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State of Coffee by Mark Prince
Induction Heating in Coffee - the La Fenice Kickstarter Project
Posted: May 9, 2014
Article rating: 9.3
feedback: (28) comments | read | write
Click for larger image

Being real CoffeeGeeks here, we love it when new technology finds its way into the coffee and espresso world. Just a few short days ago, we found out about just such a new thing -- or at least something new to coffee and espresso -- that popped up on Kickstarter. It is the new La Fenice dual brewing espresso / coffee machine, from La Fenice Milano.

Sure, there have been machines on the market before that brewed both coffee and espresso. But these were machines that essentially bolted two machines together - an espresso machine and its boiler and pump, etc etc, and a coffee brewing machine with its boiler or heating element, glass carafe, yada yada. Put a few curves on the outer body panel, and voila, you have a coffee and espresso machine.

Even just on the surface, the La Fenice is different. This machine centers around one water reservoir and one heater system that is set up to do both espresso (at 11BAR max pressure) and brewed coffee at 1BAR pressure (or as the Italians like to say, "american style coffee").  And the machine is undeniably beautiful in its design. Drop dead sexy in fact, in that very Italian "espresso machines of the 1920s" kind of way.

But that's just on the surface. What makes this machine truly unique is a one two punch of a new way (for coffee at least) to dynamically heat water, and a new way to control the way the machine works. The latter is a completely custom PCB (printed circuit board, or motherboard); the former? This is, as far as we know, the first consumer coffee and espresso machine to use induction heat as its method for heating water. And it does so nearly instantly.

The machine is now up on Kickstarter, and at launch there will be a US/Canada version (120V, 50/60hz), and a European version (230V, 50/60hz). It will be UL and CE certified. It will be built in Italy (which is a total surprise given the next fact). The machine launched with an early bird price of $250 (which is amazing), and the rest of the Kickstarter backers will be paying $300, which is still $200 less than the planned list price of $500 once this machine comes to market.

La Fenice Milano hopes to start shipping these machines in the late fall of 2014, though, given the history of Kickstarter startups like this, I'd tack on an extra 2-6 months to that - stuff always comes up in manufacturing, and especially UL and CE certifications.

The machine will be initially available in either a chrome finish or a black paint finish (with copper accents). The company is still developing the final touches on the machine, including filter sizes and materials, and what options they will have for stretch goals.

The company is also doing 99 Limited Edition models finished in plated copper and brass, with your choice of high end wood accent finishes for the handles. These machines look stark raving mad sexy... in a good, good way.

Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image
La Fenice in Chrome and Wood (black acccents)
La Fenice Black with copper accents
Limited Edition La Fenice with copper, brass, premium wood

Interview

We contacted the folks behind La Fenice, and had a chance to talk to company owner Stefano Polti about this radical new machine.

Q: Your Kickstarter launched a few days ago, but you've obviously been developing the La Fenice machine for some time. When did you first start developing this machine and what was that process like?

A: This project was born in my head long time ago. I started to show Fabio (Tapella) and Stefano Verani a lot of coffee machines from all over the world, and my idea was to build something never seen on the market, an innovative coffee machine that could make real the secret dream of a coffee nerd but, at the same time, respect the planet (in an environmental way).

Speaking every day with Fabio and Stefano, we had the idea to test electromagnetic induction on an existing coffee machine. We bought some small electromagnetic induction hobs, we removed the coil end and fitted it onto a ferromagnetic steel tube to create our heater exchange system. We saw that this technology was extremely efficient and we decided to move ahead with this way, realizing a new concept of coffee machine around our heater exchange.

Developing the pcb (ed.note: printed circuit board, or motherboard) was the hardest part because it was a concept never been applied on a coffee machine. Also,  we were completely ignorant when it came to electromagnetic induction.

Q: Did you always intend to use Kickstarter as a way to raise funds?

A: At the beginning we only wanted to create an espresso machine so we didn't think about using Kickstarter. But once we understood that this system and this kind of pcb would allow us to prepare both American filter coffee and espresso, I immediately thought about using Kickstarter to raise the funds; I also  realised this kind of coffee machine would be popular with coffee lovers in the US (and Canada).

Q: When did you have a fully working prototype?

A: About one year ago we had the first functional prototype. Day by day we tested and improved it with technical and design adjustments.

Q: Were there any surprises or challenges you faced once you had a working prototype? Or did it work pretty much as you envisioned right out of the gate?

Initially we burned five pcb boards; three times we had a blackout in our headquarters! But step by step, thanks to our pcb partner we started to see exciting results.

Q: The use of induction heating is interesting. I've often felt induction heating might be a viable heating source for coffee and espresso myself since buying a full induction stovetop range several years back and seeing the benefits and energy efficiency, but your company is the first to really apply it to coffee. Why do you think no one thought of this before? Are there specific challenges?

A: After our first tests with electromagnetic induction we asked ourselves the same question! We looked for a coffee machine with this technology by googling the web (and couldn't find any). We felt it was unreal that no one thought about it. Then we understand that the reasons (no one had built an induction heat coffee system before) was the difficulty to create a pcb able to manage this large power on a such small element, and to do so in a cost effective way.

(interview continues after the photos)

PCB Board
The fully custom (and patented) PCB board that makes this machine work.
Magnetic Induction
The magnetic induction coil system that will flash heat the water for your coffee or espresso.
Working prototype, all the parts exposed.
working prototype
Fully functioning prototype, going through its paces, brewing a pretty decent shot of espresso. Note how small the machine is.

Q: I note you have an industrial designer as part of the team. A lot of companies that start out the Kickstarter route don't do this and launch what could be called "engineers' machines"; yours is clearly not, and is beautifully designed.

Click for larger image
Mr. Grifild working on the machine's design and aesthetics.

A: Roy Grifild (the La Fenice industrial designer) needed a stage to complete his industrial design degree, thatís why he joined us. The design was already in my mind but I needed someone who could realize a machine based on the Italian tradition with a futuristic viewpoint. Since the first time we talked together I discovered that we like the same designers and that he could understand me instantly. Roy is very young but he has a great talent and the result is this beautiful machine.

Q: Let's shift gears a bit and talk specifically about the La Fenice you are building and will get to Kickstarter backers upon a successful campaign. It brews coffee. It brews espresso. Our readers aren't so much interested in pods and capsules, but are interested in fresh ground being used. How important was it in the development of the La Fenice to make sure fresh ground could be used?

A: When your goal is to build a machine for coffee lovers, this means let them be free to drink coffee the way they want. Many want ground coffee, so that was a priority.

Q: For brewing coffee, how much ground coffee can you use in one brew, and does the machine require any kind of special filter assembly? How does brewed coffee work on this machine with fresh ground?

A: We are still working about that. Right now we can brew from 20ml to 120ml  (0.75oz to 4oz) espresso and from 120ml to 350ml (4oz to 12oz) for american style filter coffee; but the coffee machine has no limit in this sense. We are studying new special filter assembly in order to brew 2 espressos at  one time and more than 350ml for american filter coffee.

Q: Same question for espresso - how close is your machine to a traditional 58mm filter basket quality espresso machine that can handle 18-19g of coffee for a double?

A: Actually we use a 15 gr filter but we are improving a traditional 58mm basket that can handle  18 gr.

Q: Will the La Fenice be programmable by the owner? Brewing volumes, temperatures, preinfusion times, et cetera?

A: A little surprise: these may be in some of our soon-to-be-announced stretch goals on our Kickstarter campaign. I can tell you we are working very hard on these things right now. Regarding brewing volumes, The La Fenice has a flow-meter so the user can choose his beverage volumes thanks to a graduating scale.

Q: I note there's no hot water tap on the machine for dispensing hot water for americanos or tea. Is this possible with the design of the heating system and overall aesthetics? Is there a reason I wasn't included?

A: We are thinking about a new special filter for the hot water (to be used on either the espresso or american coffee sides), we donít see any problem about this point.

Q: I also note there's no steam wand on the machine. What made you decide to not include a steam wand?

A: We prefer (a separate) milk frother over a steam wand. A cappuccino prepared with milk frother is more digestible because made with no water and is very easy to use and clean. In addition, a steam wand is a problem with our current design - there's no way to implement it.

Q: One of the Kickstarter backing levels is 99 limited edition La Fenice machines with premium metals and woods being used. You mentioned brass in the grouphead areas - is this a brass plating, or will the entire grouphead areas be solid brass? Could you tell us a few more details about the limited edition model?

A: We love the LE machine, it permit us to work on the details. Materials and parts will be made by artisans, like the phoenix on top which will really be traditionally hand-made in Murano glass. The brass and copper on the machine will be brass and copper plating. The owner will also be able to choose the type of wood for their Limited Edition, including chestnut and teak, and other choices. We found a cool Italian partner that will make them with a CNC machine from an entire piece of wood. We canít wait to start to produce this beautiful machine!

Q: Once your Kickstarter is done, you're successfully funded, and you've shipped all the backer machines, what's down the road for La Fenice? What do you plan to do next in terms of sales, future machine developments and plans?

Now we are concentrated on Kickstarter, we need funds to order the moulds. We already received some distributor request but our priority now is improving this machine for us and for our backers. Our dream is to open an US company to distribute the La Fenice but now we are still not organized enough. Every day this project give us some gratification, we still don't know what the future holds, but we hope it's very good!

Working on prototype
La Fenice engineers working on the prototype build.
Handles
Beautiful handle designs - that just happen to make a heart shape
tamping
Tamping coffee for the La Fenice espresso portafilter.
A variety of methods can be used in the machine from ground coffee to various pods.
Coffee pod
Pod adapter in place with pod dropped into coffee brew handle.
La Fenice Team
The La Fenice Milano Team with a recent prototype machine.

--

The La Fenice Machine is live on Kickstarter as of this writing, and has just about reached its goal - everything above that is gravy, and expect to see some good stretch goals coming up.

NB: All photos are provided courtesy of La Fenice Milano, and are their copyright.

Article rating: 9.3
Posted: May 9, 2014
feedback: (28) comments | read | write
State of Coffee Column Archives email author
Mark PrinceColumn Description
This regular column will tackle the world of espresso and coffee, including all the theories, controversies, changes and structures that make up this world. A heavy emphasis is placed on the online coffee community, and one thing this column won't do is pull any punches. Every week we'll feature the up's and downs, a quick yet detailed rundown of things that are good and not so good in the coffee world.

Read Author Bio

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