The Future of Coffee Makers

I was approached by a journalist back in November of last year for my opinion on the future of coffee makers. Unfortunately, I had to decline to help as the subject wasn’t something I could easily talk about. I’m not involved in the design or production of any kind of coffee maker, so the future development of coffee brewing wasn’t something I’d really thought about and as it was at the start of Christmas shopping period I didn’t really have the time to stop and gather some thoughts. Anyway now I’ve a bit more time on my hands I thought it might be interesting to revisit this subject and try and guess what the future holds for the coffee world.

vacuum pots

On the left: 1841 patent drawing of a vacuum pot by Malpeyre; on right: Hario pot - present day

Before I could even have a chance of guessing what future inventions may appear on the market, I thought it was sensible to start by looking at the past. Most of the designs for all the various different kinds of coffee makers we know today, with the exception of the espresso machine, were dreamt up centuries ago. The first: cafetieres (french press), pour-over, vacuum pots and percolators; where around at least as early as the 19th Century. All we’ve done in the last 200 years is refine the designs and made use of better materials or production techniques that weren’t available back when they were originally devised. So I think it’ll be unlikely that a completely new brewing method will be invented in the near future. Much more likely is that we’ll see more hybrid coffee makers, such as the Clever Dripper or AeroPress, that merge two different brewing methods.

New Ideas

Although I don’t think it’s likely that a completely new type of coffee maker will be invented in the next few years, it would be pretty boring for me to write about this subject without coming up with at least a few new ideas:

  • Agitation: The desire to brew coffee quickly is something I don’t think has been fully satisfied in the market place. Yes we have espresso machines that produce coffee fast, but they’re expensive and take time to warm up anyway. We also have the AeroPress, which fits the bill perfectly and this is part of the reason why it’s so popular.
     
    Both these brewing methods use pressure to extract flavour more quickly from the coffee. But there are other ways to speed extraction which we haven’t exploited yet. I think some kind of agitation could be used to make a fast brewing coffee maker. The problem would be to create a controlled method of agitation which produced consistent results. Maybe some kind of motorised paddle could be employed; or a device that gently vibrated the coffee solution; or even crazier, one that used centrifugal force to spin the coffee solution.

    making billy tea

    A centrifugal force coffee maker probably needs to be a bit more sophisticated than a 'Billy Tea' maker. Picture credit: www.csiro.au

  • Rapid Cooling: James Hoffmann wrote a couple of years ago about how coffee changes taste as it cools. As far as I’m aware still not much is know about why this happens but the changes are often quite desirable. Maybe once someone has figured this out (or even before) they could take advantage of this effect and build a coffee maker which brews at normal temperatures but then rapidly cools. So once the brewing has finished you could press a button to cool the coffee to room temperature or even go as far as to chill it for an ice coffee. I think this would be best done through some kind of conduction on the container holding the coffee rather than diluted the coffee by adding ice directly. Maybe the technology could be borrowed from an ice-cream maker?

Existing Coffee Methods

As for the existing methods, these will continue to be modified. Designers will continue to work in order to overcome the flaws of each method. So for the cafetiere, the aim would be to reduce the amount of solids (sludge) found in the bottom of the cup. I’ve already read about one possible solution which is being developed: the Espro Press. Or for the vacuum pot a new design might try to simplify this somewhat complex brewing method.

I’m sure for all existing methods; new materials will come into existence and new production methods, which could be utilised to improve their filtering or temperature stability. Maybe someone will finally make a great automated version.

Espresso Machines

Over the past few years the major trend in espresso machines has been simplification. We’ve seen phenomenal growth of liquid capsule machines such as Nespresso, which take the skill, time and mess out of making espresso. Press a couple of buttons and you’re done. We’re also seeing many high end bean-to-cup machines enter the market which again do everything for you. I’m sure soon they’ll be fitted with Bluetooth, so you can send them a text to have an espresso ready by the time you get home from work.

bluetooth operated espresso machines

We’re even seeing traditional espresso manufacturer’s dumbing down their machines, fitting them with pressurised baskets. You may remember me talking about Gaggia and their ‘crema perfetta’ baskets.

Whilst this trend is great for making espresso more accessible to the masses I feel that other segments of the market are currently being ignored by manufacturers. What’s being done to satisfy the real espresso hobbyists or coffee geeks (if you prefer)? Those who enjoy the craft of making espresso as much as the taste of the actual drink. Sooner or later, either manufacturers will refocus on them or some new company is going to come into the market and steal these customers away by bringing out a more complex machine that gives the end user more features to control and manipulate their brewing.

Over the last decade we’ve seen commercial espresso machines become more and more sophisticated. But these new features haven’t yet filter down into the domestic market. I would expect to see better temperature controls being put on domestic machines sooner rather than later. After all, owners have been pimping their Rancilio Silvia’s with PID controllers for years. Surely Rancilio will take the hint and finally make a factory version. Ascaso have actually taken a slight lead here as they do make a PID version of their ‘Steel Uno Prof’ machine – it’s just not widely available!

PID controlled espresso machines

Left: Pimped Rancilio Silvia (picture credit: www.espressoparts.com); right: Ascaso Uno Prof PID

Another feature that may make its way to the domestic stage is pressure profiling. Although this feature is still pretty much in its infancy in the commercial market with only a few machines, such as the Slayer or La Marzocco Strada, fitted with the technology. So it may take at least 5 years before we see a domestic version.

With rising utility prices (and for that matter the actual cost of coffee beans), I think someone needs to consider making a more energy efficient espresso machine. Let’s face it most domestic espresso machines are big consumers of electricity; over 1kw an hour (you’d have to leave an energy efficient light bulb on for nearly 4 days to use the same amount of electricity). I’m sure there are ways to make savings. Certainly the boiler could be better insulated so that it doesn’t have to work as hard. The cup warming area would probably have to be sacrificed to do this (because the heat would be better contained in the boiler), but then cups warmers don’t work great on domestic machines and most people don’t bother using them anyway, so it would be no great loss.

So these are my thoughts. I’d love to hear everyone else’s ideas for the future of coffee makers. As far as I’m concern the wacky the better.

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