Over a few long winters, countless cups of coffee and dozens of six packs, an idea – and several pieces of cardboard – has turned into an invention ready to take on the highly-caffeinated coffee industry.
It’s called the Piston Brew and if Jack Davis is right, he could be sitting on a mighty creation.
Davis and wife Sarah are the founders and owners of Traverse City-based Great Northern Roasting Company, which they first started with a roaster in their garage in 2001.
A welder by trade, Davis immediately dug into the specialty side of the coffee world – from unique, direct trade beans to the precision equipment that would allow them to make coffee exactly the way they wanted it – and their business quickly grew out of the garage into its own facility on East Silver Lake Road.
“I love manufacturing and I love coffee,” Davis says simply.
Those two loves – combined with four years of tinkering, tasting and testing – and the Piston Brew is ready for its next phase: breaking into commercial production. Right now Davis is getting ready to launch a 30-day campaign on crowd-funding website Kickstarter, shooting for $12,000 to get manufacture of the machine off the ground.
“This is a precision piece of equipment that we’re bringing to market for the serious home user, but also the specialty coffee shop,” Davis says. “Roasters and retailers need devices that give them ultimate control over how their cups are going to taste.”
Here’s how the Piston Brew crafts a cup: With ground coffee and hot water in place, a user manually moves the lever to create a vacuum, then does the action in reverse to pull the water through the coffee. The empty cup fills to the brim in a matter of seconds.
So how is it different than other single-cup brewing machines currently on the market – the Keurig, for example? In two ways, Davis says: complete control over the variables in the brewing process and a brewing method that removes the physical aspect from the finished brew, known as “the bloom,” which can damage flavors.
This coffee machine was inspired – some might say driven – by another single-cup maker called the Clover, which hit the market in 2007 like a double shot of espresso. Davis himself was one of the early adopters of that machine, becoming the first Clover dealer in Michigan. Less than a year later, Davis was left with what he describes as a “$10,000 paperweight” after Starbucks bought the company back in 2008.
But Davis and crew – fellow welder and employee Alfred Sams (pictured above) along with Matthew Burden and Dan Mello – knew they could design and build a better, simpler, much more affordable machine (expected to market at a tenth of the cost, at $1,000 each). Davis currently holds a provisional patent on the Piston Brew.
What does Davis anticipate will be the response from his coffee peers? He already has a little bit of an idea. He took an earlier prototype to an industry trade show in June and created quite a (natural) buzz.