Friday, November 8, 2013

Briggo Brother is here

This article on the new Briggo automated coffee house, together with this fascinating Nespresso/handmade espresso taste-off, make for very worthwhile and timely reading. They're getting a good bit of plain in the mainstream media - as evidenced by the fact that I first read them as links from Andrew Sullivan's The Dish. It's very much worth your while if you're in the coffee business to read all of the articles linked to in the main article. You'll learn, among other things, just how high-caliber the Briggo team is, with several recruits from the heart of the Starbucks green sourcing team and many other serious players.

My old boss, mentor and Seattle espresso pioneer (founder and owner of Café Allegro, the city's first great espresso bar and co-inventor of the Starbucks Espresso Blend, among many other key contributions) bristled at the characterization of the jobs of the roaster or the barista as "art." He pointed out that they are neither art nor science, they are craft, and that the "art" of espresso in the traditional sense (the barista having to know about and monitor a slew of variables ranging from barometric pressure and humidity to grind size, tamping pressure and water temperature) is really just bad Italian engineering.

Coffee sourcing, roasting, packaging and brewing need not be automated but there's absolutely no excuse for them not being informed by deep knowledge of the key variables involved. These articles and the serious money behind not only these inventions but what Illy is doing, Keurig, Nespresso and all the rest speak to the giant gulf between the passionate but utterly uninformed handmade Luddites of the Third Wave and the world of professional coffee that understands that the consumer's notions of appropriate levels of ease, technology and convenience are formed by their interaction with their smartphone or iPad.

Some will argue that the theater of the barista on his or her pedestal are all-important, or will try to make lemonade out of the lemons of inconsistent preparation, attitude and sky-high prices, but those who do so remind me of Bill Gates saying that the iPad was a mere gimmick in the PC universe. We all know how that turned out.


  1. I would think that many Third Wavers believe that their way (sourcing, roasting, brewing, etc.) *is* the "coffee bible" way and the rest of the world must worship them.....else they be ostracized for disobeying ;)

    But seriously, I know a lot of coffee drinkers who are quite happy with their Keurig K-Cups and don't really notice a difference when they are served a Vue or even a Peet's Mocha-Java drip brewed in a Bonavita. Of course, adding all that cream and sugar tends to mask flavor, not that there's anything wrong with that. Most say they like "strong" coffee not really knowing what that term means.

    I remember going into a local coffee shop and roaster a number of years ago and asking for their freshest medium to dark roast coffee (at the time, knowing virtually nothing about coffee except that I liked the flavor of Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream). I received a pour-over of an African variety (can't remember which) that tasted like sour tea. I recognized "French Roast" in one of the bins and had the barista prepare that....much better.

    I guess my point is that the average coffee consumer doesn't care that much nor want hints of lemon or blueberry in their morning coffee. For him/her, the K-Cup does just fine as does Folgers or Starbucks. Yes, interest in "specialty" coffee is on the rise but the masses still spend their money on the mediocre, stale stuff.

    So I think Briggo is a fantastic idea that may result in having more coffee drinkers actually appreciate their coffee as a fine drink as opposed to a caffeine vehicle. And we may then see a more radical shift towards fine coffee.
    I know I'd love to give it a try.

  2. Briggo sounds interesting. Naturally I'd like to try it. Recently I was in Boston for work and the office I was in had this giant Keurig set up. I was kind of excited to try it. They had Green Mountain blends. What swill! All of the hype they get I was expecting something much better. Nowhere even close to Nespresso.

    I like that Briggo is looking to expand to those places where it is hard to find a decent up such as offices, universities, airports. I know a lot of people that will drink anything that is coffee; just the drug. I am an all or nothing kind of guy, I'd rather have a headache and nothing than bad coffee. That's just me.

  3. Thanks for the comments Jordan and Patrick.

    Jordan I'd say that the "average consumer" never gets a chance to taste the sublime natural lemon and apricot of a great Yergacheffe, the blueberry of a top Harrar or Yemen, or the blackcurrant of a top Kenyan auction lot, so they are in no position to "care" about something they have never known. What we see is that when people do get exposed to those naturally-occuring fruit flavors that we coffee pros dote on they are usually just as in awe of them as we are.

    Perhaps Briggo will raise the bar as you say but I think it's more likely to supply the good-not-great coffee people are buying now more conveniently and at a better price.

    Patrick to your comments I agree completely about the common Keurig K Cup machine and the capsules for it. The coffee selection is lousy, the water isn't hot enough and the dose is too small. As they get more of their Vue machines out there, which solve all of the above-mentioned problems, potential cup quality will improve. That said, Nestlé and for that matter Illy are in a different class altogether when it comes to brewing technology.