An avalanche of refined ideas continues to tumble down from the high-altitude Utah state capital Salt Lake City, where coffee tool and accessory-maker Saint Anthony Industries keeps the wheels of invention spinning like a leveler on the rim of a freshly dosed portafilter.
At the dawn of this year came their line of handmade vacuum-insulated glass wares, including a snifter, a serving vessel, and the Page Brewer, a dual-wall brewer/vessel combo that transfers the company’s hallmark 70-degree-angled brewing column from the unencumbered Phoenix to a flat-walled glass format. Last month there came their leveling device and dosing funnel tool called the Shot Collar.
Now the company has begun to offer its own line of paper filters, and founder Khristian Bombeck has also confirmed that the big item for next month will be the introduction of a service that levels the playing field in the reemerging packaged, pre-ground coffee subcategory.
Posted for sale on their website just a couple weeks ago in Phoenix/Page brewer format that will eventually be followed by a Hario-friendly version, the Saint Anthony paper filters are made of their own faster-flowing, low-retention formulation of paper, developed over the course of a six month collaboration with a Chinese paper manufacturing specialist.
“It wasn’t my idea. I always thought the idea of a preformed cone would be awesome, I just didn’t think it would be feasible, given the difficulty and required machinery to accomplish it,” Bombeck told Daily Coffee News, giving credit where credit is due. “The president of that company is this mechanical guru guy. When I told them I thought it was too challenging to accomplish, he set out to figure out how to accomplish it. They designed a machine and process to make these.”
He said that after pre-wetting the filter, retention is so low that it looks almost dry again as soon as the water has passed. This enables them to double-layer the papers so they have a loosely equivalent flow rate to conventional paper filters but enhanced filtration capabilities for a cleaner, brighter cup. Filters are assembled and packaged in a stack on a cone that preserves their shape, relieving users of the need to fold anything or to fumble with grabbing just one from a flat pile.
As for their entry into the pre-ground packaging sphere, there weren’t many particulars Bombeck could share as the patent application has yet to be submitted, let alone approved. However, he confirmed that starting next month, Saint Anthony Industries will quietly introduce a service to roasters whereby coffee shipped to them in bulk will be ground and packaged on proprietary equipment, under carefully controlled conditions, for a finished pre-ground coffee product that brews and tastes as good as new for at least three months post-production, according to Bombeck.
The hope is that in time Saint Anthony will be able to manufacture an equipment kit that roasters can purchase and install in their own production floors. In these early days, however, the process will remain a service provided by SAI using the original equipment in their Salt Lake facility.
“We believe that we have right now, relative to other things on the market, the ultimate way to prepackage single-serve coffee for brewing,” said Bombeck, explaining that the science behind the procedure was developed in partnership with engineer Casey Smith, who has a B.S. in physics from Harvard and an M.S. in media arts and sciences from the Media Lab at MIT.
Smith, who designed the original “brew crucible” on the Alpha Dominche Steampunk machine that Bombeck is credited with inventing, is also Chief Technology Officer and founder of a company called Resonon that specializes in spectral imaging systems for applications such as pharmaceutical QC, material analysis, food inspection and biotech research, among others. Said Bombeck, “He really got involved with driving some key ideas behind it.”
The grinding equipment in use for the process incorporates the burrs and motor of a Mahlkonig EK43. “But it’s no longer an EK43. It’s a machine of its own,” said Bombeck of their modified device, which has unique step adjustments, electronics and other elements.
Coming as it does on the heels of other high-profile, quality-forward pre-ground rollouts, specifically that of Blue Bottle’s new Perfectly Ground product, the SAI service is poised to propel the pre-ground resurgence into a significantly wider-spread phenomenon. While Blue Bottle’s technique is just as shrouded in proprietary mystery as SAI’s, it’s tough to say what the differences might be, although the biggest difference is SAI is offering the service to any and every roaster, thereby granting them the power to put out a product that’s at least on par if not superior to that of extremely well-funded specialty giant.
“Because I don’t know what [Blue Bottle’s] system is, I don’t know that we’re doing it differently. But I know that we’re doing it differently than any known system out there,” said Bombeck, adding that the food preservation technologies employed in other fields are a readily known and accepted matter.
“It’s not that we revolutionized a way to preserve freshness for perishable foods,” said Bombeck. “It’s the application that really differentiates us from anything else that we’ve seen.”
Three micro-roasters are confirmed for releasing SAI-processed preground products next month. One is local to SLC, one is more of a national brand in the U.S. and one is based overseas, although they’ve agreed to keep their identities and SAI-co-branded package designs under wraps to be revealed all at once upon release, a moment which Bombeck was even loath to describe as a “rollout.”
“It’s not like we’re going to have a radio station and balloons and stuff, you know, like, ‘Come on down!'” joked Bombeck. “We’ll want to take our time and get it right. But we’re ready to run with it.”
Each single-serving packet will contain a 24-gram dose, ground to one of three levels in the medium to coarse range elected by the roaster for a fee low enough to allow the roaster to sell the product at a retail price competitive with other existing products. “We think it’s really a premium product,” Bombeck said. “We’re positive that the customer will be pleasantly surprised with the freshness and consistency of the product out of the package.”
Meanwhile there’s yet another surprise lurking in the wings at Saint Anthony Industries — the mysterious El Camino 1, a new hybrid manual/mechanical brewing device that Bombeck hinted at in our conversations last month. Regarding the El Camino 1, Bombeck said that there was nothing material to speak of in terms of new light they were prepared to let us shine on the project.
“We’re still chugging along, just waiting to get parts back from one of our prototypers,” said Bombeck. “It’s still coming along.”