The crowded premium coffee shop: on the one hand, it’s a lively communal living room where conservations mingle and the energy is palpable—all walks-of-life coming together in the common search for next level java. On the other hand (and often where the coffee is best), it’s a hellish struggle where lines are competitive and the wait for a pour-over is akin to watching the last few minutes of the school year tick by before summer. The increasing popularity of the pour-over method means more coffee-drinkers nerding out on roasts and more shops offering up rare beans prepared with precision. Thus making the pour-over process a bit of a nightmare—for baristas and customers alike.
Meet Poursteady, an app-enabled tool that allows one barista to make five pour-overs in five minutes—all while controlling temperature to within a degree and modifying pour diameter and rate for different coffees to achieve a perfect bloom. We visited the makers behind the device at their Brooklyn workshop to learn more about the technology and process behind the innovative product that is set to launch to market this April at the Specialty Coffee Association of America show in Seattle.
“We’re not pretending to be reinventing how people are supposed to be making coffee or telling them what they should be doing,” says CEO Stephan von Muehlen. “We’re just trying to make a better tool.” In fact, the team behind Poursteady are coffee aficionados but they’re not exactly obsessives when it comes to their Joe—they’ve put the lion’s share of their attention on robotics. Co-founder and lead engineer Stuart Heys is accustomed to building Mars-ready robots for NASA along with other high profile (if not as he happily admits, a bit boring) government projects at his Brooklyn workspace. So when the idea came for Poursteady, he whipped one up with his crew almost for free. The Frankenstein-esque machine wasn’t exactly easy on the eyes, but it worked almost seamlessly and the idea of the automated pour-over was too attractive to let go. After a few iterations and additions to the team, the first Poursteady prototypes made their way into select coffee shops around New York City.
With the team’s background in field robotics, there is a strong insistence on utility, simplicity and reliability—even after a few hundred cups. “We’ve done a few pop-ups and have consistently been able to do one pour-over a minute. Our record is 450 in one day. It just works,” von Muehlen says. “We’re basically leveraging standard industrial automation components. It’s a unique configuration and application, but all the parts are rated for hundreds of thousands of cycles.” As Heys points out, where their competitors have been ambitious about changing the way coffee is made with pressure and self-cleaning, Poursteady is less susceptible to maintenance issues than using an old and simple methods to make coffee can be—simply with the technological benefit of automation and precision. “Plus, we’re using top-notch mechanical components from Germany,” Heys adds. At present Heys and von Muehlen estimate the Poursteady’s full-time barista lifespan at around 10 years—an impressive number to say the least.
That’s not to say the Poursteady is intended to replace the human artistry behind making an excellent pour-over. The designated app allows baristas to set and customize profiles for different varieties of coffee, from adjusting bloom time to the radius of the pour. This, von Muehlen insists, allows baristas to tell the story behind the coffee and provide better customer service. “You can dial in the exact process you would do by hand, except it’ll just execute it precisely,” he adds. The potential applications of such technology in coffee lab settings could lead to enhanced flavor extraction. For those of us holed up in the pour-over line, it might not only mean a shorter wait, it might mean a better cup altogether.
Images by Hans Aschim