Most people enjoy at least an occasional break from the many screens, big and small, that dominate modern life. For the workers of the Austin, Texas-based digital design firm Argodesign, those precious breaks from augmented reality or artificial intelligence often involve getting their hands on something physical, inspiring cognitive and creative refreshment.
This may take the form of an activity or puzzle, or even something as ambitious as assembling an entire drivable Shelby Cobra classic car from a kit inside their Austin office.
It was Argodesign industrial designer Hayes Urban whose awkward mishmash of home brewing components drove him to seek a more cohesive coffee solution. He turned to his coworkers with the idea for it to be one of these sideline projects. What resulted was the Stäk coffee brewer, a manual device engineered to brew well, and designed to provide an intimate and contemplative brewing experience.
“Our studio is really comprised of makers,” Argodesign Director of Program Management Marion Cimbala recently told Daily Coffee News. “The ethos is that we’re builders. We’re constantly creating art, or creating different things. We’re constantly thinking by making.”
The unassuming three-piece stackable Stäk system is composed of a funnel, carafe and lid, all formed from an earthy stoneware to balance a handcrafted aesthetic and streamlined modernity, while also concealing a bit of technology.
The walls are insulated to keep coffee hot and hands comfortable, and a check valve in the brewer’s base is composed of a silicone seal and spring-loaded bearing. Similar in function to the Clever Coffee Dripper, the brewer retains liquid for an immersion brewing method while positioned on a flat surface, then releases the brew when placed upon the lid of the carafe as a pinnacle-shaped rivet presses into the bearing to open the valve.
Inside the brewer, a ribbed cone accepts the user’s choice of conical paper or metal filter. The intimacy and craft of brewing and sharing coffee are promoted by the carafe’s handle-free design that encourages users to lift it with two hands in the manner of a Hohin traditional Japanese teapot.
A Hohin is reserved for steeping small amounts of the highest quality Japanese tea, although the textured bottom of the carafe where there is no glaze provides an edge grippy enough for one-handed pouring as well.
“We took some inspiration from the Japanese; their history with ceramics is incredible,” said Cimbala. “But also the Italian, and the Scandinavian. We recently opened an office in Amsterdam, and were looking to those areas for inspiration for the work that we do. We wanted to honor the ritual of it, we wanted to nod to that, but we also wanted to bring it into something that’s accessible for modern coffee, the current appreciation for flavor and the roast, bringing it all together in a way that’s a delightful moment to share.”
Urban took the deceptively simple design to Portland, Oregon-based Mudshark Studios for realization and reproduction in solid ceramic form. Argodesign and Mudshark collaborated on the details of each component over the course of about a year, during which the Mudshark ceramics team had to employ some experimental techniques, according to Mudshark Co-Owner Brett Binford.
To cast each piece, liquid ceramic clay is poured into a plaster mold and left to set for the amount of time for a certain thickness of material to dry out enough to remain when the rest of the liquid is poured away. The cylindrical protrusion at the bottom of the Stäk brewing cone that houses the check valve presented a unique challenge that the studio solved by casting the cone upside-down and creating another plaster piece that balanced across the top of the main mold to create that shape inside the liquid.
“I’ve never seen anybody else do it, and I research that stuff to stay current on it,” Binford told DCN. “I’m always looking for the most innovative ways to work with the material. I had never seen it, and it took a lot of racking our brains.”
Pre-orders for the Stäk Brewer, priced at $200, opened online in June. Retail partnerships with select Texas regional independent retailers has been lined up, and wider retail distribution is also in development.
“Our first focus is towards our clients,” said Cimbala. “But our passion exposes itself here. So it’s a tough thing, how we want to split our time. Certainly as Stäk grows, we’ll more and more get to feed it and nurture it and put more effort towards it.”