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Bonaverde wants to be the Keurig of raw coffee

It's creating a coffee bean supply chain for its all-in-one roaster, grinder and brewer.
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Many people take their coffee drinking seriously, but even those with a proper espresso machine at home won't roast their own beans. This delicate step is typically done on an industrial scale using specialist equipment, far from the end consumer. Now, the caffeine addicts at Bonaverde intend to bring roasting to the kitchen counter with the first all-in-one machine that turns raw, green coffee beans into a cup of joe. The company crowdfunded its appliance way back in 2013, and several years later the consumer model is now ready. But several questions have loomed over Bonaverde's vision to change how people drink coffee -- namely, where on earth do you buy unroasted beans?

Gallery: Bonaverde coffee machine | 16 Photos

Raw, green beans aren't exactly easy to come by. They're usually traded by the ton, not something you pick up at your local store. Some specialist retailers do sell raw beans in consumer-friendly quantities, but you still wouldn't call them a particularly accessible commodity. Thus, Bonaverde hasn't just spent the past four years refining its machine; it's also established a complete supply chain to ship beans directly from coffee growers to your doorstep.

Bonaverde had to develop another machine to enable growers to package their product in the special parcels required by its all-in-one appliance. Like Keurig or Nespresso pods, these are not optional. The little pizza-slice-shaped bundles contain enough raw coffee for one pot, with the packaging doubling as the brewing filter (that's one less thing to buy). The grower-side equipment is built with the isolated fields of developing countries in mind. It runs on solar power with battery backup, is simple enough to be fixed with "a hammer and screwdriver," rather than needing elaborate replacement parts when it breaks down, and even has a few bonus features like being a WiFi hotspot (an embedded cellular SIM handles the connection).

Key to the packaging process is a unique RFID chip that's attached to every pouch. Bonaverde users will have to tap this tag on the front of their machine before it'll roast raw beans. This is partly for quality control, the company tells me. As the end user will likely have zero experience with roasting, the tag communicates the optimal profile to the appliance -- different strains of bean from different regions require distinct temperatures, timing and air-circulation settings to be at their best. In other words, Bonaverde doesn't want consumers to have at every parameter, ruin the roast and think their machine is junk as a result.

End users do have some level of control, though. Using a companion mobile app, they're able to tweak the roasting profile if they want a more intense flavor, for example, and they can also determine how finely the roasted beans are then ground, which impacts the final brew. (The idea is that this take on personalization is better than asking users what exact temperature they want during the final phase of roasting.) Bonaverde plans to introduce community features to its app in the future, too, so connoisseurs can share their tweaks with other users. Importantly, the app also has a scheduling feature so your pot will be ready at a certain time, meaning you don't have wait for the roughly 20-minute roasting, grinding and brewing cycle to complete each morning.

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The RFID packaging is also important to Bonaverde for a completely different reason. Being a startup, it doesn't have the cash to set itself up as a middleman between grower and consumer, buying from one and selling to the other. Instead, growers effectively license Bonaverde's vision, packing the coffee off their own backs. Bonaverde handles the shipping -- a more manageable overhead -- and distributes the coffee to consumers, who just pay for delivery. Buying the actual coffee occurs only once you've tapped that RFID chip on the appliance, at which point the grower gets what it's owed and Bonaverde takes a cut. In this way, the startup hopes to build a global ecosystem around home roasting without becoming a trader itself, thanks to the microtransaction model. (You could just... never actually scan the chip.)

That sounds potentially exploitative and risky for the grower, but Bonaverde is guaranteeing its partners a minimum of 30 percent more than Fair Trade wholesale price with its model. The farmer is able to set their own pouch prices, which can range from roughly $2 to $5 per pot -- handpicked beans that are more expensive to produce could demand a higher price, for instance.

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In some ways, Bonaverde has it all sewn up. Its all-in-one coffeemaker wasn't going to be viable without easy access to raw, green beans, so it's creating the supply chain. The startup doesn't want to own the whole ecosystem, though, and hopes to partner with companies as well as growers, so you might pick up compatible pouches at your favorite local spot. Familiarity for the customer, branding for the coffeehouse, and a cut for Bonaverde. Putting pouches in coffee shops and machines in hotels is likely a ways off, though, as you can't solve the inherent chicken-and-egg problem overnight.

Bonaverde has a long road to becoming the next Keurig or Nespresso. The obvious obstacle is growing the initial user base, thus becoming more attractive to pouch partners, which in turn makes the machine itself an easier sell. But the company is asking for a significant amount of commitment. First, there's the price of the all-in-one machine.

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While some early-bird backers managed to pick one up for as little as $250 four years ago -- and are just now expecting delivery -- the appliance goes on general sale today for $799/£799/€799 for the white version and $1000/£1000/€1000 for the silver model (coinciding with the launch of an equity crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs). New customers are looking at a fall shipping window, mind. It looks significantly different from the initial Kickstarter pitch. It's essentially a tall, square filter coffee machine with some added bulk on top to account for the roasting element. Not unattractive, but potentially too demanding for smaller kitchens. Beyond the machine, you have to be comfortable allying yourself with the whole ecosystem, from buying the pouches to the replacement filters that capture unwanted oils and such created during the roasting process (each is good for 30 brews, I'm told).

Ultimately, though, Bonaverde is attempting to change perceptions. The main selling point is truly fresh coffee anytime you want it. I tried a cup myself and found it to have a certain cleanliness about it, though it was also relatively tasteless. I'm pretty sure the company plied tasters with a light brew that was bound to be universally inoffensive, though, and I'm no coffee expert, so am hesitant to make any real judgments on quality, especially after just two mugfuls. Green beans apparently last upwards of a year before starting to go stale, and then there's supporting the growers directly. But the freshest of coffee is still the primary draw.

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I'm not sure real aficionados want to go to the trouble of roasting their own beans -- this is also assuming they believe the machine's process is as robust as industrial roasting -- for the sake of a pot of filter coffee. Bonaverde intends to release an espresso model in the future, possibly later this year but likely next. This will at least give consumers options, but we're still talking about an unexplored market here.

Bonaverde obviously believes there's a large appetite for home roasting, and the company has reason to. The startup's crowdfunding campaign eclipsed its initial $135,000 goal by over half a million bucks, and I'm told a pre-market competitor in San Francisco is currently working on a similar all-in-one machine. But whether there truly is a big enough demand for home roasting to support Bonaverde's supply chain -- or whether the company can create it -- is the next looming question to be answered.

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