[A] Colorado barista is reimagining the way we cup coffee. For the better part of a century the specialty coffee industry has used cupping as a way of evaluating coffee quality. But to the average consumer, the practice can come across as a bizarre ritual, complete with loud slurping and incessant spitting. Inventor Josh Taves wants to bridge that gap, and share coffee cupping with the world. He is currently seeking crowd funding for his Kong Coffee Brewer, a device which promises to emulate the best qualities of a cupping in a more approachable format. We got the chance to ask Taves a few questions about his device and what lies ahead.
What inspired you to invent the Kong Coffee Brewer?
What inspired me to invent the Kong Coffee Brewer was the exceptionally sweet, juicy, and perfectly balanced coffees you find on the cupping table. They are few and far between, but when you do find them, it’s an amazing experience. The sad thing about those coffees is that their exceptional flavors are often tied to the cupping table. As soon as you brew it in any other brewing device, that device imparts its own nuances or characteristics which change the coffee. Cupping is so unique because it doesn’t create flavors, accentuate flavors, or have a set of characteristics it imparts, it simply lets the coffee shine on its own. That is something that I think is really special in our industry. I invented the Kong Brewer because I wanted to prolong that experience. I couldn’t see a good reason why everybody shouldn’t be able to have that experience over and over again in their own home.
It would appear you have a lot of experience with cupping. What do you do when you’re not designing coffee brewers?
I am the brand manager for Novo Coffee in Denver. My main responsibilities lie in quality control and sales which means lots of tasting, cupping, evaluating roast profiles and brewing recipes, and ultimately sharing the cupping process with others, which is another part of what inspired the Kong. I also have a lot of experience as a competitive barista with the United States Barista Championships, which requires lots of cupping to really understand the different coffee you are working with.
Any significance behind the name?
Not really, I like the strength it imparts and that the image and idea are recognizable. I like to think of the Kong as a “heavy hitter” coffee brewer. It’s simple, effective, and solves previously unresolved issues.
What was the design process like? Were there any prototypes?
The design process was a lot more work than I expected. For such a simple device there are a lot of intricacies to be considered in design. Many of them lie with the specific processes used for the individual manufacturing systems. Ultimately though I think what counts is finding the right people to work with. There were a few prototypes, but since the design is so simple, it didn’t take to long to get one that worked the way I wanted it to.
How is your device different from other immersion brewers?
I have been asked this questions a lot and so far I have really tried to direct people away from it. Let me explain, I could talk about the lack of agitation with the Kong Brewer, simply letting the coffee do it’s thing, and the extended contact time that allows, which in my opinion improves sweetness, but I would rather go a different direction with it.
To me, the Kong is not another full-immersion brewer. The Kong is a way to free the cupping process from the cupping table. I am not trying to reinvent the wheel with some new brewing method, I am merely expanding upon what I already think is the best brewing method: cupping. I just want to get the wheel into more peoples’ hands. The Kong takes cupping one step further to make the delicious flavors more accessible to a larger group of people.
Your design already won a start-up contest. How important was that early affirmation?
Early affirmation of the Kong was really important when I was looking at whether or not to pursue production. The Barista Nation Start-Up Idea Throwdown was a great platform to try out my idea in front of some very successful coffee industry professionals and I was so happy when I won! It was really the push I needed to pursue bringing the Kong to market. I continue to hear positive feedback on the idea from roasters, green buyers, and baristas from all corners of the coffee industry whenever the Kong is explained.
In your Kickstarter video you talk about your desire to make coffee cupping approachable for a popular audience. What has the reaction been like so far?
So far it has been great! Anyone who has ever partaken in or led a public cupping understands the hurdles involved and I think the Kong Brewer really resonates with people on that level as well as on the level of wanting to drink those exceptional coffees from the cupping table in your own mug, on your own time.
If your project gets funded, what’s next for you? Any other ideas in the works?
If I am successful I will have my hands pretty full fulfilling the pledge rewards and getting the final kinks worked out of the production process of the Kong. As I said, this is a second job for me, so my time is limited. I will be plenty content having the Kong Brewer be a success. However, I can’t say I haven’t thought about different sized Kongs or maybe an accessories line for sale through the website, but that will be in the future.
— Michael Butterworth is a barista and writer based in Louisville. He co-founded The Coffee Compass. Photos courtesy Josh Taves.