April 12th launched the 2019 Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston. As the leading industry event for the western hemisphere, there was no shortage of new gadgets and interesting products to discover—like $200 bottles of coffee, data-driven espresso machines and frozen coffee pods—all while caffeinated beyond reason.
Here are eight coffee tech innovations we loved seeing.
Third Wave Water’s Cafe-Sized Water Maker
Most coffee shops treat their water source to enhance coffee flavor and keep their equipment healthy. This usually involves reverse osmosis, then trying to add some minerals back into the water—but most of the time it’s terribly imprecise. Even with expensive commercial-grade gear, shops often find their water quality to be inconsistent and the coffee disappointing.
Third Wave Water (as seen on Shark Tank) solved this problem for home brewers a few years back with mineral packets designed to create the exact water mineral profile recommended by the Specialty Coffee Association. At the Expo, TWW finally unveiled their cafe-sized solution: the Tethys.
Designed for small to medium-size cafes, the Tethys can create precisely-mineralized water for up to 250 gallons per day.
Elemental Beverage Co’s $200 Bottle Of Coffee
Not only can cafes use the proprietary Snapchill Technology to insta-chill coffee, Elemental has upsized the tech and added a vacuum-sealer that allows the company to seal and preserve the coffee like wine.
You’ll soon find canned cold coffee on grocery store shelves, but more impressively, Elemental Beverage Co is also releasing limited-batch bottles of super high-end coffees. Graded at a score of 90+ (the top 0.1% of coffee beans in the world), these coffees are meant to be uncorked like a fine wine and enjoyed in fancy tasting glasses.
They popped one of these ~$200 bottles open on Sunday for a tasting. I was a few rows down and missed out. I’ve been mourning ever since, because everyone standing at the booth nearly 30 minutes after the tasting was still in shock at how tasty the coffee was.
Duvall’s Data-Driven Espresso Machine
Training baristas in specialty coffee shops involves a lot of writing. You write down each espresso shot’s time, yield, taste, and try to discern what kinds of recipes will produce good flavors. It’s a long, confusing process—largely because you can’t remember where you put your sheet of notes in-between customers.
Duvall’s new espresso machine doesn’t only store data from every shot pulled. It enables baristas to program precise recipes into the device, then uses volumetric measurements to make adjustments mid-shot if necessary to match that recipe.
Introducing data into the espresso machine has a variety of benefits that have never been possible before, like allowing coffee roasters to push out espresso recipes to all of their cafes at the same time, or enabling managers to see which baristas are the slowest at pulling shots, or helping trainers connect the dots between recipes and shot flavor for new hires.
La Marzocco’s Wrist-Friendly Espresso Machine (Finally)
There are many reasons baristas burn out (resulting in high employee turnover), but among the top of the list is the bodily wear and tear that comes with the job. Barista wrists, in particular, are subject to much abuse from twisting portafilters in and out of the espresso machine.
It took La Marzocco 20 years to come up with a solution to this problem, and they finally unveiled it this year: the KB90 espresso machine. The straight-in portafilter design is extremely fast to use and feels natural on the wrists.
As someone who experienced life-disrupting wrist pain when I was a barista, I can’t describe how happy it made me to slip the portafilter straight into the machine without having to twist or turn. This sets the new bar for cafe ergonomics.
Bellwether Coffee Roasted On-Site
Our friends at Bellwether were awarded the coveted Best New Product for Commercial Coffee or Tea Preparation & Serving Equipment this year—and we’re not surprised.
The ventless coffee roasters make roasting great coffee easier than it’s ever been in history (no, really). Nathan Gilliland, Bellwether’s CEO, helped me roast a batch myself and I was stunned at how simple it was. The coffee turned out incredible, too.
Nathan also showed me their ‘Tip The Farmer’ feature, which just went live a few weeks ago. With a tap on the tablet, I was able to send a $1 tip directly to a coffee producer (minus credit card fees, of course). Nathan hopes to integrate this feature with popular POS platforms in the coming months to help give consumers easier access.
Odeko’s Auto-Replenishing Scales And Software
With coffee shops being low-margin establishments, software and automation companies have largely steered clear from developing targeted solutions designed for the cafe. Odeko, however, is all-in with coffee shops.
Their new automated inventory management platform uses connected scales to track inventory and usage, creates predictive models, and then orders on the cafe’s behalf to ensure they never run out of cups / croissants / coffee / whatever.
Their booth was particularly striking, with a never-ending conveyor belt of coffee beans and oat milk that earned a double-take from every passerby.
Bonaverde’s Green-To-Cup Home Machine
It’s been a couple of years since our video review of the Bonaverde Roast-Grind-Brew coffee machine, so we checked back in at the Expo. Hans Stier, the founder and CEO, roasted and brewed a batch of coffee that had been picked just 72 hours prior to the event. It was certainly the freshest coffee I’ve ever tasted—and will probably ever taste again.
The machine has gone through some design iterations that make it easier to roast, grind, and brew modularly, without having to go through all three steps in one session. Hans is also looking to expand Bonaverde’s unroasted coffee offerings to US-based roasters, who can send their roast profiles and green beans to customers.
Frozen Coffee Concentrate That Actually Tastes Good
The hottest gossip of the Expo surrounded a new concept: frozen coffee extract in Keurig-compatible capsules. At first glance, Cometeer appeared to be just another pod distributor, but with a closer look, I realized they had some really big names on their capsules, like Counter Culture, George Howell, and Equator Coffee.
The idea is that Cometeer sends you frozen coffee extract pods by mail, you slip them into your freezer, and then you have on-demand coffee from well-known specialty roasters. You can pop the aluminum (fully recyclable) pod in your Keurig, or just rip off the top and mix with hot or cold water to bring it to a drinkable strength.
I was skeptical at first. Could frozen coffee concentrate really maintain its delicate flavor? The sample impressed me—sure enough, it was just as delicious as the freshly brewed coffee I’d tasted in ‘Roaster Village’ around the corner.
It’s difficult to say whether the shipped-frozen model will appeal to regular coffee lovers at home, but Cometeer definitely showed up strong in the eyes of industry professionals.
We loved seeing coffee being served in new and interesting ways (frozen pods, high-end cold brew), but the main coffee tech trend was clear: data.
Data for espresso machines. Data for roasters. Data for inventory and purchasing. Data for sourcing coffee. The coffee world, it seems, is finally embracing a higher-tech future.
See anything else fascinating or quirky at the Specialty Coffee Expo? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @thespoontech!