IF WE LEARNED anything from the waning K-Cup craze, it’s that people love the convenience of single-cup brewing. Pop in a pod, press a button, walk away, and voilà—a mug of coffee or tea ready in no time. Unfortunately, all those disposable plastic pods have created something of an environmental disaster, and the Keurig’s creator confessed that he regrets his invention.
An upstart called BKON is taking a different approach to single-serve specialty drinks. By applying algorithms to brewing hot beverages, Philadelphia-based BKON simulates the efficiency of a Keurig without the plastic-pod waste. And with its first product—the premium $13,250 Craft Brewer—the company is hoping to appeal to coffee aficionados who have fueled the rise of third-wave coffeehouses.
The Craft Brewer is a trophy-sized machine that looks like something between an espresso maker and the canister of a Dyson vacuum cleaner. You fill a pod with the desired ingredients (ground coffee, loose tea leaves, lemon slices, and so on) and select a pre-programmed recipe from the cloud-connected tablet affixed to the side. The machine then spits out the brewed coffee, tea, or flavored water in a matter of seconds.
Lou and Dean Vastardis, two brothers from Philly, launched BKON last year. They speak of their invention—and their mission to “innovate and transform the made-to-order beverage industry”—with Shark Tank-like earnestness. If they succeed, it will be because of the Reverse Atmospheric Infusion (RAIN) technology that they’ve created and patented, which uses a combination of vacuumed air pressure and algorithms to extract flavor from ingredients and infuse it into hot water. The promise of BKON lies in its versatility: The same machine can yield a Madagascar vanilla–tinged coffee and, moments later, a mint-and-lemon infused gin cocktail.
The BKON system comes with recipes programmed by the Vastardis brothers and their early commercial partners, including New York City cult shop Counter Culture Coffee, Whole Foods, and Panther Coffee. Each drink has a corresponding string of code that determines the precise amount and temperature of the water as well as the vacuum force needed to draw flavor from the chosen ingredients. As hot water floods the glass chamber, it sweeps up the coffee or what have you with it, and the air gets vacuumed out. When that happens, the cellular structure of the ingredients opens up and infuses the water with its compounds. This is essentially what happens when you brew coffee or tea by traditional methods, but with BKON, it happens in under a minute. The brothers say this process produces more layers of flavor than other techniques do, and they’re are currently working with a scientist at Tufts University to get the data to prove it.
Dean got the idea for BKON after watching a cooking show featuring the sous-vide method, whereby food is vacuum-sealed in a bag and then cooked in a water bath. Coming from a line of coffee importers and brewers, he thought to try to make coffee by sous-vide. “It over extracted, and it tasted like shit,” Lou says, “but it worked.” Plenty of prototypes and tests later, they had BKON.
BKON joins a spate of entrepreneurs applying high tech to brewing coffee. Blossom Coffee is a great example: also a cloud-connected machine, it was founded in 2012 by an MIT engineer whose similar goal is to digitize and automate brewing coffee, therefore eliminating human error from the process. BKON is different in that it originated in coffee but now aspires to cater to specialty beverage drinkers of all kinds. To wit, at the demo, I drank both strawberry-mint-jalapeño- infused water and a raspberry-infused Counter Culture coffee. Both came from the same machine within a few minutes and required no mixology or barista expertise, since they’d already been programmed into the brewer.
The BKON Craft Brewer can be found in a handful of commercial stores, including a Whole Foods in Chicago and an American Tea Room in Los Angeles, and Panther Coffee in Miami. But the Vastardis brothers say that they hope to introduce a less expensive model for home use soon, so you can display both your technological and coffee snobbishness at once.