There’s a war in coffee right now. On one side, you have the coffee geeks, hand-crafting each cup with artisanal tools and incredible care. On the other, you have the automation-hungry, the K-cup users, the people who shove a cartridge into a coffee maker before running out the door with an anemic cup of brown caffeine.
Could there be a future in which each side got along? Maybe.
The Bonaverde coffee maker ($250-$500), which just launched on Kickstarter, boasts a mighty promise. It won’t just brew your coffee, and it won’t just grind your coffee. It will roast, grind, and brew your coffee, starting with hard green beans straight from the farm and ending with bright, toasty liquid in your cup. It’s basically your favorite pretentious coffee shop, minus the suspenders and mustaches, squeezed into a machine that sits on your counter.
Hans Stier, founder of Bonaverde, was kind enough to answer my own onslaught of questions. Because while grind and brew systems already exist, most work poorly for the same reason most drip coffee machines fail: The drip doesn’t give the grounds proper time to steep evenly and the water isn’t hot enough to get full flavor extraction.
Stier promises that the water in his machine runs at 194°F through its "magical tropical rain-forest unit," which will "sprinkle the freshly ground coffee powder in a round system that guarantees best and equal watering of the surface." [Ed note: this works much like pour over.] So far, so good.
The tricky part, actually, wasn’t handling the water, and it wasn’t handling the roasting. For Stier’s team, the machine’s biggest challenge was the grinding.
"It freaked me out every time I went to Korea," Stier says. "Seriously, when our German engineers set how the grinder should work in what angle and with what parts in which dimensions, I came back from Seoul with another 5, 10, or 20 prototypes that would bring up new difficulties."
For example, Stier says Germany’s Mahlkönig company, "produces great grinders, but to integrate any third party component into a small kitchen appliance like ours always showed sourcing, part quality and sync issues. On the other hand: That's the fun to it!"
As for what one might expect—that the industry’s first automated roaster-brewer would have difficulties with the roasting end—Stier was nonplussed. While optimal roasting times and temperatures may vary for beans of any given region (or, much like dealing with wine grapes, microclimate), the company’s solution is to recommend certain beans they’ve tested internally, which can be matched with simple, automated "roasting profiles."
"Surely, every user may adjust the profile to his needs," Stier explains, "but the machine really aims to make home-roasting accessible for the broad consumer market."
That said, what may be most disruptive about the Bonaverde coffee machine isn't the way it impacts homebrewing; it may be the way it impacts the entire coffee trade system. Assuming they could scale to the mass market, and others in the industry copied the approach, the floodgates could open for any at-home coffee brewer to buy beans straight from the grower.
"If we enable you to order from the producer directly, there would simply be no need to give two-thirds of the money to a brand that does nothing else than roasting, which you can do better and more sustainably at home," Stier argues. "We kind of give the value back to the ones creating the most value. Guess some people won't like that."
In a coffee culture that champions the farmer, in which roasters both tout and market Fair Trade beans (or denounce Fair Trade because their trade is even fairer), a direct-buying option could shift market power immensely.
But truth be told, Bonaverde has at least one last hurdle to overcome: The generalized industrial design is absolutely hideous, like one of those cheap, reissued old-timey radios that pop up everywhere during the holidays, retrofitted with a pot that was grabbed off the spare parts shelf of a factory in Shenzhen. The design feels crowdsourced (and actually, it is). While that approach can work, here, you see there’s no visual thesis at play—nothing that teases the brilliance behind the paneling which, incidentally, leads your eyes nowhere. It’s just this fat chunk of industrialized crap dreamed up by a lazy algorithm to take up too much prominence in the saddest of kitchens.
But hey! If it works—if you really can roast, grind, and brew the perfect cup of coffee with press of a button—there’s always room for a prettier version two. And at this point, Bonaverde has more than enough work on its plate to ensure that a single machine can roast, grind, and brew coffee as well as a house a barista loaded with discrete armaments and its own real-time discretion. I certainly don’t envy the task.