Now, I should say here that the Pique isn't a real product yet. Right now it's still strictly in prototype stage. It's yet to be launched on Indiegogo, which is where it'll get most of its funding. In fact, the device that Pique's creators showed me this past Monday (see above) was made out of plywood, sheet metal and ABS plastic -- materials that they hammered together in a workshop based in Louisville, Kentucky. That workshop is owned by FirstBuild, a subsidiary of GE Appliances that attempts to bridge the gap between the maker movement and real marketable products. It's essentially an open innovation space that lets makers test out small-batch production without all the hassle of mass manufacturing. FirstBuild's first products include an indoor pizza oven that can heat up to 800 degrees and a dedicated ice maker.
"My wife loves cold brew," says Justin Brown, a senior design engineer at FirstBuild who's also the inventor behind the Pique. "But we found it very difficult to plan the night before in order to make it." So when the folks at FirstBuild were deciding on their next big project, Brown figured that a way to make a quick cold brew would be a great choice. They were also given advice by Sunergos Coffee, a local Louisville coffee roaster, on tips and tricks to make great cold brew coffee. After a lot of trial and error, they finally created a functional model.
But it was still kind of ugly. So FirstBuild ran a design competition, inviting members of its community to come up with ideas. Today, it announced its winners, with first prize going to Nick Allen from San Francisco, who designed the hourglass model you see above. This is what the Pique will eventually look like. Second and third places went to the LPK design team of Cincinnati and Robert Matzke from Germany, respectively. Aside from their prizes (first place received $5,000, second $3,000 and third $2,000), the winners will share 1 percent of the Pique's campaign funding on Indiegogo.
Brown and FirstBuild product evangelist Taylor Dawson visited the Engadget office in San Francisco with the Pique prototype to show us how it worked. First he opened up the brewing chamber and added a standard 8-12 cup basket-shaped paper filter. Then he put in a cylindrical filter guard, which lets you manually stir the coffee grounds without messing up the filter. "Manually stirring is key to making cold brew," says Brown. You can't get around this step: It's mandatory for making cold brew the traditional way too.
Next he placed 100 grams of ground espresso beans in the basket. "The grind needs to be fine," says Brown. "You need a lot of surface area of coffee to water, to increase the extraction." FirstBuild also developed its discs and filter system to allow for a very fine grind coffee to drain through. Then he poured in a liter of water for a 10:1 ratio of water to coffee. This ratio can be adjusted to whatever strength you want. A 4:1 ratio, for example, would make a more concentrated cup of coffee, to which you can add extra water or milk. He then stirred the grounds well, making sure that the coffee was saturated and mixed in with the water. This took him a couple of minutes.
Then he closed the brewing chamber and pressed a button. Instantly, the Pique roared to life. It was the sound of a gasket pressing onto the coffee and a vacuum pump built right into the machine. According to Brown, this vacuum pulls air out of the slurry and helps to "open up" the coffee. "It allows water to come in contact with it on a microscopic level. It really increases the extraction," he says.
"It's basically an infusion process," says Dawson. "Vacuum infusion is actually pretty commonly used in other industries; we're not reinventing the wheel here." Indeed, it's not even the first time vacuum infusion has been used to make cold brew; a quick search on the internet revealed that some people have done this with a chamber vacuum machine. But the Pique offers an accessible one-stop-shop solution for quick cold brew, one that I haven't seen before.
As the seconds ticked by, I heard the vacuum pump kick in every so often. "We have a closed loop feedback to keep reduced pressure in the chamber," explains Brown. "If there are any leaks in the air, the pump will kick back on."
"One of the things we want to give you is a capability to set your own brew time," says Brown. "Either via an interface on the machine or an app via Bluetooth." Coffee enthusiasts, he says, will likely want to mess around with the right extraction time and so forth to get the best brew possible.
In our demo though, we stuck to the default brew time. In exactly seven and a half minutes, the machine made a loud swooshing sound as the gasket released and the coffee began to drain into the container below. We ended up with around 750 milliliters of coffee, which is a healthy amount of extraction considering we started with a liter of water.
Brown then poured the freshly brewed coffee into a cup of ice and handed it to me. I sipped at it tentatively. It tasted fantastic. The coffee was so smooth that it was almost like drinking flavored water. There were hardly any bitter notes. Instead it was clean, bright and incredibly delicious. It didn't need any cream or sweetener; it was just fine on its own. I gave a cup to my colleague, Roberto Baldwin, and he liked it too.
So what's the price? "We're thinking of a range between $250 and $500," says Dawson. He says that the Pique is meant for the enthusiast crowd -- people who care about pourovers and single-origin beans -- and not the mainstream Folgers set. As such, he thinks the price will be competitive. In comparison, the highly rated Bonavita 8-cup brewer retails for around $190 while the premium Ratio Coffee machine retails for $570. You can also get a Hario cold water dripper for about $265 or a Toddy for about $40. None of these options make cold brew coffee in less than an hour.
What's next from here? Well, Brown and Dawson still have to meet with the winners of the challenge and figure out how to finesse their designs to meet the Pique's standards. Eventually, they hope to launch the campaign on Indiegogo on June 28th, 2016, with a ship date slated for late 2017. That's a long time from now, but if you really want cold brew coffee at a moment's notice, it might be worth the wait.