Brewing world-class coffee is fairly inexpensive. All you need is a grinder and a kettle and some sort of combination of a funnel and filter. Good espresso ups the ante by about tenfold. You need pressure. Pressure is expensive, it’s counter-suckingly bulky and still requires a level of finesse to pull a perfect shot. Since the 1930s, the solution has been the moka pot, but a moka pot needs a stove.
The Piamo Espresso Maker, designed by Christoph and Hendrik Meyl, along with Lunar, is an elegant, microwaveable entry in the world of at-home espresso. It’s essentially a microwaveable moka pot, inverted. You pour water in a reservoir up top and fill grounds in the middle. Then you set the microwave for 30 seconds. Steam pressure builds in the reservoir, pushing water through the grounds into a cup. You’re done.
“We really strived for creating a simple, on-the-go espresso experience that is communicated with a clear, unique, and iconic design expression,” Lunar’s lead project designer Roman Gebhard tells Co.Design. “There was a need and opportunity to form a brand new product icon/archetype that has the strength to become a symbol for this category.”
The Piamo has already been awarded a few patents based on its ingenuity, but its most brilliant move was to play off the already-iconic shape (and mouth feel) of the espresso cup. Because while I was able to find some “microwaveable espresso makers” on Amazon, their plastic construction oozed gimmick. And all their parts looked fragile and tough to clean. Even though I’ve never tasted Piamo espresso, I’m inherently drawn to the authenticity of that espresso cup. I trust it, and I want to drink espresso out of it.
Of course, the larger design challenges had nothing to do with the branding. The team had to figure out, how do you toss ground espresso into a microwave for 30 seconds without burning away the intoxicating aroma? The solution was to implement metal shielding around just the grounds compartment of the Piamo. But don’t metal and microwaves not mix?
“Any metal part in a microwave acts as an antenna. It needs to be designed in a way that its geometry is soft, rounded, and doesn’t have any pointy, sharp areas that create problems with the electrical fields that would result in the well-known sparks,” Gebhard explains. “Furthermore, these metal parts need to be designed in a way that they are aligned with the standardized microwave wavelength and frequency.”
Coupled with that espresso cup, which was actually built of ABS plastic to reinforce the metal’s shielding (better than ceramic would), the espresso grounds are kept safe from overheating. Ironically, moka pots are often chided for burning espresso before the water pressure mixes with the beans. Piamo’s design team may have solved this age-old problem despite the indiscriminate science of microwaves.
But before the snobs call me on this, it is worth noting that moka pots may not be the ultimate standard of espresso. Coffee consensus agrees that you need 8.8 bars (atmospheres) of pressure to pull an ideal shot. Moka pots, and the Piamo, both generate about 1.5 bars. So will the Piamo prove to be a replacement for your four-figure counter beast, brandishing a name that could be mistaken for an Italian sports car? Probably not. But could the Piamo be the all-around most convenient way ever to make a drinkable shot of super strong coffee at the inlaws’? Absolutely.