roaster alpha unit

Hey Zip. Here’s me wading into the discussion late… nothing new there.

Purely from a nuts & bolts point of view, it this the smallest form it can be? e.g. is it’s size predicated on the heating element and insulation? Internally, it looks “large” for the amount of coffee beans it would take to make 8 cups. Is the extra volume needed for some reason to do with ventilation, a rotating element that is not shown, etc. ?

We prep our pre-roasted beans every morning with a Braun grinder, and run them through a drip cone. Not being much into bean-counting (sorry…) I’d estimate that the volume of that grinder is about a cup, which yields about 1/4 - 1/3 cup of ground material (depending on degree of roast); we get about six mugs out of that.

We gave up on all the “auto” coffee gear years ago because they all took up so much counter space (and there’s no way either of us are going to knock down the “coffee mess” every time we use it). So, in our house this appliance would live on the counter top … except for the fact that it is too big.

From an aesthetic POV, coffee isn’t a ritual for us so it needn’t be anything but easy to keep clean (which is an aesthetic factor to me ).

Its the “gevilia” model, you get the starter kit with roaster and if the market tests hold to form you will sign up for a subscription plan. The kit is basically a at cost thing for us, as market tests showed a 72% conversion rate into the subscription. This is easy to understand, better tasting coffee that is 1/3 to 1/2 the price of the whole bean your buying now at the store. The model is built around consumption, where the other roaster builders must profit on the machine as its unlikely your going to buy another in years. So yes its razors and razor blades, or printers and printer ink if you will, with our ink being attractively priced.

Zippy I am wondering if there a balance you could find for user involvement not unlike the old story of where adding an egg to cake mix was the sweet spot where cake mix consumers felt they were actually baking.

Maybe there are one or two major points in the preparation process where the user has the ability to feel engaged. It may be the difference in a more analog feeling dial/knob with mechanical feeling detints for one interaction as opposed to the same interaction with a membrane switch or button.

Maybe offering the individual a chance to control individual variables themselves and feel they are honing their roast and finding what they like best rather than sampling from what others have curated for them, even if it those variable changes really lead them in to choosing one of the curated roasts, the perception that they are creating is important.

The major action I think of when I think of roasters and what defined their job for me was checking the beans.

It seems this may be very difficult if not impossible with your system, but is there a similar opportunity or a way
to present this as a final check or something to lend more to their experience?

Production unit will be a inch and a half narrower and two inches shallower, so 8 1/2 wide by 10 deep and 11 inches tall. The size is fixed by the physics of the system, mfg pratice and just all the shit that is stuffed in there. The bean load follows the recommendation that were put forth by the SCAA for 8 cups of drip brewed gourmet coffee.

That’s a good point, we have considered a “bump” knob that would allow the user to key in the profile then turn the knob left or right (6 is practical) amount of bumps to make the roast darker or lighter as they desire. Yes with our system the “lookie, hopie, oh god its past the point of no return” is done for you, optical roasting is well so hit and miss. The idea is simple really, each machine is a clone, the goal is to put in your cup what you want. You know that from what the cupping panel has said about that coffee at each of the recommended profiles, however you can choose to gamble and try a different one. Your idea is "hell them cuppers always like it too (light/dark) so I will crank it (up/down) to get what I want. That’s totally with in the central message, you get it YOUR way, not some other dudes way.

Some interesting discussion starting here. As has been pointed out though, I still think you are aways away at touching the right consumer model. The subscription thing, for one sounds like it wouldn’t be a hit for a connoisseur, but maybe it is more wal-mart wannabe connoisseur you are going after? Like the kind of guy that buys a 250pc. drill set for $29 in a plastic box to feel like they are a pro?

I don’t think at this point I need to touch more on the Miss Silvia, thanks Choto for the backup.

What I’d investigate further is the experience and consumer profile of your target.

For example, what type of coffee machine do you think they would use? What kind of grinder?

Where are the priorities? If the process is that good that experts test it and validate it, and your consumers are looking for this level of quality then the experience better match and then you are going for the cult level as I suggested. If they are the Braun Grinder and Melita drip coffee maker crowd, or at best the $200 SS Breville guys, you are going overkill on the tech and the thing should be a tiny plastic box on the counter, and fully auto.

As an example, In doing research before I bought mine, I found for example that the grinder was more important than the machine. Something I didn’t know. Now, as a part-time coffee geek, I’m well aware of this. It’s better to have a $100 machine and $900 grinder than a $900 machine and $100 grinder…Like you mention the beans aren’t fresh after 15minutes or 2 days after roasting, poor grinding is just as bad. Are your consumers grinding on a $800 Mazzer or a $20 Braun?

Also, how does this fit the subscription model proposed? When I think of subscriptions, it’s mostly for people who don’t know what they want/like os the subscription model narrows the choice to make it easier. Columbia record club, bulk magazines, book clubs… true coffee geeks I think would not take such a model as like to find those unique local blends, go to farmers markets, experiment with different types… again seems like a mismatch to the target market.


Just wanted to add to this (as has also been explored in a The Simplicity vs. Elegance thread) -

There is a difference between ease of use and Elegant. This is what Apple has right. The appeal of an iPod or Mac is not just that it is easy to use. There are far simpler (ie. cheapo mp3 players) on the market. The experience is what Apple has locked and what creates the desirability. If you are going for that elegant simplicity, and want to compare to Apple, you also better have the fit, finish, packaging, and other experiential factors worked out. Technical simplicity is only one factor and is often dominated by the elegance of the interaction.

Simple is free a Nokia with no features.

Elegant is an iPhone.

big difference.


The subscription model is actually a advantage to the elite consumer, they can if they so choose buy 1 packet (6-8 cups) of certified Jamaican blue mountain, or costa ricca terrazu etc rather than a1-5-20 pounds (if they can find it ). We can and will offer coffee from all over the world, stuff that you flat wouldn’t see in a farmers market or any coffee shop, and you will know in advance what to expect. There is also a whole selection of “value” coffees, and hey even “C” (average grade) coffee fresh roasted is miles better than the best stuff that has been laying around a while. They are also getting a heck of a discount over pre roasted as well as the ability to have on hand a wide selection. Green coffee has a very long shelf life as long as its kept in a cool dry environment, think of a bag of dried beans, but once you roast them the clock is ticking big time. You can think of the model sort of like Wine Spectator, you have the opportunity to review a huge selection of stuff, know the opinion is valid and buy just one bottle or a case. In prior market tests we saw every damn type of brewer from black and decker cheapies to full up semi auto commercial espresso machines.

good point, good example, and noted with appreciation.

Very interesting discussion. I don’t know much about coffee as I don’t drink much of it. I do however, drink lots of teas. Personally I like it best using loose tea and leaving the leaves in the cup. There’s something natural, traditional and ritualistic about it. I believe this to be similar for coffee connoisseurs - there needs to be a strong presence of emotional design with this.

Looking at the prototype, I’m not seeing this. Also, if it can’t be reduced in size then it’s even more important to get the styling right as it would be a prominent feature in the kitchen. I think it would be nice too if the user could actually see the beans roasting.

With a quick Google search there’s a lot of home roasting techniques using ovens, etc. I see where this concept is superior in that it helps the user get it right, but, what else can I roast with it? Fresh roasted peanut butter, that would be nice.

nope cant see the beans roasting with this technology, and coffee people are bit different, semi ritualistic, semi traditional, but all about the flavor, whats right to them. The size minimum because of the tech is 8 1/2 by 10 by 11, cant stuff a 5 lb rooster into a teacup ya know. The package that the coffee comes in and is inserted into the machine can be very emotional, think of a cross between a wine bottle label and a article in wine spectator with a link to a page about the estate it came from.

Maybe in time, almonds, peanuts etc but for now its coffee. The core difference is this, with other roasters you don’t know how to do it “how long, how much,” and you don’t know what its going to taste like. That’s with out going into the issues of noise, smoke, odor (roasting coffee can smell like burnt rubber) and finding beans things that we deal with in a seamless and intuitive manner.


Just thought of an example from the coffee world that seems relevant here.

The Aeropress

This crazy looking device makes an incredible cup of coffee and has a level of involved process to it, BUT
it leaves something to be desired on the aesthetic and experience side. Precariously balancing the brew chamber
on my cup is not great, then when I pour in my hot water it starts to drip immediately although I am supposed to stir it and
then put the plunger, and let it steep for 30 seconds. Clean up is actually pretty easy, the brewing process is very fast and simple, but just seems unresolved.

Basically I got this thing for some research, loved it, made coffee for people all over the office and promoted it heavily. It was great for a few weeks then at some point I stopped using it. It was probably faster brewing and clean up than my semi-automatic espresso machine and many days I would prefer a cup of coffee from it, but the experience and organization and all the parts have left it shelved.

ya a poorly crafted riff on a demi press coffee maker, sad really as press coffee is easy, and gives a great brew. Press does let you modify the strength of the brew by varying the steeping time but as you found out they are a pain to clean up afterward, hence automatic the drip machine.

caffeine, stimulant, ritual, fetish, gear, luxury.

Marc Maron, comedian, actor, has a podcast. He has talked about his old days when using drugs. He talks in an intelligent way about the ritual and the gear and the seriousness of it all, and how it has to feel right. He takes his addiction these days out on talking about coffee. Pow! Looking at the scoop full of coffee beans being checked in the old school roaster brought that connection home.

Underlying design and selling are some darker concepts, it helps to acknowledge them in the discussion during the creation.

Fetish. Coffee machines scream it. Caffeine, you know you want it. Make the ritual feel right so that the feeling of the hit is better.

Contrast that with the microwave. Same materials, zero fetish, apologies to the 90 degree cornerists out there.

But coffee is not a street drug, it is the essence of civilization, subscription coffee services are elite civilization. The feeling of the hardware has to communicate this. You have established yourself above the crowd in your feeding the physical addictions. You have the extra time in a day to actually roast the coffee in order to feel the role of connoisseur.

Materials seems to be defined, stainless steel, glass, chromed parts, black plastic. Digital displays, no fetish content, hard to convey any feeling. Coffee roasting, I’d want to smell it, see it through a glass panel, hear the motion. Each involvement is going to make the final act of consumption that much more rewarding.

in defense of the 90 degree thing, the microwave oven is the most common of all kitchen appliances with stunning huge numbers made so have become a price point item. That a 30 dollar unit performs just as well as a 300 dollar unit has a major impact as well. The idea behind most microwave ovens is “stealth” its there to do a task, kind of like a shovel.

this is what we are in fact offering the coffee ceremony from the land where coffee was discover.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony is one of the most enjoyable event you can attend at an Ethiopian Restaurant. The coffee is taken through its full life cycle of preparation in front of you in a ceremonial manner. Coffee is called ‘Bunna’ (boo-na) by the Ethiopians.

The ceremony starts with the woman, first bringing out the washed coffee beans and roasting them in a coffee roasting pan on small open fire/coal furnace. The pan is similar to an old fashioned popcorn roasting pan and it has a very long handle to keep the hand away from the heat. At this time most of your senses are being involved in the ceremony, the woman will be shaking the roasting pan back and forth so the beans won’t burn (this sounds like shaking coins in a tin can), the coffee beans start to pop (sounds like popcorn) and the most memorable is the preparer takes the roasted coffee and walks it around the room so the smell of freshly roasted coffee fills the air The roasted coffee is then put in a small household tool called ‘Mukecha’ (moo-ke-ch-a) for the grinding. Most restaurants at this time incorporate modern coffee grinders into the process, this is to save time and it does not take much from the ceremony. For those interested mukecha is a heavy wooden bowl where the coffee beans are put and another tool called ‘zenezena’ which is a wooden/metal stick used to crush the beans in a rhythmic up & down manner (pistil and mortar).

The crushed fresh roasted coffee powder then is put in a traditional pot made out of clay called ‘jebena’ (J-be-na) with water and boiled in the small open fire/coal furnace. Again the boiling coffee aroma fills the room, once boiled the coffee is served in small cups called ‘cini’ (si-ni) which are very small chinese cups.

As you sip your first cup of coffee, you’ve gone through the full process of watching seeing the coffee beans being washed, roasted, grinded, boiled & now the culmination you’re drinking them. By now the process is finished at most restaurants, but traditionally Ethiopians stick around to get at least a second serving of coffee and sometimes a third.

The second and third serving are important enough that each serving has a name, first serving is called “Abol”; second serving is “Huletegna”(second) and third serving is “Bereka”. The coffee is not grinded for the second and third serving, a portion of coffee powder is left on purpose for these two ceremonies.

That sounds GREAT !

but I wonder, how does this hacked up microwave oven fit the picture ?

it provides the fresh roasted coffee using profiles that were developed with the help of coffee roasting masters. As to a “hacked up” microwave, well kid, lets see your last 4 working prototype (not mock-ups or renderings) and we will then talk, real working is such a much bigger bitch (and expensisve) than a bit of foam core fluff or pixie dust renderings.