The Pico U

Today PicoBrew announced the Pico U, a new multi-drink brewing appliance that allows users to make beer and a variety of other craft beverages such as cold brew coffee, kombucha, and horchata.

While the move into what the company calls “fusion drinks” is a significant new direction for PicoBrew, it’s not altogether surprising. The eight-year-old company has become reliably predictable by introducing new products every year that are both more affordable and offer greater functionality.

The dimensions of the Pico U are significantly smaller than both the Pico Pro and Pico C, which PicoBrew told us was in part an effort to make the appliance more attractive to those worried about kitchen counter space. Makes sense, since the crowding of countertops is real in the era of kitchen gadget proliferation, and the Pico U’s footprint is closer to that of an espresso machine to that of the Pico C’s countertop microwave oven-like dimensions.

With the move to smaller form factor and fusion drinks, the Pico U also comes with a smaller step filter which holds the company’s compostable ingredient pods called PicoPaks (the smaller PicoPaks for the mini step filter will be called, naturally, PicoPak Minis).  The smaller step filter makes 1.3-liter batch drink brews, and those looking for larger batches (or who want to brew beer) will need the standard 5-liter step filter.

To brew fusion beverages such as kombucha, horchata or yerba mate, Pico U owners will need to buy a PicoPak through the PicoBrew website. The company has indicated that they will offer both multipak and single pak versions to buy online and that the pricing for the Paks will range depending on the price of the ingredients. More exotic brews with high-priced ingredients like saffron or peaberry might cost over $15 for a batch; simpler tea based brews will be lower.

In typical PicoBrew fashion, the company is launching the new product via Kickstarter. The Pico U, which ship this fall to backers, comes in both a “basic” and “deluxe” configurations seen below:

Pico U Model Configurations

As can be seen above, Kickstarter pricing for the basic configuration starts at $169 and pricing for the Deluxe configuration is $189. My guess is that with only a $20 price difference the Pico U Deluxe package will be the most popular, particularly for those who have been on the fence about buying previous Pico models and were waiting for the price to come down. When these models come to retail, they will be priced $249 and $299 respectively.

One feature of the Pico U that is intriguing to me is the single serve coffee capability. With its single-serve coffee function,  PicoBrew allows the Pico U owner to brew coffee with “Gold Cup” standard precision temperature control, which means the water must be 200°F plus or minus a couple degrees when it hits the grounds.  That’s pretty cool since Gold Cup coffee makers are a thing, but I’m more intrigued by the ability to do single cup brews, one of the things I wanted with my still MIA Spinn.

I also like the idea of being able to use my own coffee beans, a departure from other beverages such as beer which require PicoPaks. If there’s one complaint I’ve heard from home brewers considering previous Pico models, it’s that the cost-per-brew of the Pico is still fairly high. PicoPaks range in cost from $20 for the PicoBrew house brands up to $25 to $29 for PicoPaks from their brewery partners. That translates to about $1.50-$2 per 12 ounce beer, which is less than buying in bottles but still not exactly cheap.

Pricing gets us to the broader question of is whether this is the PicoBrew model that will take the company – and home brewing – more mass market. The company seems focused on making that happen by continually dropping prices, improving the ease of use and making their products smaller all while adding new features like fusion drink brewing. And certainly, by doing all that with the Pico U, my guess is they will likely entice more wannabe homebrewers into the PicoBrew universe.

However, going more mass-market will ultimately depend on how many are ok with paying for ingredient packs.  Long term, it will be interesting to see if the company starts to bring the pricing down on their ingredients, something which will ultimately be heavily dependent on volume. Of course, this is dependent on how many Picos are out in the field brewing up batches of beer and kombucha. If that sounds like the classic chicken-egg problem, that’s because it is.

However, there’s no doubt the Pico U is the most approachable and mass market-ready PicoBrew yet, so I expect we’ll see the company beat its past crowdfunding records and sell a whole bunch of beer brewing appliances.

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