When was the last time you Instagrammed a batch brewer? Oftentimes tucked away in a corner or resigned to the back counter, batch brewers are just a fact of life in cafe design. The brewers are needed but they’re not always that exciting to look at.
The basic concept of pouring hot water over coffee grounds is at the core of every batch brew maker—so how much more can you do with the equipment?
Apparently, you can do a lot more. According to the founders of Oakland-based Voga Coffee, manufacturer of the Ground Control Cyclops, batch brewers are due for an innovation shakeup starting from the ground up. CEO and co-founder Eli Salomon noticed a market opening six years ago. Brewers were unattractive, produced mediocre cups of coffee, and didn’t allow for much customization. Instead of iterating from what was already on the market, Voga decided to change up the brewing process entirely.
“We have the only brewer in existence that can fundamentally manipulate the flavor profiles of a coffee and get you different types of equally and balanced structured flavors,” says Salomon.
To perfect this machine, Salomon enlisted the help of co-founders CTO and chemist Dr. Josh Avins and Chief Coffee Officer and licensed Q-grader Jason Sarley. Since winning Best New Product (Commercial Equipment) at the 2018 SCA Expo and receiving coverage, Voga has placed over 50 machines in seven countries.
The Cyclops isn’t all about looks, though the vacuum chamber with its swirling coffee is mesmerizing to watch. To succeed in the equipment market nowadays, you need more than a pretty exterior. You need engineering, support, and perhaps most importantly, a good, distinctive product.
The brewer's first extraction brings out brightness and sweetness, the second brings out character, and the third time extracts body and bitterness. If you’ve ever broken down an espresso shot before, the concept might sound familiar. But there’s a twist. This brewer produces a layered product: fresh water is added for every cycle, vacuumed up, and dispensed into the carafe on top of any previous cycle’s layers.
The final cup is unusually clean because the water never gets to the point in the extraction curve where undesirable flavors are pulled out of the coffee. “When we add fresh water, it’s completely unsaturated water,” says Salomon. “So what that does from a chemistry perspective is it resets the extraction curves back to the very beginning.”
While the Cyclops allows you to program one to six cycles, Salomon says two to three cycles is more typical, producing an overall brew time of five to eight minutes. This all sounds complicated, but the brewer was built with simplicity in mind. The Cyclops comes with five pre-set recipes with options to add your own. Oftentimes, the profile adjustments needed are only a few seconds per cycle. With a modular sub-assembly design, Salomon boasts that “anything can be removed and replaced within an hour.” And if you’re unconvinced, the Cyclops is in several tech offices and Avins says he’s “taught very random people with very random skillsets over the phone” how to replace parts.
There are broader applications for the brewer beyond specialty cafes and private offices. Low-temperature brewing at 100ºF produces a similar profile to cold brew within eight minutes. Customer Dandelion Chocolate created cacao nib coffee with the Cyclops. And another customer uses the machine to brew a concentrate for a single-origin coffee ice cream.
At the moment, Voga is still a small but nimble operation. The machines are hand-assembled in an Oakland warehouse and then shipped globally. There’s a three- to four-week turnaround on orders and on top of a network of techs, customers have a direct line to the co-founders.
Voga and the Ground Control Cyclops hope to change the industry’s perspective on batch from being a utilitarian necessity to being an important, even vibrant, part of the cafe business. Salomon says, “We’re trying to create a business tool that fundamentally changes our customer’s businesses and allows them to dramatically enhance the experience of their customers.”
“If you care enough about your batch to do an excellent job, then you care about your customer,” he added. “You care about your quality.” It’s time to put your batch brewer front and center.
Some photos courtesy of Voga.