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How Counter Culture and BKON Are Brewing Up an ‘Innovation Leap’

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BKON Founder Dean Vastardis at the Counter Culture New York training lab

BKON, maker of the negative-pressure brewer that blew up (metaphorically) at the SCAA Event this past Spring, has developed a strategic partnership with Durham, N.C.-based Counter Culture Coffee.

The relationship between the companies extends back to at least 2012, when BKON founder Dean Vastardis showed off the technology — which was first applied to tea — to some CCC high-ups with a handmade prototype. Following the SCAA success, CCC installed a BKON at its New York training center, and now the companies are officially exploring “a program with coffee beverages” that will extend to other CCC centers and may filter down to the coffee company’s wholesale customer base.

“Similar to what the BKON Craft Brewer demonstrated with tea at the 2014 SCAA Event, our collaboration has allowed us to realize a similar innovation leap for coffee,” Counter Culture’s Brian Ludviksen says of the partnership, which resembles one BKON already has in place with tea-maker Rishi. “We are eager to further the thought-leadership around RAIN and enhance coffee experiences for consumers based on our sourcing and roasting efforts.”

The RAIN Ludviksen mentions is the acronym for a proprietary name (Reverse Atmospheric Infusion) BKON gives to its vacuum-based technology, in which multiple stages of negative pressure in the brew chamber can be employed to remove air trapped in an organic matter’s cell structure — in this case, in ground coffee — providing expanded opportunities in infusion and extraction.


The RAIN process in action

We reached out to BKON’s Vastardis to ask about the CCC relationship and how BKON might further fit into the specialty coffee world.

How did you first engage with CCC?

The 2012 Coffee Fest East was held at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. We set up the first prototype of the brewer in a hotel directly next to the Expo Center in the hopes to having some private demonstration, and CCC was on the top of that list. Aaron Ultimo of Ultimo Coffee was able to round up Peter Giuliano, Brian Ludviksen, Rich Futrell and a few others from CCC. They were intrigued with the process, even though the brewer was made in my basement and incorporated a Hurst shifter handle from my ‘67 Ford Bronco.

After we started commercializing the BKON platform with the Franke Group in 2013 and demonstrated the full potential of our RAIN process with loose-leaf tea, BKON and CCC decided it was time to start re-exploring RAIN’s coffee extraction capabilities.

How exclusive is this relationship?

Our menu development around coffee is only with Counter Culture at this time; however, the relationship is not exclusive. The BKON Craft Brewer is designed as open platform. Counter Culture and BKON both believe in rising tides lifting all ships.

Vastardis showing off an early version of the BKON to CCC reps in early 2012.

Vastardis showing off an early version of the BKON to CCC reps in early 2012.

Have you been surprised by the attention that the BKON has received since the SCAA show in April?

Good question. Yes and No.

What were your expectations heading into that show?

Coffee brewing has been part of our DNA since the first prototype. However, we made a decision to focus our presentation at the SCAA event only on our tea brewing capabilities to help differentiate us. Personally, I was concerned how the coffee community was going to react. Our hope was that the diverse range of teas and the use of unique reduced pressure brewing parameters for each tea would help people understand the unique extraction capabilities of our RAIN process.

Was the BKON brewer developed as a response to existing problems or limitations with existing brewing technology? Or do you see it more as representing additional opportunity for flavor development?

It seems that all brewing technology today aims to solve the problem of delivering a beverage with optimum consistency and efficiency. Our ability to create a consistent beverage is supported from multiple levels. Advanced algorithms control the vacuum pressures, fluid dynamics, and water temperatures. Roasters are able to dial-in extraction parameters keyed to their sourcing and roasting efforts, as well as the TDS at the customer’s location. From an efficiency standpoint, recipe creation and management for the BKON Craft Brewer is cloud-based, it does not require up dosing, and the extraction process is so proficient that cups are brewed in under two minutes. However, we view these features simply as the price of entry, not our reason to exist.

What separates us is the ability to enhance precise flavor experiences in the cup. We believe precision is not accomplished as a singular event, especially in the culinary world. Rather, it requires a series of interdependent events. Controlling these events is central to any made-to-order beverage successfully achieving scale and relevance.

Can you say how much of your business is now coming from the coffee segment?

Coffee has been, and will be, an important driver. However, it is hard to say how much business is from coffee alone. Over half of the hundreds of inquiries we’ve received — and practically every chef, mixologist, and barista we have spoken with — have expressed interest in the entire menu opportunity: coffees, teas, cocktails, et cetera.

So what does the development work with CCC actually look like?

We are testing coffees and recipes across multiple locations at the same time each week. This is being done at CCC’s New York, Philly and Durham training centers, in addition to BKON labs in Tennessee and New Jersey. The work is focused on measuring and cross-analyzing brewing parameters, taste attributes and extraction. In addition to unlocking new flavor experiences with RAIN, we are aiming to use the control that reduced pressure has on extraction to enhance the brew quality and cup consistency across multiple locations with different grinders and water. Being able to calibrate recipes at one’s HQ and have customers replicate the same flavor experience remotely is the Holy Grail. It is a daunting task, but we believe our unique relationship and history will allow us to find the sweet spot.


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