If you’ve ever wondered what time of day most people drink coffee — and who hasn’t, after all? — we now have a very specific answer: According Ember CEO Clay Alexander, peak coffee-drinking time across the country is 10:51 AM.
“Nobody knew that before,” said Alexander. “That data didn’t exist.”
So how did Alexander and Ember figure out when most people down their morning cup of joe? By looking at the data from all the Ember mugs, which are connected via phone app, in the wild. The mugs, which come in both travel and ceramic varieties, launched in fall of 2016 (travel mug) and last fall (ceramic mug). They now number roughly two hundred thousand.
I sat down with Alexander, a long time inventor who created the world’s first twist-lock LED lightbulb that he eventually sold to GE before he started working on Ember’s tech in 2010, at last week’s Housewares show. I asked him about the idea of adding precision heating to drinkware, what other markets and applications he sees for the technology, and where sees Ember fitting in as part of the broader smart home. You can watch my full interview with Alexander below.
The Perfect Drinking Temperature
According to Alexander, everyone has an optimal temperature.
“For me, I like my coffee at 135 °F and my tea at 138 °F,” said Alexander.
It’s this thinking about optimal drinking temperature that led the longtime inventor to create Ember’s technology in the first place.
“I strongly believe that temperature affects taste,” said Alexander. “Let’s say you spend $10 on an amazing cup of coffee. It’s too hot in the beginning, you hit that perfect temperature and it’s right on, and then it depletes from there. So I thought, ‘what if I could hold that exact temperature that you like.'”
So that’s what he did. He started applying for patents and was awarded his first for precision controlled drinkware in 2013 and eventually launched his first product in fall of 2016.
In 2009, Alexander was having breakfast with his wife when his eggs got cold.
“I remember looking down at my plate and thought, ‘It’s the 21st century; at a bare minimum my plate should be able to keep my meal at a nice temperature.'”
Before long, Alexander started strapping batteries to his plate and tinkering with a precision heated plate. Soon, he was eating salmon that he was able to keep at a consistent temperature all the way through the meal.
Now his company has a working prototype and plans to release their smart plates in high-end restaurants.
“It just looks like a dinner plate, but it’s magically keeping your hot food hot and your cold food cold,” said Alexander. The plate would have heating zones, that would allow cold potato salad to stay cold and heat food like steak. According to Alexander, if you move your steak, the heat will track under the plate.
In a way, this makes lots of sense. Precision heating has entered the kitchen in a big way through techniques like sous vide, and more advanced ovens; extending this precision to the front of house experience seems like a natural, next-step for precision temperature control.
Alexander also envisions his technology in medical care applications.
“I thought, ‘what if we could use our technology to save lives?'”
According to Alexander, the spoilage rate for vaccines is over 40% in developing countries. Because of this, the company has been looking at using Ember’s temperature control technology to help get vaccines to doctors and reduce spoilage. The company has already built a prototype that uses the company’s semiconductor powered refrigeration technology to keep up to forty vials refrigerated at a constant temperature. The “box” would be battery powered, controllable via a smartphone, and portable.
“You could strap that thing on the back of a moped and send into a village in Haiti and save lives,” said Alexander.
Baby Bottles, Too
The company also sees its tech working in baby bottles. Alexander realized this would be a good application when taking care of his own daughter and he had to manually put baby bottles in hot water to warm them up.
“With an Ember bottle, you pull it out of the fridge, and there’s a little base you couple to the bottle. When you couple it, it heats the milk and formula to 98.5 degrees, which is body temperature.”
He also sees data from applications like the baby bottle that could be useful.
When Alexander’s daughter was young, he’d go to the doctor, and the doctor would ask for feeding reports. “What if the bottle could track all the feeding for you, the ounces, the times of day, all that good stuff. I’m all about putting useful features into our apps.”
Smart Home Integration
Last but not least, Alexander also thinks his products could benefit from integration with the smart home.
“What if with the baby bottle, the baby starts crying, and you say: “‘Alexa, warm up my baby bottle’?”
If you want to hear my full conversation with Clay Alexander, you can watch the video below: