Tales from CES – the coming coffee war
So there we were, sitting in an unmarked room that had a “Privacy please” tag outside on the 33rd floor of the Venetian talking to a man from the company Bonaverde who has a plan that potentially could upset the second largest commodity exchange in the world (Coffee.)
He has a device and a plan so far reaching that it could forever change fair trade and the lives of thousands, if not millions of people. Or not.
All I had wanted was a cup of coffee.
A couple of hours earlier I was wandering around Eureka Park at the Sands Expo (to those unfamiliar, I was at CES in the “hopefully coming attractions” section located somewhere under the Venetian Hotel at the Sands Expo Center,) and I stopped by a booth with a coffee machine I’d seen some emails for.
Said coffee machine did more than most. You put unroasted beans in, choose how you want them roasted, it would do that, then grind them, then brew them. If you’re not particularly into coffee, this is something that’s not been done in one machine, or at least not that I’ve seen.
It also had some smart connectivity, but I didn’t pay much attention to how this would work at the time.
Unfortunately there were no samples. The booth attendant scribbled down a floor and room number unto a bag that you brew the roast in. There would be coffee at that location. She told me to come back if I needed escorted to the room. I probably should have gathered at this point this was more than just a room with coffee, but I’d been walking three hours at this point after a whole day of CES related stuff the day before.
Why would they walk people roughly half a mile, go up 33 floors, and to a room to grab a cup of coffee? I was really intrigued as to the machine in operation, and quite honestly I was hoping there might be a scone involved as I was also hungry.
An hour or so after I met up with John Freml and asked if he wanted to try some of the coffee. We both were kind of interested in seeing the machine, but mostly we were in need of something to keep our energy up considering the non-stop walking one does when attempting to see everything.
Five wrong turns later we got to the elevators and made it to the 33rd floor. There were signs listing every exhibitor who had rooms here. Ours was not listed on the sign. We wandered down the hallway to the correct door. It had a “privacy please,” tag on it. This was not expected. There was nothing indicating we were in the right place other than that the door was being held slightly open by a swingarm latch.
I poked my head in and knocked and was invited in. OK, right place.
In the room were five men if I remember correctly, however the only two I remember were Ricardo Mählmann (social media director,) and Hans Stier who we sat down with for a cup of the freshest tasting coffee I’ve ever had.
Sadly, I hit this cup of coffee while I had a cold/allergies/everything tasted bad. I think it tasted better than average, but honestly at this point in the sick game it could have been weakened Folgers. It had the desired effect later on, so it was a good cup, even if I couldn’t recognize it at the start.
The coffee maker is more than it appears. Not only does it make you coffee, it also can connect you to both other coffee enthusiasts, and to the people who are actually raising the coffee you’re drinking. For that last part think fair trade, but direct from coffee plantation to consumer with no group in between.
You like Fred’s beans, rate them highly, order directly from Fred. They’ll be shipped to your house in RFID encoded brewing portions if I remember correctly. You swipe them by the coffee maker and it records them into your inventory. My guess is it will inform you when a set of beans is going past the point they want to associate the Bonaverde name with.
There were also options for the people who are part of the Bonaverde coffee revolution to meet each other or grab coffee from one another, and a public coffee program in which you pay so much a month and then are allowed to go from place to place grabbing a cup of coffee as a coffee changer.
I’m entirely unsure how the social social media aspects of this will function as it was my belief that coffee shops now solely existed to plug in your laptop, complain to a friend about some local politician, and otherwise complain that coffee shops weren’t what they were in the good old days.
The idea is ambitious. I don’t know if it will work. Imagine trying to deploy Twitter back in the haydays of Livejournal. It’s an odd concept for us today to go back to getting a product from the manufacturer. Getting involved with other coffee enthusiasts in the wild. Not going through the coffee exchanges. Product from one single source.
I sat there with an empty cup of coffee looking at someone who might be a much larger player in the world than I expected when I sat down. I entered looking for a group making a fine coffee maker and I realized that the coffee maker was more of a business card for the social network, direct to consumer marketing, and disruption of the business model of a major economic exchange.
To give you an idea of how out of my element interviewing the potential coffee Robin Hood placed me in – later this night I am playing with floating speakers, FLIR, and trying to figure out why a company spent so much to get their sex toy displayed prominently at an industry event (also wondering why the only people they’ll talk to have slicked back hair).
So there’s that. John and I left. This Facebook of Coffee was more than we had planned. We were told that the entry price for a consumer is either $400 a year to lease, or $800 to purchase one of the coffee makers. The price is different on the website. Not sure what’s up with that. Maybe I remember incorrectly.
The coffee pricing varies as you’ll connect with people who want your business. Businesses can set these up and drive traffic to their stores with fresh roasted fresh brewed coffees.
What I’m reading from coffee roasters is that some of the beans will have to be roasted and gassed out for a couple of days or you’ll get a fresh but nasty cup of coffee. So you shouldn’t expect every roast/brew to happen in the same amount of time.
Some on message boards suggest that the basic idea is great, but it needs to be multiple devices if you’re going to produce much in terms of quantity. Also that cleaning is probably going to be nightmarish if you’re including grinding and brewing. I don’t know, we didn’t get into the cleaning aspects.
John suspects it will fail. I reserve judgement. I do think that hitting the world with a direct to producer business model, plus an app, plus a fairly high priced machine, plus a coffee social network, might be a bit too much to swallow whole.
But as I said, this wasn’t quite what I was planning and I am out of my element.
You can see more about the machine at the Bonaverde website.