It's been whispered about in discerning coffee circles for the last several months, and today we're excited to finally publish the first public photos of Ratio, the new coffee brewer from Mark Hellweg of Clive Coffee. Sprudge.com was invited to photograph a prototype of the Ratio Eight, an eight-cup brewer with a cantilevered top and base made of aluminum with a nickel-plated finish, buttressed by sleek Oregon black walnut. The Ratio's water tank is made of borosilicate glass, as are its supply lines and custom carafe. The brewer is entirely hand-assembled in Portland, Oregon.
Ratio sports a simple one-button design, with automatically programmed temperature, time, and water dispensing variables. It can make up to 40oz of brewed coffee, or as little as 16, with settings auto-adjusted based on the amount of water in Ratio's tank. The brewer uses a magnet to detect if its custom carafe is in place; this carafe can fit Chemex paper or Able Kone metal filters, and will come with an attractive, distinctive cork base. The carafe is still being manufactured, so we used a standard Chemex for scale in these pictures.
The Ratio is 14 inches tall, 13 1/2 inches wide and 9 inches deep. The brewer will be available at both 110 and 220 voltage settings, making it readily available for batch brew fans in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe, and elsewhere around the world. Ratio's shower head is based on the Fibonacci logorithmic scale or “Golden Ratio”, and future mods are in development to open Ratio up to a wider variety of brewing vessels.
For much more on Ratio's development, design impetus, ideal end user, and inspiration, we sat down with Mark Hellweg at the Ratio offices in Portland, Oregon.
Where does the idea behind Ratio come from? How was the concept born?
I've always been interested in design – I inherited from my grandfather a kind of early awareness of design and quality. Ratio came out of my experience at Clive Coffee, where we retail coffee makers and espresso machines. Hearing a lot of feedback from my customers for what they wanted from coffee makers led to a cumulative process for realizing, you know, there really is a need in the market for a coffee maker of superb quality. Initially I never would have thought you could do something like that and make it in the USA – I just assumed, like a lot of people do, that manufacturing had moved over to China.
It's taken a full 3 years to come full circle on research, clarifying the idea, interviewing the customers, and really just clarifying what we're trying to build. And then last summer I found James Owen, our industrial designer, and Jim Thorne, the project's mechanical engineer, and we just basically kicked off the project. We worked together as a team of three – worked together closely, every other day for a while – what was really powerful about it is that there was just the three of us. We were like this little power team – we came up with the idea pretty quickly. A lot of companies would run a project like this through departments – marketing, finance, legal – but having such a small team we were able to quickly move from drawings on a napkin to a prototype.
What are some of the highlights of Ratio's design?
We weren't trying to come up with a contraption. We're trying to make a coffee maker – and a lot of very smart people have been making coffee makers for a long time. We weren't trying to build something conceptually brand new from the ground up or reinvent the way coffee is brewed. This was simply us trying to make our own dream coffee maker.
It reflects my affinity for the juxtaposition of high end precision design – like a MacBook – and natural materials, like wood and glass. I'm really into balance. It's not crafty mason jars with a wood lid and a felt cozy on it – it's not Etsy – but it's also not overly techy and wonky. It's a juxtaposition.
We went through a lot of ideas for design, and we came up with this cantilevered design – a die-cast base of aluminum, supporting a glass carafe frame, and then a distinctive slope of the support arm that's clad in walnut wood. It's made of just three materials – a very simple design. We kept stripping off extraneous stuff. It has one button. A simple design language that was not simplistic, but well-defined. We wanted it to be iconic. We want people to see the machine in a silhouette and say, “oh, that's Ratio”.
Talk more about the “one button” choice.
People appreciate coffee brewers with just one button. It's simple. We wanted to add precision to the brewing without adding complexity for the user. Make it brew great coffee for most people. So it doesn't use a pump, or a PID, or a temp control device…we said, let's make this a one touch button, that brews coffee at the right temperature and time, and then add a few essential features. So there's a bloom cycle – pre-infusion and pre-wetting – and we made the water dispersal better, with a very wide shower head that saturates the grounds. And then, perhaps most importantly, without programming it you can brew less than a full carafe. The brewing time will be optimized for the volume of water that you add.
Now, to close that circle, we need to tell people how much coffee to add – we didn't build a scale into the filter basket – so we need to be able to tell the user how to use it. There's plans in the future for an app. We're definitely very interested in making it as simple and elegant to use as possible, while still retaining best brewing practices.
Tell us what you mean by “the right temperature and time.”
We base that off of the Specialty Coffee Association of America standards, which call for coffee brewing between 195-205 degrees. We're closer to 198-202, based on our tests. It doesn't brew longer than 6 minutes, including the bloom cycle. We're not asking the user to change temp or soak cycle based on what kind of coffee – we're saying, there's something beautiful about the simplicity of batch brewing, and we're adding precision for the home market. Simplicity of design and brewing process, without asking our users to dial in.
So who are these users? Who is Ratio for?
People who are desirous of beauty in shape and form, but also love great coffee, and demand high quality products. The Ratio consumer is interested in at least one of these concepts to some degree.
But also, it's not too fussy. This is a batch brewer. Our customer wants to make up to 40oz of coffee at a time, and not sacrifice the quality of the coffee. They care about quality and they care about design. They're not looking for the cheapest, or the most doodads you can add on an appliance – so what that probably means is that there are a lot of people who like coffee, who also like quality, and also like beauty, and they might not be interested in a batch coffee maker.
Maybe you already have a beautiful Japanese pouring kettle and a nice set-up for your kitchen. This might not be for you. This is for people who want to pour coffee in, push a button, and watch the process happen. This is not a hacker's coffee maker.
Ratio is offering a pre-sale now before the machine is released. What does this mean?
People that pre-order now are going to be like our VIPs – they'll get event invites, updates, first access to new Ratio stuff, and more. If you're willing to pre-order now, you'll be on the hook up list forever. Pre-orders are at $395 – our first 500 units are laser-marked with the unit number. On December 31st the price goes up to $480.
Shout out some of your design inspirations, and then tell us, what happens next?
For design stuff, we love Eames, van der Rohe…we looked at a lot of mid-century furniture. Old gull-wing Mercedes cars, motorcycles, all kinds of things.
This isn't just a one-off product; we're building a company that develops machines. We call them machines instead of “makers” because when I think of machines, I think of something that's really highly engineered and does a highly refined process in a particular way. We're interested in more products that are coffee machines. And we're definitely looking at doing more commercially oriented machines as well – not big commercial versions, but perhaps a 2 carafe version. The Ratio Eight won't be certified for use in cafes.
But you have to know that people are going to want to use them in a cafe setting!
Yeah, I'm cool with that. I'm into it.