential as well. I put in my vote for a low enough price to keep consumers in the loop.

  27. You know i have liking for coffee from the childhood and my mother makes white coffee very nice.
    In the morning time i don’t get coffee i feel very headache problem and i continues till next morning.
    In my city Mc tang shop is very nice and famous.

  28. I belong to business family and my business is in the automobile so my dad all the time remains in the office so he was in the habit of coffee this trends got to me.

  29. Hi everybody,

    During my last visit at the Marco Premises in Dublin, I had the grat opportunity to see this project and Paul explained a lot to me. I’m pretty excited as all of you and I’m really looking forward to seeing this great idea on the bar’s counters…

  30. Hi Guys,
    Some great feedback here. I’m the design engineer in Marco who headed the project. It has been a very interesting machine to work on, there were a few very different concepts at the start on how to achieve the stable temperatures.

    I have done extensive testing on machines for SCAE & ECBC gold cup approvals and know how inherently unstable temperatures can be in boilers, esp. when trying to dispense small volumes within tight tolerances.

    It’s good to have feedback to show how important certain functions/features are. Driptrays, footprint size, adjustable heights, varying flowrates & spray patterns, raised/protected buttons/controls, being a freestanding unit etc are all easily achievable as the whole operation is quite versatile. There are several other features and modifications I have in mind too. The design could change dramatically from what you see in the photos.

    Uber boiler has a nice ring to it, better than the working project name VTB5!

  31. Wow, I love it and I know it will only get better. James and Anette, you continue to blow my mind, and I feel honoured to be part of the community of which you two are a part. Just waiting to get back to Canada after two weeks in Central America. The coffee world couldn’t be more exciting than what it is right now. Keep on doing what you do so well.

  32. Great idea, it clearly has a lot of potential. A few comments off the top of my head:

    (a) This has been developed with coffee in mind, but if the machine really is capable of dispensing water of vastly different temperatures on demand, there would be a huge market for it in specialty tea. There are a number of specialty tea shops (around me at least) that offer many, many different varieties of tea that need water at different temperatures. For example, I gather that green tea needs water at a lower temperature than black – I’m clearly no tea expert! (As an aside, I find it deeply depressing that you can set up a credible sounding specialty tea shop by doing nothing more than buying from an importer and putting on markups that would be unthinkable in the world of coffee … I feel sorry for our most talented, dedicated and hard working roasters every time I walk past a certain franchised tea shop in Melbourne, knowing where they source some of their tea and what they pay for it.)

    (b) The ability to program multiple different combinations of temperature and weight/volume would be very useful. Off the top of my head, in a cafe I would love to be able to dispense water for a long black, for a tea pot for two at two or three different temperatures and then for a few different coffees to be brewed in different ways. I’m sure that y’all can come up with a suitable interface. You could use a flow meter from an espresso machine, couldn’t you? The problem with measuring volume for french press, etc, is that different coffees release different volumes of bloom. However, this is not a problem if you measure the amount of water dispensed as opposed to the amount of water in the receptacle!

    (c) If a drip tray is built in, please, please, please do not go down the same route that every single manufacturer seems to tread – namely, punching holes out of a sheet of metal to form a drip tray grate. Such grates suck. Any liquid will pool on top of them and soak into the bottoms of any paper cups that rest on them. The wire grates are much, much better in this regard. Sure, sometimes they retain some water on them, but the water can never form a meniscus across the whole opening and droplets hang on the underside of the round wire as opposed to pooling on the top. I’m sure that manufacturers only go for the punched metal sheet drip tray grates because they think that they look fancier than the wire ones. That may be the case when the drip trays are dry; it is certainly not the case when they actually see some use. James, Synesso have gone backwards in moving to the punched metal sheet drip tray grate, but I think that you can still get the wire drip tray grate from the factory if you want it.

    (d) I don’t think that the scales are necessary as a built-in component. Surely one could simply put some scales on the drip tray grate? A configuration without built-in scales might be more flexible. Marco could always develop a new set of scales for this application.

    (e) Whilst it would be nice to automate the water dispersion pattern for drip, etc, this thing strikes me as perfectly useable even if you dispense into a pouring kettle and then use that to pour. Provided that the pouring kettles start off at a relatively consistent temperature, you should still be able to get a consistent result in the cup … shouldn’t you? In any case, remember that even at the imposing price tag of the clover, you still have to stir!

    (f) I agree with others that a freestanding, built-in model would probably have more appeal than a built-in one. If nothing else, I’m picturing that in a cafe a built-in model will probably end up getting coffee grounds across it at some stage; better to have it raised up a bit.

    (g) Could this thing please be built with an easy way to descale it?

    Best of luck! Can’t wait!

    Luca

  33. Great Stuff!!

    I was als thinking of installing a hot water tap cq. Quooker (www.quooker.com)
    it costs about € 970,-.

    To use it for preparing whole leaf tea’s and pre-heating thermo canisters prior to filling them up with drip coffee to be used in our banqueting / meeting rooms (keeps the coffee warm). and use full to fill them with hot water for preparing in-meeting room tea’s. It saves useing the kettle or hot water outlet on tour machine.

    I still like the idee of introducing/live mixing of hot n cold water!

    I pull my shots on a Kees van der westen made Mirage. the machine comes equiped with a hot water outlet connected to a mixer manifold to introduce cold water to the boiling water from the machine.
    This feature prevents steam and splatter on your cups,driptray, hands etc.
    The temperature is also very usefull for preparing Americano’s or adding hot water to your shot thus preventing the espresso to burn….
    link to Kees van der Westen:
    http://www.keesvanderwesten.com/mirage-special-features.html

    I look foreward to see the uber boiler come to market!
    and will deff. get one ase we are currently making plans to introduce F-press coffee to our menu!
    Friso van der Mei
    the Netherlands

  34. It looks very modern and costly. I’m sure the price will be on higher side too.

  35. Oops, pardon me for my previous comment. Now after reading so more of your blog posts, I realise I should respect your love for coffee Jim. I guess I won’t find this mix easily near my place.

  36. I presume there’s a name for companies that post irritating, pointless feedback on popular blogs to drive traffic and ratings to their websites?

    How depressing.

  37. there is an unused ice-well in my bar at work that is being removed very soon, and it is being replaced with pour-over and syphon racks. i can see this coming in handy.
    1/ what capacity are you currently running with the boiler? with constant use is there much temperature variance?

  38. I dont know if cafe here in our town can afford tools or equipment like this one. Anyway, we still prefer the manual coffee thing.

  39. Nice looking Machine Peter, Very well built, nice display features,
    I like the name, Hope to see more good builds like this one..

  40. Enjoyed reading your post especially since I have heard about the Quooker Tap but never really knew what it was related to until I finished reading your site.

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