Mark Hellweg takes a hard line on design. He opened Clive Coffee in Portland five years ago, focusing the business on high-end equipment sales to serious home brewers. His association to the products Clive sells is personal: “If I don’t like it, we don’t sell it at Clive, to be blunt,” he says.
Last month, we spoke to Hellweg about his most personal project to date an automated drip coffee maker that reflects aesthetic beauty as much as it does quality coffee and precision: The Ratio. (To be clear, we have not yet tested the brewer, but it is undeniably easy on the eyes.) Hellweg, the product’s lead designer, says the Ratio is a response to the often flimsy plastic construction and overly designed products in the heavily populated home coffee maker market, reflecting an iconic shape and using high-quality natural materials.
Featuring a simple one-button programming, the Ratio can brew any amount from 16 to 40 ounces into a glass carafe that accepts Chemex paper filters or the Able Kone stainless steel filter. Hellweg says the advanced heating element maintains water temperature at exactly ~200°, while a “showerhead” drip system uniformly saturates the grounds and includes a bloom cycle.
We first caught wind of the Ratio in April, but Hellweg and his Ratio team just debuted a shiny new website and are now accepting pre-orders. Here’s our chat with Hellweg:
You previously designed the Clive Stand. Were there lessons from that project that you applied to the Ratio?
I learned a lot about how to bring a concept to reality, how to direct the creatives and people making the product, and to know when to say no. That’s a big part of it, really. You have to know when to say “we’re not quite there yet guys.”
Who is the Ratio designed for?
The high end home brewer is definitely our target market. When I put the development team together, we were united around a simple venn diagram with three interlocking circles — Beauty, Quality, and Coffee — with Ratio in the middle section. These three attributes should be in tension with each other. We’ve gotten quite a bit of interest from retailers, including international markets. We’ll be introducing a wholesale program next year with a carefully selected group of retailers that reflect the quality and design focus of Ratio. We’d prefer to work with just a few quality retailers than to have mass distribution.
What is the ideal grind?
Same as Technivorm and Bonavita — we recommend similar to cornmeal but definitely adjust to taste.
Is the Ratio a response to the popularity of pour-overs in retail applications?
It was more a response to the home brewer that was looking for a better coffee maker – but it was certainly inspired by the growth of quality pour over. My opinion is that optimized batch brewing tastes way better than a badly done pour over (most home brewers tend to rush the drawdown), and quite a few people love pour over but don’t always have the time to do it right, or they need to make more coffee than 16 oz or so.
What was your approach to the materials palette?
I wanted to balance the high tech precision of die cast aluminum with the organic materials of glass and wood. I like that juxtaposition, which to me is timeless if done right. So many appliances today look over designed to me, with lots of doodad features and typically the materials are chosen for ease of manufacturing and low cost, not for their inherent beauty and longevity.
Can you explain the focus on design simplicity?
We had to say no to a lot of ideas that had some intrinsic merit, but that might have taken away from our goal for simplicity and longevity. It might have increased our potential audience to add these features, but our point of view definitely comes through in the Ratio Eight. It’s not designed to be a coffee machine for everyone.
What’s in store for the initial production push?
Our first 500 units will include unique laser marking of the position in the lineup (i.e. 001/500 to 500/500). We are building these by hand in Portland with a daily production quota. We are using lean manufacturing techniques that allow us to match our production to sales levels. We are not rushing to fill a big ocean container all at once, for example. The quality control of our production is extraordinarily high, with virtually every part tested before installation. We’ll have videos of our production line released next year.
Pre-orders for the Ratio are currently available for $395 here, and Hellweg says that price is increasing to $480 at the end of this month. Initial orders will be shipping in April and May 2014. (Editor’s note: Clive Coffee has provided the following update to the Ratio’s production and shipping schedule: “We began manufacturing production in summer 2014 and will soon be shipping preorders based on order date. Our first batch of 500 machines has sold out. You are placing a preorder to reserve a unit from our second batch of 500 units, which we estimate will be shipping in September 2014.”)