Dueling Brewers

TWEET: Two sophisticated, quick-brewing, semi-automatic tea makers face off.


Calculating the number of tea lattes sold daily is a daunting task.

Millions upon millions and growing fast is my guess, based on conversations with Starbucks baristas and the management at Argo Tea.

Tea lattes (or more elegantly,  tea cambrics*) are one of the top ten sellers in the category with chai the most requested. Virtually every offering is created from concentrate despite the fact Baristas and tea drinkers alike prefer the flavor of fresh-brewed. Until now there was no quick way to brew a double-concentrated loose-leaf that would stand up to steamed milk.

Picture Mr. and Mrs. Customer in the most popular coffee shop’s drive-thru line at 7:35 a.m. He orders a caramel double espresso latte and she orders a latte made with tea. Chaos ensues.  A barista can brew the double and have it at the window in well under two minutes. The tea latte could easily take six minutes or more leading to incessant honking and late-to-work warnings for occupants of the 18 vehicles in line.

The Need for Speed

The Bkon® TX negative atmospheric brewer
The Bkon® TX negative atmospheric brewer

Two new highly sophisticated, semi-automated brewers introduced last week at World Tea Expo are built for speed. The Bkon® TX brewer and Steampunk brewer each debuted to a fascinated crowd of serious tea entrepreneurs, some with retail aspirations to be the first in town to introduce tea latte at drive-thru.  Selling for $9,000 and $15,000 respectively, these are not your typical tea pots.

The Bkon® TX brews tea in a negative-atmospheric (vacuum) chamber at variable temperatures between 160-210f, a process patented by Dean Vastardis. He and his brother Lou are co-founders, co-CEOs. Dean is the engineering and product lead and Lou is responsible for business development and marketing. Together they worked a deal with respected Swiss coffee equipment manufacturer FRANKE, a $2.5 billion company founded in 1911 with 10,500 employees in 70 countries. The firm provides exclusive manufacturing, distribution for the out-of-home market and global support.

Dean loves to tinker with equipment and by investigating how chefs speed-marinate proteins he came up with a way to convert an airtight food storage container with a tire valve and vacuum pump into a fast-brewing tea maker. Three years later his Reverse Atmospheric Infusion™ process gently coaxes the soluble elements, aromatics and natural sugars from tea. The technology applies to brewing coffee, infusing flavored spirits, it can be installed in vending machines, and used to make ready-to-drink beverages, said Lou Vastardis. “The reason we are here is to demonstrate a disruptive technology for the tea industry that allows every loose-leaf varietal to be delivered to consumers in a fast, consistent, and premium manner,” he said.

Vastardis describes the initial market for the equipment as foodservice. The infusion process is ideal for traditional teas and tisanes, herbals and fruit infusions. Operators can adjust temperature, time and the frequency and depth of vacuum, he explains. The Bkon® TX automatically pre-rinses and flushes the brew chamber to prevent cross-contamination. Dean brewed 16- to 20-ounce cups of tea in less than 90 seconds on the show floor and can brew 8- to 10-ounces in less than 60 seconds, yielding 90 to 110 cups per hour.

“The Bkon® TX allows an independent (or chain) to import, customize, and program over 90 tea recipes,” said Lou Vastardis. Independents would love to add a ‘specialty’ tea program if it allowed them to match the super-premium standards of their coffee program, he observes. “As you know, executing a tea beverage properly is much more complex than coffee,” he said.  The Bkon TX provides independents a turn-key ability to introduce a specialty tea program that is equal or above the standard of their specialty coffee program, he said.

Due to the control of the atmospheric brewing perimeters by our software’s algorithms, independents can deliver any super premium tea with unmatched simplicity and consistency (across multiple locations), he explained. “It does not make a difference who is operating the equipment,” he said.

Attendees by the hundreds stopped to taste the results with Dean manning the machine and the FRANKE team fielding service and support questions. The consensus was favorable across a range of challenging teas and the price is comparable to an espresso machine, said Lou Vastardis. “Conservative ROI calculations project that an average independent shop should be able to recoup its investment in about six months,” he added.  The Bkon® was named “Best New Product” at World Tea Expo.

Steampunk brewing chambers.

Siphon Strategy

Sam DuRegger is director of business development for Alpha Dominche, a coffee equipment maker in Salt Lake City, Utah. The name may sound foreign, but this two- and four-chamber siphon coffee and tea maker is American through and through. DuRegger said the company focus is creating technology to make world-class coffee and tea accessible to all.

The equipment was invented by Khristian Bombeck a coffee shop owner who founded the company. He built the first Steampunk in his garage, taking four years to perfect the design. The latest version, 4.0, is three feet wide by two feet deep and three feet high. It features orderly pipes and tubes and valves attached to an industrial boiler commanded by computers programmed to precisely and consistently make hot drinks from a wide range of coffee and tea recipes. Baristas can adjust agitation, water pressure and install three grades of metal filters to make up to 80 cups of coffee or tea per hour. The two-crucible model sells for $9,000 and the four-crucible model costs $15,000.

The Steampunk 4.0, four-crucible model.

In April Christa and Jeff Duggan installed the newest model at their Seventh Tea Bar in Costa Mesa, Calif.

It is the kind of shop that sells Feng Huang Gui  Fei oolong, Bai Mu Dan for $3 and Bai Hao Yin Zhen for $4 a cup along with Ti Kuan Yin and Tung Ting. Gongfu service is available but siphon brewing is a hundred times faster.

The Steampunk has a coffee heritage and was named the “Best New Product” at the Specialty Coffee of Association of America show in 2012. This is the national debut, said DuRegger.

One big advantage is the ability to make quality coffee and tea simultaneously. Seventh Tea Bar resists that efficiency as the coffee aroma would kill the pleasure of scented teas but baristas serving tea latte don’t rely on gaiwans.  There is a demand for treating light-roast Caribbean coffee with care and with expensive coffee, consistency is very important.  DuRegger correctly identifies the variables that must be mastered in making pour-over. It only looks easy, we agree. The machine cannot make espresso. The Steampunk is calibrated to produce everything else from French Press style to pour over-style. It appears ideal for installation in coffee shops like Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Peet’s Coffee & Tea or a Starbucks where large quantities of latte are served on the go.

“We believe that by transforming quality brewing into a streamlined, interactive process, we can bring quality coffee and tea to a larger audience than previously imaginable,” said DuRegger.

“We believe that the balanced marriage of function and aesthetics is the key to our designs,” he said, explaining that the name translates as “first of its kind.”

Dan Bolton | ©Mystic Media 2013

*Cambric — Buchanan’s Coffee Pub On the Hill in Boulder, Colo., advertises a $3.25 Cambric (Tea Latte) as does the Coffeebar in Truckee, Calif., where they sell a Medio Vanilla Earl Cambric for $3.50. At Terra at the Isabel Rose in a Montclair, N.J., a small Cambric Tea, described as a black tea, heavy on the organic soy/grass-fed milk and fair trade organic sugar, sells for $2.50. At Infusion Coffee & Tea in Philadelphia the Tea Cambric is described as loose-leaf tea, infused with steamed milk and honey. It is listed alongside the Mate Latte and Chai. At Russian-inspired Dazbog Coffee locations in Colorado, Texas and Wyoming the Hot Tea Cambric contains an estimated 140 calories per 16 ounces with 12 grams of carbs and 5 grams saturated fat.

Linkedin: Fast brewing siphon or negative atmospheric tea maker, which would you choose for your high-traffic shop?

Poll: Bkon® TX Reverse Atmospheric Infusion Brewer or Steampunk Semi-automatic Siphon Brewer for making tea lattes in less than two minutes.

Editor | Publisher | Podcaster | Consultant | Journalist Dan is the founder of Tea Journey Magazine, the Tea Biz Podcast and Blog, and a contributing editor at STiR coffee and tea. He is the former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine, former editor and publisher of World Tea News, and former editor-in-chief at Specialty Coffee Retailer, then headquartered in San Francisco. Dan has traveled the tea lands, speaking on retail beverage trends in Canada and the United States and at conferences in Europe, China, India, Australia, the Middle East, South America, and Africa.

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