PicoBrew, the Seattle based startup that’s made a name for itself with countertop beer brewing appliances, has set its sites on a different type of beverage with its newest product, the Pico MultiBrew: coffee.
In short, PicoBrew has taken the technology it has developed over the past decade for high-precision beer brewing and applied it to making the perfect cup of joe. The MultiBrew will use what the company calls “brew programs” to govern the time, temperature and fluid flow of each coffee brew.
If that sounds like a very high tech approach to coffee brewing, that’s because it is. This shouldn’t be all that surprising since PicoBrew’s founding trio includes a couple of former Microsoft execs and a food scientist.
“We’re ex-software guys and computer guys, as well as coffee and beer guys,” CEO Bill Mitchell told me last week when we visited the PicoBrew offices near the University of Washington to take a peek at the MultiBrew prototype. “So it made sense for us to start with the hardest drink [with] beer and go from there.”
While the MultiBrew is the first ‘coffee-first’ machine from PicoBrew, it isn’t the first that makes coffee. In fact, Mitchell’s brother Jim (a PicoBrew cofounder and a food scientist by training) started making coffee with their very first appliance, the Zymatic, and both the PicoBrew Z (pro unit) and Pico C (consumer) can make cold brew.
And then there’s the Pico U, the multi-beverage brewing appliance the company unveiled in the spring of 2018 and ultimately pulled the plug on even after hitting their Kickstarter funding target. According to Mitchell, what they heard from their community was that while they liked the Pico U’s ability to make multiple types of drinks like coffee, beer and kombucha, ultimately the U wasn’t coffee-forward enough.
“Coffee, coffee, coffee is what we were told,” said Mitchell.
And so unlike the PicoBrew U — which looked like a scaled down version of the Pico C — the MultiBrew looks and acts like a coffee maker, allowing the user to brew different sizes ranging from single serve to a full carafe of coffee. The MultiBrew also lets users brew using their own coffee grounds or from pods that are made of the same compostable pulp paper material as with the Pico’s beer-ingredient packaging, the PicoPaks.
While I’ve given up on Keurig because coffee from pods generally tastes bad (not to mention all the plastic waste), PicoBrew has a spin on coffee pods that could make me reconsider. Not only are they are designing their own (compostable) pods that will not only apply precision parameters specifically designated by the coffee’s roaster, but are also designing the pods to mimic pourover brew methods rather than the brute force heated water injection method used by a typical pod-brew system.
Mitchell showed me a prototype of a MultiBrew brewpod with an laser-cut pattern through which the water will be poured on the coffee (photo below).
Similar to the way the company worked closely with craft brewers to create ingredients for PicoPaks, they are now in discussions with a variety of craft coffee makers about the possibility of cobranded coffee pods for the MultiBrew. Unlike Keurig, which tightly controls the supply of coffee that goes into their coffee pods, PicoBrew is telling smaller roasters they can both provide roasted beans for their high tech system as well as optimized brewing parameters for the specific roast.
With all this emphasis on coffee, it should be noted that the MultBrew is true to its name and does brew drinks other than coffee ranging from kombucha to golden milk to, yes, beer. The MultiBrew will allow users to brew beer using the same kegs as the Pico C by putting the keg directly under the dispense mechanism (rather than using plastic tubing of the Pico C).
While the multi-drink capability of the MultiBrew does makes it stand apart from other high-tech coffee machines on the market, will it be enough? There’s certainly lots of competition in the high-tech coffee space, as companies like SharkNinja have sold millions of the Ninja Coffee Bar while newer entrants like the Terra Kaffe are in market with products that not only can grind coffee, but can make espresso and milk-based coffee drinks using highly-tailored brewing parameters.
We will see soon enough. The MultiBrew, which will be priced “in the same range” as the machines like the Ninja Coffee Bar (below $200), will be available for preorder in the fall and will ship in 2020.