The ubiquitous automatic coffee maker has been a staple of the modern kitchen for decades with little innovation across the handful of designs in use. But a recent resurgence in the interest of specialty coffee has spawned a number of new innovators in the space on both the high-end and the low-end of the market. Blossom Coffee is a young company that hopes to use mechanical engineering experience and new web-connected technology to improve upon the age-old coffee maker, and it’s using the five-figured One Limited as its launching platform.
Like the thermostat market, the world of coffee makers is largely dominated by a few well known, entrenched brands that have been pumping out the same designs for decades. Entrenched companies don’t like their bread and butter messed with, and the legal action from Honeywell against Nest is a prime example of that. Things in the coffee maker market have been shook up a little with the surge in popularity of automatic pod-based single cup brewers (think Keurig), but those do not cater to real coffee aficionados. While the pod-based brewers are simple, quick, and automatic, they give the user very little control and are generally derided in the high-end coffee world.
Blossom isn’t looking to steal sales from the likes of Keurig, not yet at least. Instead, the company is gunning straight for the high-end, extreme coffee enthusiast market with its Blossom One Limited brewer. The $11,111 machine is hand-made with exotic materials like mahogany and teak, and Blossom is even hand-delivering it to customers that are willing to plunk down that kind of money for a coffee maker. But while the One Limited has some exotic materials, it’s the integration of new technology with the traditional methods of making coffee that has our interest piqued.
A fancy way to measure coffee temperature while it brews
For starters, Blossom says that the One Limited features an all-new heating system that gives very granular control over the temperature of the water used. Temperature, along with pressure and the ratio of coffee to water, is one of the key factors in brewing coffee. Cheap coffee makers, like the ones you find on the department store shelf, generally don’t get water hot enough for a proper "extraction" (what coffee nerds call brewing), and therefore produce an inferior cup of joe. The One Limited has a "proportional integral derivative feedback control loop," (monitored by an Arduino, naturally) which controls the temperature of the water throughout the brewing process. Blossom president Jeremy Kuempel explains this technology as "a fancy way of saying we measure the temperature of the coffee while it brews and we use heating elements to correct that temperature to whatever [the user] has set it to be." Additionally, the feedback control lets the user control temperature values and curves throughout the brewing process. Blossom has also incorporated a simple control dial and monochrome LCD on the front of the coffee maker to select the desired temperature and time for steeping.
Kuempel gave us a demonstration of the technology on what the company calls the "Dev 2 Prototype," an early version of what will eventually become the One Limited this coming spring. He was sure to stress that while this machine uses similar processes to the One Limited to brew the coffee, the final product will look significantly different from the prototype. Regardless, the Dev 2 was able to produce an eight ounce cup of coffee in about 70 seconds from start to finish, including heating the water to the desired temperature. Though that may sound like a long time to those used to automatic brewers and pod-based machines, it is actually pretty quick for a full manual coffee brewer.
802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and a web cam give the One Limited 21st century appeal
While Blossom has used the engineering chops of its designers to improve the heating performance of the One Limited, it has also added 21st-century things like always on 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity and a digital camera. A camera on a coffee maker, you say? Why, yes indeed. Blossom has made the One Limited programmable through QR codes, so owners can use the camera to scan a code provided from a coffee roaster to automatically set their coffee maker to the right temperature and brew time. Additionally, Blossom plans to deploy a webapp accessible from a smartphone or tablet that lets owners push custom settings to their One Limiteds over the internet. Blossom hopes that this level of customizable control will interest boutique coffee shops, which can run different One Limited machines for each type of brew that they choose to offer, as opposed to current machines which can take a long time to adjust their temperature for various types of coffee brews.
The One Limited, with its five-figure price tag and extremely limited run is just the beginning for Blossom. At over eleven grand, the One Limited is clearly targeted to someone whose perception of money is on the level with their perception of minute differences in the pH balance of tap water. The company admits that this particular model will only appeal to the exceptionally wealthy coffee connoisseur, but it has plans to release more mainstream versions of its coffee maker in the future, provided this one is a success. "It’s my vision to make amazing coffee available to everyone," noted Kuempel. Given the relatively low profile of the One Limited, the existing producers of high-end coffee makers (think Bunn, not Mr. Coffee) haven’t really paid too much notice to Blossom. But, as we saw with Nest and the legal issues that crept up once it started encroaching on Honeywell’s thermostat turf, Blossom may ignite the ire of some of the larger companies if it gains enough traction.
At the end of the day, it's hard to see this particular device or other variations of it making a dent in the world of big coffee. While the engineering behind the One Limited is interesting, it essentially takes a pretty simple process and unnecessarily complicates it with enough control parameters to make even the most hardened coffee nerd's eyes water. Don't get us wrong, the coffee it produces is good (really good, in fact). But so is the coffee made with a $26 plastic AeroPress. The creators behind the Blossom One Limited have done an excellent job of marrying their love of engineering with their love of coffee. Fortunately for the rest of us, there are far simpler (and cheaper) methods of getting our daily caffeine fix that don't seem to be going anywhere any time soon.