Coffee Goes from Folger’s, to Starbucks, to Tech-Driven ‘Third Wave’
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Barismo. He also bought an AeroPress, and was surprised that he could “put pretty low quality beans in it and still brew better-tasting coffees than I had had anywhere. I said, ‘There is something going on here.’”
Kuempel went on to internships at Tesla Motors and Apple, where he built a drop-test rig for iPads, but his curiosity about coffee had been permanently piqued. In June 2011, he and Walliser founded Blossom, which was one of the first four startups admitted to Lemnos Labs, a San Francisco-based accelerator for hardware startups. Kuempel says their goal wasn’t just to build a better coffee brewer—it was to invent a “platform” for understanding all the variables that go into the process.
“When I started with the design, I wasn’t even asking ‘why automate coffee brewing,’ I was asking how. How do these variables change the flavor of a cup of coffee? I knew what elements could be changed, but I didn’t know what boundaries they should be changed within. I created a system we could use to start answering that question of how.”
Over the course of two years, the Blossom team has bravely ingested liters of caffeine, trying different recipes on different beans and uploading them to the cloud. Blossom owners can download the existing recipes or make their own, then print QR codes for each one on their coffee bags. They retrieve the recipes at brew time by waving the bags in front of the Blossom One’s built-in camera.
“With the information we’ve gathered, we can really approach the question of automation from a new perspective,” Kuempel says. “There’s still a lot of discovery that the whole coffee industry is going through, all the way from seed to cup. [The Blossom One] is a very powerful tool because it allows you to profile a coffee across the whole phase space of possibilities.”
Blossom hasn’t said yet how much the Blossom One will cost, but it won’t be priced for purchase by individual coffee connoisseurs—it’s designed for coffee bars where “people are already making efforts to brew better coffee in any way they can get their hands on” and where there’s a premium on speed, consistency, and reducing the training time for baristas. “When you’ve got a line out the door, serving faster is a great thing,” Kuempel says. “And if you can take training from two weeks down to two hours, you can open more shops.”
Kuempel thinks there are a few thousand coffee bars in the U.S. that could use the Blossom One. (You probably won’t be seeing them inside Starbucks, which bought Seattle-born Clover, the maker of an $11,000 semiautomatic French press machine, back in 2008.) “It’s not a massive market, but it’s a high-value one,” Kuempel says.
But if Internet-enabled coffee brewing machines were to catch in on a big way at coffee bars, then there might be a narrower chasm to cross on the way to the broader consumer market, Kuempel acknowledges. “That is a great design problem to face: how do we reinvent coffee at a large scale and create tools that grow from super-picky early adopters to a slightly larger market to being the kind of thing you would get for Grandma at Christmas.”
For now, Kuempel says, Blossom is taking the Apple approach to that problem. “If we build this thing for ourselves, then guess what, millions of other people might like it too,” he says. “You are not looking at the market size or potential. You are saying ‘This is something the world needs and I am going to make it happen.’”