If you had to design a coffee cup from the ground up, where would you start?
Having exhausted every available article, video, and piece of literature about the heritage and science behind wine glasses and whiskey snifters, we resorted to meeting with wine sommeliers and experts from Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Toronto, to get help wrap our heads around the science of flavor enhancing glassware. However, understanding why particular a wine glass is perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t exactly transferrable to coffee, since the flavor profiles between wine and coffee are so different. If only we could talk to a coffee expert with experience in glassware design.
Getting the Thumbs Up From a Leading Coffee Scientist
They say when you ask the universe for what you desire, the universe will grant your wish. As fate would have it, our friend invited us to Bangkok to meet with one of the world’s foremost experts in coffee research. We packed our bags and flew out to FABB Academy of Coffee, the very first coffee academy in Thailand where they’re certified by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) to deliver world class education to coffee experts from around the globe. In between his lectures we had a rare opportunity to meet with renowned coffee scientist and inventor Dr. Steffen Schwarz from Coffee Consulate, largely considered to be the MIT of the coffee industry. Dr. Schwarz has spent the last 20+ years conducting cutting edge research in every aspect of coffee production–from cultivation and roasting, to brew methods and product design. A sought after consultant for the world’s biggest coffee brands, he’s like the Elon Musk of the coffee world. When we shared our vision and idea for our flavor enhancing coffee cups, he acknowledged our efforts and was excited to share valuable insights into unlocking the mysteries behind designing the perfect coffee cup.
His best answer for us? To really understand what makes coffee taste great and what the true function of a cup serves when someone drinks coffee. He mentioned that most cups these days just serve two purposes:
(1) to keep coffee warm, and
(2) to allow you to lift the coffee to your mouth without spilling everywhere.
Pretty simple right? Coffee has so much more to offer yet there’s been very little consideration with regard to how a coffee cup is designed. With countless cups already in existence, he wanted us to ignore the noise out there and focus on creating a novel solution that truly tackles the problem.
When Science Meets Design
And so we began our trip down the rabbit hole. To design our cup, we dusted off old science and biology textbooks, exploring obscure topics like fluid dynamics, molecular diffusion, Sensory Effects of Temperature, and the ‘Brachistochrone Principle’ (bonus points if you’ve heard of that one). To understand the flavor composition of coffee we interviewed coffee experts from around the world, including Dr. Kenny Lee and Raven Kwok, founders of Earthlings Coffee Workshop, Master Coffeologists and certified SCA trainers.
Engineering the Perfect Coffee Cup
With this new foundation for our product vision, that’s when the real fun began: product sketching and industrial design. In my engineering days, one of my favorite courses was mechanical sketching 101, where we learned how to freehand sketch simple and complex designs by hand. There’s nothing more exciting than exploring shapes and forms using unconventional approaches to create something novel and innovative.
The designs below are our first early sketches of what we dreamed up. And although they’ll look very different than the finished product, it’s great to see the progress we’ve made. It’s a rare glimpse at how far an idea can evolve before it becomes a refined product.
Just like coffee, it takes experimentation to brew up the perfect cup.