The Bonaverde coffee machine sounds like a coffee connoisseurs’ dream, but I question the maturity of the product and some of the design decisions.
The underlying value proposition of the Bonaverde is to enable consumers to enjoy the freshest coffee possible while cutting out wasteful steps in the coffee production process. The concept tugs at my heart strings given my love for the drink and the industry, but I felt that there was some bias introduced in the pitch as well.
One claim that jumped out at me is that coffee isn’t really “fresh” since it takes 6 months for the coffee to be delivered to a coffee shop. This largely depends on where you go, and most coffee geeks know that serious shops have an almost vertically integrated supply chain — they have a direct relationship with a nearby farm and they receive regular shipments on a weekly basis, wherein the coffee is roasted the day before (or the day of) shipment. As such, you are likely enjoying coffee at a decent shop that’s no more than 1-2 weeks old. If that isn’t a good enough timeframe, you can buy the beans directly from roasters at a local farmer’s market. These bags have a roasting date usually within 1-2 days of the sale date, which is excellent for most. The real point here is that a coffee’s “freshness” is not to be determined from when it is picked from the plant, but from when it is roasted. To the credit of the engineers of the product, they note that they found the 1-2 day claim “inconclusive” and challenge backers to experience the product itself. I look forward, certainly, to when (and if) they come to town. (As an aside, the Whole Foods in Austin is roasting beans on site and delivering them to the buckets in front of the roaster on a daily basis. Not bad.)
Ignoring the freshness, this is a good time to remind ourselves of the risk of backing a KickStarter project, which is more or less an agreement to be a beta tester of a product. I love the concept behind KickStarter because it allows makers to ship ideas, get them tested, and refine their product for deployment to the market. This means that companies like Pebble can reap the benefits of a massive testing audience before realizing how to make the product even more awesome. But, if you are a normal consumer, the risk of buying a Pebble watch on release is quite high, since there isn’t enough development support and there may be manufacturing defects. Similarly, the Bonaverde, while an outstanding concept, looks to have numerous parts in a well designed “black-box.” With one touch of a button, the machine roasts, grinds, and uses a rainfall to produce coffee. As a coffee geek, the appeal is the novelty of the method, but I am very worried about investing money in a product that I have no concept to its workings. There’s also something to be said about each step of the process being broken out and fine-tuned. I own a variable temperature pour-over kettle, a high quality grinder, and a Chemex. First of all, the price of each of these items is still less than the price of one Bonaverde. All that is missing is freshly roasted beans (covered earlier) and some filters (which run cheap). The only major manufacturing risk is having an issue with the grinding element or the Kettle filament not working. I can clearly see how my cup is being made with each element. In contrast, the Bonaverde has an enclosure that, while beautiful, makes the inner workings a mystery. If something went wrong, I know that they are probably going to be swamped taking orders from the high demand (by this writing, they have already met their goal with 26 days to go). So, if you want to be sure of every step of the brewing process, it seems you are way better off investing in the individual “parts.”
The additional nitpicks I have with the product may be unfair as I haven’t actually used the product, but they are worth flagging for those who do make the jump. First, if the machine has a water filtration system, that means the filter will need to be replaced every now and again. What if I already use something like a Brita for this purpose? Can I remove the filter? The second issue is with the smell. The product claims to have found a way to isolate the odors to only that of delicious coffee, but that remains to be seen in actual use.
All this said, I am super excited to see people like Hans Stier leading the charge to deliver exceptional quality to a potentially massive market. The opportunity for the device lies with more of a mainstream market rather than the connoisseur crowd, who likely already takes the time to make their coffee using the devices above and probably already has a method of utilizing the devices as well. On the same thread, people who go to coffee shops and Starbucks are looking for that coffee shop experience — something not encapsulated by a great home brewing system. In the end, I applaud the system as a proof of concept and hope that further iterations focus on improving specific parts of the brew, rather than on the device as a whole. (Perhaps this will come with their idea to open source the manufacturing process.)