roaster alpha unit

as some of you may know i have been working on a new home coffee roasting technology. This tech, is very promising with internal expert systems and a very simple customer UI. This is a home counter-top unit, about the size of a 2 slice toaster but its form factor presents a problem. This problem is because of the internal components, physics, and good practice manufacturing the device ends up being a 9.5" wide by 11" tall and 11" deep “cubish” shape. The UI is again simple, a LCD with 6 touch pad command keys. So, how do you feel about a featureless “cube” in black or white a sorta Iphone ish solution

could be great. could be horrible.

It’s all down to the details, fit, finish, materials, UI, branding, etc… without seeing some pics/sketches and UI walkthrough, or otherwise we are all speculating on how tasty unicorn milk is.

also note there is a fine line between minimalism and boring-ism :wink:


very true, price point (we give them away for free with a subscription to the coffee packets) but they still have to if not look “good” on the counter it should be almost invisible. Here is the unpainted alpha unit. - YouTube note the ui will have only 6 keys and single line lcd display (for reasons of economy a off the shelf ui was used here…protos are expensive!)

So basically like this ? (LaCie 5big home server) :laughing:

I think it could be done well.

“I’m sorry Zippy. I’m afraid I can’t roast these beans for you.”

Looking at the pic, though I realize it is an alpha prototype, I’d have to say no, it does not work. Though not 100% sure how much is proto/engineering features and how much I should be looking at to judge…

Looks like a microwave from 1989. (or one you hacked in half - is that what it is?) Stock buttons and display, what looks like stock latches and opening, dunno what the front panel and screws are… and is the box sheetmetal? Plastic front bezel with a strange chamfer on the top and bottom edge?

A product type like this is all about the experience, esp. with coffee connoisseurs (they type of people I would guess you would be targeting - I’d say I’m in the potential group). As such the latches need to super smooth, the textures subtle, the buttons smooth… The process of using it is as much a part of it as the result.

Either that, or suggest you go the other direction to a more commercial look (stainless steel, black nylon, etc.) like some of the other high end units in the market. Check out the Rancilio Ms. Silvia (below) and some Mazzer products.



its a challenge and yes this is a minimum size engineering prototype not a “designed” product. The user experience more centers on the coffee packet, that has in depth information on origin, blend ratios and flavor experience at different roast profiles. The “unit” is fully automatic, where after reading and deciding on the origin and flavor profile desired the profile number is entered into the machine via a scroll button. The only other key commands are start/stop and the ability to have the roast done at some time of your choosing in the future (morning, after dinner etc). When you are financing prototypes and development out of your own pocket you have to economize, after all as Apple found out recently a seamlessly working product trumps a beautiful product every time.

A couple “refined for your target customer” coffee blocks.

Engineering-wise, i dunno. maybe you have something.

Product wise, I think it misses the mark a bit. And I’m not even speaking about shiny smooth bits.

To me, what I see is a product that is led by engineering, and doesn’t take into account enough of the emotional and consumer behavior/positioning aspects that a consumer product like this should be very well steeped in.

While for some coffee is just a drink, I’d think the potential buyers of something like this are not that type of consumer. For them, coffee can be status, selection, indulgence, etc…

This is where I think you need to look to figure out the real and perceived drivers of the product.

As an example, you keep mentioning easy to use. Is that really a needed feature? Is anyone who wants to roast their own beans concerned with it being easy? Isn’t easier to just buy beans, already ground?

Check out things like the Rancilio espresso maker I posted earlier. It’s hardly easy to use, but that is in fact half the appeal. There is a technique to it that is learnt, perfected, shared on forums… there are over 350 vids on Youtube alone about how to use it or even mod it.

If I wanted easy, I’d buy a black and decker or run out to Dunkin’ every morning :wink:

Why do people want to roast their beans? Why do people want to make their own coffee? As said, I think the experience is half of it at this level. The emotion is the other half. The remaining bit (?) is the coffee/roast.

Just something to consider, perhaps. After this, I think we can then look at the shiny smooth bits.


I agree with R’s points, even though I haven’t seen the prototype. I’m also questioning the touch interaction. Coffee’s often made in the morning by groggy people, and I don’t think that touch will give the nice tactility that buttons and switches will. A product for a place like a kitchen where people’s hands will be wet/oily should be designed for this kind of environment.

Is this something that’d be sold in Target, or in Sharper Image?

I’d have to say that I agree with RK, based on some of my experience in designing some coffee products and speaking with a lot of home barista type,s the person who wants a better way to roast their beans themselves is looking for a more engaging and involved process /experience and control of the different variables that will yield the different flavor profiles etc. They want to feel connected to the process in some way, not removed from it.

that path has been taken by all prior home roasters and well they all failed because of the complexities and uncertainties involved.

so, a easy to use product is not desirable…better call steve job’s and let him know. Roasting in such small quantity (enough for 8 cups) and at this fast of a speed (7 min for full city roast 7:20 for french) means that the controll is best left up to the computer.

The primary reason to roast your own is 3 fold. Freshness, coffee starts losing flavor the moment its roasted. Control, the type and degree of roast vastly changes the flavor, and what you might find shit hot is just burned gunk to somebody else so being able to know beforehand whats its going to taste like then select that is a pretty huge advantage. There is not a commercial roaster in the world that will custom roast for you under 5 pounds, and well 5 pounds of coffee takes a while to consume, just call it stale from day 2 on and be done with it.

There may be 350 vids about a product and how to use it, but how many have been sold, how many have been bought by people that recommenced it. When it comes right down to it give me a good product that sell well over a wide demographic any day over some cultist bit of steampunk.

I don’t know much about coffee, but a quick google of the espresso maker R was talking about yields not only 350 youtube videos but a nearly perfect 5/5 star rating on almost every site it’s reviewed at. Reading though the reviews, it does seem like its users form a strange cult-ish community, and I think that same herd of “cultist steampunkers” are probably the same people who would shell out a couple benjamins for your roaster, or at the very least be the early adopters that introduce it to the wider demographic you want (if that’s even possible).

I agree with R, I think you’re target user is way more involved in their coffee ritual than the average person. I drink coffee to stay awake, they drink coffee to live. Ok, so maybe you’re right coffee is the freshest when it’s just been roasted, but I’m the average joe and Folgers tastes fine to me. Bread is the freshest once it comes out of the oven, everyone knows that but you don’t see a wide demographic buying bread makers, it’s the bread freaks that buy them.

A couple interesting quotes from Rancilio reviews that reveal the sort of consumer that you’re probably going to be dealing with (all from different reviewers)

" Ms. Silvia is a humble dutiful servant doing all that is asked of her promptly and efficiently. "

“Last but not least, the Silvia is aesthetically pleasing, if in a rather classic and even borderline retro fashion. The top of the machine also serves as a great showcase for your favorite espresso cups. And with a quick and gentle polish after each use, the machine stays as pleasingly shiny as when it came out of the box.”

" The Rancillio Miss Silvia takes quite a commitment to master, but once you have you will never purchase another espresso drink again!"

“I have come to look forward to the ritual as much as to the coffee; it makes the coffee become a true reward.”


Maybe you should check this out. Intelligentsia is far and away one of the best roasters/coffee companies in the country. Their lead coffee guy just won the World Barista championships a month or two ago.

Nevertheless, this blog post by one of their senior employees expresses the current movement in coffee very well. Some of it you may not want to year, but the last bullet point could be right up your alley with this technology…

Personally, I’m with the rest of the bunch in that my coffee tends to be an experience. Chemex brewing, even Yama siphon pots are how I really prefer to enjoy my coffee. But that’s the next tier above Starbucks, for sure. And there are people who want to do that (and do) at home. Just keep that in mind, for what it’s worth.

Nice link, this bit resonates “Science Science Science Science. It has long been suggested that coffee roasting is part art and part science. This probably extends to growing, brewing, and even tasting coffee. But I submit that there is a major imbalance in the current industry that seems to lean too heavily on the art and comes up more than a little short on the science. There is a lot we need to understand about roast chemistry, extraction chemistry, the impact of fermentation and drying on coffee quality, the respiration of green coffee and the influence of water activity on volatile flavor components…the list goes on and on. Art must and will always be part of the coffee quality formula…but it should be balanced with some serious science that will help get our industry improve and gain credibility.”.

The thing about sample roasters is well known but what you don’t know is a sample roaster is preferably designed to emulate YOUR commercial roasters system. Now a commercial roaster is designed to give the most output of usable beans per buck of operating cost (labor and fuel or electricity). So using a sample roaster at home is not only damn tough but results in less than the best result.

Our box runs is different its designed to give the optimum flavor profile for the coffee with out any concern as to commercial realities . It does this by running 20 different roast profiles, developed with the aid of some master roasters to give the optimum spectrum for flavor development. The coffees that are sampled are roasted at all 20 profiles (most commercial machines run a max of 5 profiles) and all are cupped by a panel of experts who then make their recommendation on which profiles provide the best result. The recommendations are then printed on the packet and on the web for end user to make their choice. The end user can of course follow their own path and choose a lighter or darker profile but we give them a known result.

I guess when it comes to input on coffee I go with heavy duty industry experts like Ken Davis (google him) He has sampled coffee and written favorably about some of my prior roaster technology.
The business model for this is pretty simple, the roaster is bundled with a starter kit of coffee packs, so carries a real price of the roaster is zero. The coffee prices vary by origin, but in general are 1/2 the price of whole bean roasted at the local grocery store. So there you have it, better product, more control, more involvement (you choose when, where and how) and 1/2 the price.

So in the end its this, make the box “stealth” in that you don’t notice it on the counter or go the other way and have 6 models (cost) to address the wide range of different kitchen styles?

I guess I am left wondering what it is you’re on here for, then. You go to industry experts. You have pretty set ideas of what this is/should be and don’t appear open to comments or criticism. What is it you’re looking for from this forum to give you feedback on?

Your consumer product designers, and I have provided you with a bit more background than you had before. Your perspective about consumer involvement in the process is a good point, how to marry it with technical realities is a eye opener. To look at it another way if we were talking about a boat design, we would not only adress the hydrodynamic aspects but the consumers perceptions. I as you have pointed out (and often happens in projects) focused on the tech with out considering “curb appeal”. I had hoped that the web site and the packet graphics and information (blurb about orgin, plantation, etc) would suffice to engage the customer, but frankly did not carry that out to the box. To me the box had to be small, simple IO and work every time even if you did not read the instruction manual when you got it.

Sounds like you’re mainly looking for styling guidance. When in doubt with a kitchen appliance, make it stainless. Approximately 100% of the people who have redone their kitchen in the last 15 years has stainless appliances.

I’m not totally understanding the business model on this though. I’ve looked into getting a home roaster, but haven’t as of yet. Am I locked into a razor blade model here? A pretty basic roaster costs a couple hundred bucks, so if you’re giving it away for “free”, do I have to buy 40 pounds of coffee to pay for it? Or is it not a $200 machine? I’m a sample group of one, so take this for what that’s worth, but I’d rather pay extra for quality than get something not as good for free.