The Blossom One is the latest in a fairly long line of high-end, robotic, single-cup coffee brewers. When paired with a high-quality grinder, these machines give machine-precise control over the main variables that affect the quality of brewed coffee: dose, brew time, and water temperature. Robotic single-cup brewers--like the Clover and the Blossom One--promise the ability to tweak the variables in your brew to maximize extraction and promote delicate flavors that are otherwise easily lost during the brewing process.
Innovation in automated coffee brewing slowed after Starbucks bought Clover, effectively killing the device for home use before it could take off. There were other attempts at an automated single-cup brewer designed for specialty coffee, but the manual pourover has, for the most part, taken its place. The manual pour gives an experienced barista with the right equipment precise control over the same variables as the Clover--although consistency can be difficult to maintain.
The team at Blossom wants to revisit the idea of robot-assisted coffee brewing. Jeremy Kuempel, president of Blossom, brought a prototype of the Blossom One by the office this week to give us a test brew and talk about the brewer.
The heart of the Blossom One is its brewing chamber. The chamber is superficially similar to an Aeropress, with an open top and a filter at the bottom. You load the coffee into an espresso-style portafilter at the bottom of the chamber (the unit I tested used a La Marzocco 61mm portafilter) then clamp the filter onto a grouphead on the bottom of the machine. Select your brew profile (or set up a new one) and start the brewing process. Water is added to the grounds at the temperature you select. The barista manually agitates the coffee as it's brewing. When the brew time is up (about 90 seconds depending on the coffee), the machine beeps and you pull the plunger, which pushes the coffee out of the spout below the portafilter. As long as you keep water in the reservoir, which happens automatically if you plumb the machine into a water line, you'll be able to start another cup as quickly as you can clean the brew chamber and reload the portafilter.
The coffee the Blossom One prototype made was wonderful. Using a Highwire espresso blend, Jeremy was able to brew a smooth, complex cup of coffee with a light acidic finish that was neither bitter, nor sour. The machine produced a cleaner cup than most French presses and the end result was comparable to the best pourovers I've had. I managed to achieve similar results on both my first and second attempts using the instructions provided by the machine--something that took a great deal of practice to achieve using manual techniques. The machine served a cup of quality that I rarely get in cafes.
At first glance, the Blossom One is a deceptively simple machine, but there's more to it than is obvious. Yes, the Blossom One's PID-controlled boiler delivers water at a precisely specified temperature, but there's also a 500W heating element surrounding the brewing chamber that maintains the temperature you specify throughout the entirety of the brewing process. This type of temperature control isn't possible with a manual pourover; instead you typically start with water at a higher temperature than you might like, and expect a fair amount of heat to radiate away from the wide open top of the filter.
There's also some special sauce in the brewing profiles. The finished machine will include a camera and Wi-Fi connection. The plan is for roasters to devise optimal brewing profiles using Blossom's custom software, then encode that profile (or a link to it) in a QR code, which can be printed on the coffee bag. When your cafe gets a new batch of coffee, they scan the QR code and the machine handles the rest, prompting the barista to agitate and press the coffee at just the right time.
As always, there's a catch. The Blossom One is called a limited machine for good reason. The company expects to sell a very small number of machines in the first production wave, placing them in a handful of cafes. There's a geographic aspect as well; they're only going to sell machines where they'll be able to personally service them, at least in the beginning. That means you probably shouldn't expect to see the Blossom One outside of the Bay Area anytime soon.
There's also the not-so-small matter of the pricetag. Each handmade unit is priced for cafes and boardrooms--they cost around $11,000 each (Blossom will offer a discount for bulk purchases). While this may seem expensive compared to your Mr. Coffee, it's about what Clover sold their early machines for in 2007 and is positively cheap compared to a high-end espresso machine.
The biggest challenge Blossom faces isn't brewing great coffee, it's the dramatically change that's swept the brewed coffee landscape since the Clover launched in 2007. Then the state of the art in coffee brewing was industrial-sized basket-filter brewers. Those machines can make a decent cup of coffee, but the harsh heat from the warming plate would burn out any delicate flavor notes. An $11,000 automated brewer that could unlock hidden flavors from expensive coffee that made sense in 2007 may be a tougher sell for cafes today when the alternative is a few hundred bucks worth of pourover equipment and a well-trained barista.