What, no beans? Is it possible?

What, no beans? Is it possible?

At CoffeeCon San Francisco, I had the pleasure of meeting a kindred coffee spirit: Neil Day, founder of Perfect Coffee. I was blown away by  his understanding of brewing’s importance. His coffee credentials were excellent. He’s trained with some really prestigious roasters, such as Intelligentsia. More impressive, still, is his techno-geek background. He’s been a CTO at large, public e-commerce companies and he’s worked at Apple, okay? I’m always eager to see someone else with a science pedigree getting involved in answering some of the age old questions that keep us (forgive me) “steeped” in tradition.

Neil told me he has a passion for coffee, and he’s studied the processes from the ground up. He’s determined to make a difference in refining the brewing process to see if it can be made simpler for the end user, yet retain what those of us who passionately want the best, can find truly special. At the end of the day we’re trying to get to the truly distinct, natural flavors of the coffee.

In order to experience these wonderful flavors, you need to start with fresh and vibrant beans.  A challenge for most coffee lovers is getting truly fresh coffee and using it quickly enough so that it’s still delicious.

There are an incredible number of variables that baristas manage in order to get to that “peak flavor”, and professionals ponder and spend countless hours learning to apply them to create great coffee.  Now I’m sure I and a whole bunch of other people have pondered these same questions. What makes Neil different is he’s been willing to put a lot of time, energy and capital into this obsession.

Neil Day’s mission, in a nutshell, is to find a way to simplify the steps to great coffee and maintain freshness long enough so that most coffee drinkers can be given the chance to  try amazing specialty coffee. Given that chance, they would absolutely love it. They would appreciate the taste jump, but also find it within their lifestyle to make coffee properly.

When Neil and I spoke on the phone for about two hours one day following the last CoffeeCon, I realized, after Neil shared his mission, that he was in some ways a modern-day consumer Peter Drucker, who studied time-motion human interaction among workers with the goal of improving quality and keeping jobs more interesting.

Neil: “Think about your early experience with wine.  Perhaps you started out drinking a big, fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon, only to discover there was an entire world of amazing wines to drink with a range of subtle, nuanced and interesting flavors beyond just tons of tannin.  Or maybe you’ve had a similar experience with craft beer?”

So he created Perfect Coffee. The concept is to consider the “next coffee frontier”, which is opening up the mass consumer’s palate to the world of flavor in coffee. Neil and his colleagues at Perfect Coffee suggest that specialty coffee has perhaps its biggest opportunity to reach a much larger audience of customers with these amazing tastes, overcoming coffee’s inaccessibility by getting the grind, and recipes exactly right, and keeping the pre-ground coffee fresh for months.

By accessibility he says he means two things.  First, it relates to how easy and convenient it is to make your cup of coffee, and second, how approachable and understandable the product is.

For ease, he cites companies like Keurig Green Mountain and Nespresso having proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that coffee drinkers value ease and convenience.  In fact, he argues that they’ve proven that for many, many folks out there, ease trumps quality.

Here’s Perfect Coffee’s promise. I italicized that last remark not because I don’t believe him, but because I want to emphasize what a huge promise it is.

Perfect Coffee’s mission as an industry is to offer specialty coffee that is every bit as easy to brew and enjoy as a “K-CUP.”   Certainly, someone with Day’s credentials realizes there are lots of steps in this process, and he clearly states he won’t sacrifice quality to achieve it.  He states, “As an ecosystem, I think we should aspire to the combination of ease and quality that a company like Apple does.    Let’s challenge ourselves to be constantly innovating to make the Specialty Coffee experience both at home and in the café, an Apple-like experience. Clean, simple, and incredibly high-quality.”

His second issue, I admit, eluded me when he first told me. He says the second issue relates to approachability.  Day says, “We need to find ways to avoid intimidating consumers with jargon and atmosphere.  People want to feel comfortable and welcome.  I’m not suggesting we walk away from the artisanal & craftsman nature of what we do.  But rather, I suggest that we find ways to make it less intimidating and more approachable for average folks.”

The truth is, I agree with, at least, his goals. As much as I enjoy fiddling with coffeemakers, even I don’t want to be a slave to process every time I want to drink coffee. I also know the heartbreak of handing someone some prized coffee beans, knowing they are almost certainly not going to be able to achieve that coffee’s potential in the cup. If Neil Day and Perfect Coffee can help make that happen, and do it in a way that doesn’t require that person to use jargon, I’m all for it.

Day says he thinks the truth is, most folks out there have no idea how much better their coffee drinking experience could be.  They’re happy and comfortable drinking one-note, usually stale coffee and loading it up with condiments to disguise it.

He’s hoping Perfect Coffee’s appearance at CoffeeCon will allow them to share the experience of truly great specialty coffee with someone like this. Actually, I think his real opportunity at CoffeeCon is to present the success of his product making truly specialty coffee that stands up to the rest of our exhibitors’ brews using the more complex methods. As I said, even rabid coffee enthusiasts need to have alternate simplified methods, both when time is pressing, and when trying to evangelize to their more casual friends. That’s when they get to see their friends’ eyes open as they begin to enjoy and appreciate the subtle tones of a really great cup of coffee.  And once they’ve gotten there, there’s simply no going back. Neil told me he has on file emails from Perfect Coffee subscribers anxiously asking when their next shipment is going out.

CoffeeCon also has a mission, a mission to present new and different approaches to brewing to see if they pass muster among our, admittedly, highly sophisticated consumer attendees,. Mr Day has done his homework, has good credentials, and, I believe, deserves to be taken seriously.

Please come try his coffee at CoffeeCon. They come from the top-tier roasters, including Blue Bottle Co, Equator Coffees & Teas, Four Barrel Coffee and Ruby Roasters — some of who also exhibit their fresh-ground products, so I think the tasting is a fair test. Mr. Day is certainly hoping you’ll agree with his logic and results, but I think he’s looking for honest feedback to see if we agree that he’s met his goals. He also has a presentation, and there, I can assure you, he is a compelling speaker, and you will learn much about coffee from his unique perspective.

We search for cutting edge technological breakthroughs at CoffeeCon. And, in Perfect Coffee, I think we may have something of great interest.