While waiting in line at Starbucks for your double Grande macchiato with extra foam, few people put their phones down long enough to contemplate the economics behind each coffee drink. Even those queued up for five-to-ten minutes anticipating a rich cup of pour-over caffeine have no idea the cost of each beverage in terms of labor and equipment.
Oakland, Calif-based Ground Control has developed what it believes not only solves the labor issue associated with pour-over coffee—generally regarded as a premium process that provides an excellent cup—but does so without sacrificing taste. Eli Salomon, Ground Control’s Founder and CEO, sums it up succinctly, “The quality is second to none, while the business value is very meaningful.”
“We’re talking about an industry that has very little innovation when it comes to large-scale brewing,” Salomon told The Spoon in a recent interview. “And so, our inspiration was really to create a machine that filled all the gaps left by a lack of new ideas. It’s sorely needed by cafes, especially, you know, as we see lots of small cafes struggling during this current economic climate.”
The economics of offering pour-over coffee is difficult to sustain in the long run, Salomon noted. “Our customers are able to reduce their labor costs three to five hours a day; in addition, instead the baristas are interacting with your customers and are selling more coffee and giving them a better customer experience. It’s really a game changer for their business model.”
The machine in question is called “Cyclops.” It is a customizable, programmable batch brewer, which means it can make a large amount of coffee using a multiple filtration process—or, in industry parlance. Tranches. Ground beans are put through multiple cycles, each one bringing out another element of the beans from sweetness to body. The resulting brew offers cafes, convenience stores, and other customers a superior product on par with pour-over with far less labor.
The current Cyclops, in many ways, hasn’t changed from the model set up in Eli Salomon’s kitchen in 2013. “Until today, the process is almost identical,” he said. “We launched our first production-grade, Ground Control, in 2017, and then we launched our current model, the Cyclops, in 2018.”
Salomon, who sports an MBA from Wharton and a law degree from Harvard, says he wasn’t always a great student; coffee pushed him academically and began his love for the noble bean.
“I was a freshman in high school and a terrible student,” he recalls. “My dad instituted a new policy. He said, ‘Look, whenever you want to do your homework, I’ll take you to Starbucks, and you can do your homework there. And that was my first exposure to coffee really in a Starbucks. And so, I became a great student and was also very caffeinated.”
The Ground Control CEO began a coffee roastery business while studying for the bar exam. “My friends and I started a website that sold espresso on the web,” Salomon said. “We had the largest selection of espresso beans at the time and over 50 different origins.”
Ground Control has sold over 500 of its Cyclops coffee machines, each for $10,900. It has installs worldwide, including in Saudi Arabia, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Is a home version in the works? “Our goal is to replace every brewer in the world,” Salomon said. “