Currently in production, the MyPressi TWIST has been generating enough buzz to get a trucker from Nashville to Reno (and back). Forget press and blog attention. The $129 portable espresso maker won the best new product award from the Specialty Coffee Association of America (it's sorta like the Oscars for coffee).
The product won't be available until this fall, but there are three prototypes in existence. We recently got to see one up close and personal, taste the fruits of its pressure-driven loins, and chat with the husband and wife team behind one of the most exciting things to happen to coffee since Baileys.
More after the jump..."Silicon Valley is going to start exporting its espresso makers to Italy."
Mypressi CEO Stephen O'Brien is confident. It's easy to understand why, as he demonstrates his creation in a San Francisco cafe. The TWIST is smart, simple, handsome, user-friendly, easy-to-clean, lightweight and will create a solid cup of espresso wherever you roam. Outside, it's elegant black and metal aesthetic resembles a fancy, modern juicer (courtesy of elemental8). Inside, the TWIST resembles a German watch: a series of beautiful metal cogs and levers that look vaguely steampunkish*.
The genesis of the device started on O'Brien's honeymoon in Bora Bora, where he and his bride say they simply could not get a decent espresso, despite staying at a 5-star resort (cue the violins, but I digress...). The TWIST, therefore, became their love child.
A software developer, O'Brien hadn't ever developed any commercial hardware, but he considered what it takes to power an espresso maker: pressure. Large industrial machines use water pumps to create the 135psi of force necessary to help extract the essential oils from the beans. But if you don't need to service hundreds of cups a day, you could probably build a smaller rig, right?
An interesting idea popped into his head: what about using a little air cartridge like the ones used to power paintball guns? After all, they're relatively cheap, made from steel, and recyclable. Best of all, they pump out 600 psi. Way more than is needed for coffee.
All he had to do was raise the capital, build the thing, and figure out how to regulate that 600 down to 135 -- without having the canister blow up in your face. Indeed, it took a lot of work, sweat, and I assume coffee to get from vague concept to conception. Each finished prototype cost $20,000 to create, which is nothing compared to the money that goes with three years of hardware R&D to develop, then troubleshoot bugs with various iterations. The engineering hurdles were vast, well, small.
A typical regulator might be two inches in diameter. Much too large for the TWIST. The task of shrinking the apparatus down without losing efficiency and safety went to Gecko, a firm that collaborated on the Herman Miller Leaf Lamp and has built pneumatic devices on cruise control missiles for defense industry contractors (really).
Their creation: a regulator that's about the size of half a grown man's pinky nail. Once the pod develops its own pressure, the regulator in the handle shuts off the pressure. And there's also a secondary safety valve, in case you put in too much coffee. In time, too, their small, main regulator could be applied or licensed out to other hardware.
For now, O'Brien is focused on the TWIST. And as we continue to chat, all I'm focused on is the taste. He takes a preloaded cup, gets some hot water from the cafe, puts in 3.5 oz., pulls the trigger to release the gas (it's cold, but expands rapidly from the hot water), and begins the pour...
At 00:16 you can see the creamy consistency with the "Guiness effect" (that's good). At around 00:30, you can start to kinda see the "tiger striping" (the contrast between the lighter/darker crema within the espresso**). At 00:35, you can hear the satisfying release of pressure as we finish. At 00:42, you can see the finished product.
It tasted excellent.
*I was not allowed to photograph the inside, but take my word for it.
**I admit my video is not the best for seeing this phenomenon. In person, the tiger striping was evenly-distributed (that's ideal).