By Michael Franco
There have been many Big Ideas conceived over a cup of coffee. Think about the cafes of Paris in the ’20s, the kavarnas of Prague in the ’80s and the coffee houses of Seattle in the ’90s. Jake Miller is a Big Idea guy who’s been inspired by the “devil’s drink” (as coffee was once known)—only, instead of developing a new political treatise, play or poem, he’s come up with something that will truly improve the lives of his fellow man: a way to brew a better cuppa in your own kitchen.
After graduating from Stanford University, Miller eventually landed a post as brand manager for Caribou Coffee, handling promotion, pricing and product launches across 500 stores. This might make some sour on the very idea of a cup of coffee, but for Miller it kindled a love affair with the nectar of the bean. This led him to return to Stanford to get his MBA.
During this time, he had the opportunity to take several engineering and design classes at Stanford’s school of design (known as the d.school), where he also participated in a program called Launch Pad that assists students in bringing business ideas to fruition.
According to Miller, this program helped him solidify his plans. “I knew I wanted to do something in the coffee space, and sifting through the current brew options—French press, pour over and drip—I looked at the weaknesses of each, then threw a brainstorm session to find the design requirements we needed. Once we had those requirements in place, we could continue to iterate on what the new product should look like.”
The result of that brainstorm session—with a Stanford mechanical engineer and a Stanford PHD chemistry candidate who helped Miller try out 60 different filter combinations—is the Coffee Duo. The device works by brewing coffee in a unique dual-chamber system that sits atop a glass beaker. As in a French press, the ground coffee mingles with the water to create a full-flavored brew, but unlike the press, a simple twist of the Duo releases the coffee into the beaker, separating it from the grounds. According to Miller, this process, along with a double-filtration system, makes a super-smooth cup of coffee that leaves all the “sludge” one finds at the bottom of a French press mug of joe behind.
Chevrolet has come up with a similarly revolutionary idea for the 2014 Malibu: that stopping can be what keeps you going. With its smart new stop/start technology, the Malibu’s new 2.5L engine automatically shuts off when the car is stopped and prepares it for a smooth, seamless start when the brake pedal is released, translating into outstanding fuel efficiency*.
One of the surprises for Miller in developing the Duo was the length of time the process took: “We thought, ‘Okay, we’ve got a pretty solid team and this should take about a month of product development and we’ll be ready to launch.’ Instead, we ended up building more than 50 different prototypes and we’ve been at it for eight months. We’ve just finally launched on Kickstarter.”
That Kickstarter campaign is seeking to raise $40,000, which will help Miller get the first round of Duos produced. After that, if the product proves successful, he has plans to revolutionize at-home coffee brewing. “Our goal is to make it really easy to brew great coffee at home,” he says. “And doing that is more than just the brewer. It’s how you store your coffee, how you serve your coffee; it’s what type of water you use, what type of coffee you use. And there’s also an educational component: How do you think about brewing an African coffee versus a Central American coffee? So the big picture is that we want to become that trusted guide in this never-ending pursuit to brew the greatest cup of coffee at home.”
It’s an idea big enough to be discussed at the world’s greatest cafes.
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Michael Franco is a regular contributor to Primer Magazine, and has written and edited copy while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore and partying in Prague (not simultaneously). He’s owned three giant poodles, knows how to keep iguanas out of pools and can make a mean muffin. Check out his work at http://bitly.com/writermf.
*EPA-estimated MPG city/highway: 2.5L 25/36.