Three Things I’m Working On

As the second excruciatingly  long day of HOST draws to a close, I realise that I should probably write a little bit on here about the three things on show at the event that I’ve been involved with. In each case I should make clear that I’ve been very lucky to be involved with people and companies who’ve done the real heavy lifting on all of this stuff.

Victoria Arduino Black Eagle 0388

Over the last couple of years I’ve developed a close working relationship with Nuova Simonelli, initially as part of the grinder project (I’ll come to this in a moment), and then through the workshops we did together around the world over the last 18 months. I confess I had been nagging them about espresso machines for a little while, and pushing for an opportunity to collaborate with them on something. What we have on show at HOST is the first results of that collaboration.

The machine is a Victoria Arduino, not a Nuova Simonelli, because there was an opportunity to take that brand in a new direction. Obviously the design is a departure from their other machines, though it was the same original designer, as we pushed for a different design brief. We wanted it to be as low as possible, while still stable and serviceable, though NSF does place some restrictions on how long your legs could go. The main feature we’d been working on is what they are calling the gravimetric system. Essentially we have scales in the drip tray using live beverage mass to control and terminate the espresso shot. You can program the machine to deliver 35g of beverage and that is what it will do. If you want to pull a 40g shot then you just program the button to do that through the control screen.

If you’ve read this blog for a while you’re probably not surprised that this is the direction I want to go. In all my experiments and testing I’ve come to the conclusion that beverage mass remains incredibly important to taste, extraction and consistency. Up until now we’ve tried to control beverage mass using either time, volume in the cup or volume of water sent to the group as the control point. None of these offer the consistency I’d like, or believe we need to replicate for each customer the espresso we’re excited to serve them.

What we’re showing here is not even an alpha prototype in my eyes. The technology needs a lot more development and improvement to reliability and accuracy. HOST was a great opportunity to present what we’re working on but we’re being very clear that this is not yet a finished product. It is incredibly important that once this machine is for sale that we’re not presenting a beta testing unit to early adopters at full price. Industrialisation is a massive step in creating a new machine and one that requires patience and resources, which thankfully the Nuova Simonelli guys have. I’m excited for what the future of this machine holds. Don’t expect to see this for sale for a year or so, though you may spot a few test units in the field before then… (I’m loathe to talk too much about products that aren’t for sale, but it does seem right to explain my role).

I don’t have a good camera with me, but do head over to this Sprudge article because they have some nice ones.

The Clima Pro grinder

The grinder project was my first involvement with Nuova Simonelli, and I was a late addition to the team of Colin Harmon, Gwilym Davies and Fritz Storm. I see this as an ongoing project, and this is the first product.

Up until a year ago I was of the common mindset that heat is the enemy and should be removed at every opportunity from the grinder. Yet this grinder has a small heating element in it, which seems somewhat counter-intuitive. However, heat is inevitable when grinding coffee, and heat buildup is still going to cause the grind setting to change, as it moves from cold (at the start of the day) to warm during service, back to cool in quiet periods. By both heating and cooling this grinder we’re able to keep the grind setting more stable and have the grinder act in a more consistent way through the day.

Is it perfect? No. Is it the solution for every cafe? No. Is it a step forward in helping cafes achieve better consistency, and waste less coffee during service? I hope so.

I dialled in at 8.30 yesterday morning, before the show opened. It was a pretty busy day, but by 1pm I’d only made a single grind adjustment. It’s consistency was borne out by a machine brewing its doses to the gram and showing the shot weight and time for each brew. It felt too good to be true, and at this point if you want to dismiss this as a single anecdote and not useful data then I wouldn’t protest. The next stage is now more testing in locations around the world, and a release isn’t anticipated until early next year. If it is appropriate I will write more about it then.

I must disclose that I have an ongoing financial arrangement with Nuova Simonelli, though I’m sure that is pretty obvious. If you want to factor this into how I’m presenting this information then I won’t protest.

Splurty

A while ago I went to Marco and begged another favour. In the past we’d worked together on what had become the Uber boiler, and I was grateful they were up for something again. In a cafe I want to brew various coffees by the cup, but I don’t want the inconsistencies or labour costs of pourover brewing or other methods. I want to get to tasty quickly, easily and repeatably. I asked Marco if they’d build me something like a batch brewer that brewed only a cup at a time. (i.e. use the same technology for consistency). This fit pretty well with a project they were already working away on in R&D nicknamed “Splurty” and at HOST they showed 2 units of the new machine. It can brew up to 400ml in up to 4 minutes (or quicker if you want) and can use existing brewers like Hario, Kalitta or Chemex. I’m excited to get the first couple soon to start playing with.

There are some great pictures again on Sprudge over here.

The common theme between all this is not that I want to automate the barista out of a job, but that I want to make getting to great coffee more easily. I’m tired of fighting coffee, I’m tired of serving coffee that we know could be better and I’m tired of drinking disappointing coffee as a customer.

This is a bit of a quick post at the end of the day, before heading out to dinner, but I wanted to write something now. I probably have a lot more to say, and to explain, about each project but I will save that for when people can actually get their hands on them. You may have questions – feel free to tweet them at me! I may not answer quickly, but I will get there… (or if you’re in Italy then come and see me on the booth tomorrow and I will make you some coffee.)