Industry News

The Steam Punk

Side Mission

On the way to the World Tea Expo, a side mission was on my itinerary. This mission was to check out a new commercial coffee brewer, which made its maiden appearance at the recent SCAA show in Portland, OR. The darling of the show, this intriguing machine drew daily crowds as people watched the baristas brewing coffee in its four chambers.

Leaf Meets Bean

Coffee, as we all know, has long been the dominant hot beverage in the US - a situation only bolstered by the success of gourmet brands such as the ubiquitous Starbucks. Tea, relegated to the little sister role, seems to have had a rivalry with its bean-derived counterpart. At the very next stop on my journey - the World Tea Expo, evidence of this was clear with a panel discussion of industry insiders ponder the topic: "Will Tea Ever Be as Big as Coffee?" Indeed!

Those who have worked with the leaf for some time know that leaf is not envious of the bean. The leaf itself practically preaches, "good things come to those who wait," and is content to know time is on its side. Any contention between tea and coffee is merely transference from human ambition and passion for their precious leaves. Great tea and great coffee are not mutually exclusive, and great machines make coexistence in a commercial setting achievable.

Behold - The Steam Punk!
Four crucibles for multiple brewing
Four crucibles for multiple brewing

While its name is reminiscent of Victorian era technology, the four tall glass tubes, stainless steel fittings and clean lines hint at Art Deco meets Post Modern. The concept behind Steam Punk, devised by Khristian Bombeck founder of Alpha Dominche, combines the best of siphon brewing and French press to get all the flavor and character from the coffee bean without the sharpness that can ruin an otherwise great cup. Could it do the same for tea?

The Steam Punk's glass tubes, referred to as crucibles by the Alpha Dominche team, serve as brewing chambers where water, steam pressure and agitation are used to extract flavor. We tested several varieties of tea and tisanes and were able to get the desired nuances without any astringency and in a very short time- typically under a minute. Golden Monkey brewed in the Steam Punk revealed a high-speed ballet of leaves, the cup complex with nuances of cocoa, raisin and a rich creaminess in the mouth feel. White Peony leaves enjoyed their quick ride in a crucible and provided fragrant notes of melon, peach and a whisper of honey. A delicate Sencha didn’t mind the pressure or agitation and whirled about in the glass chamber happy to release their sweet, dewy grass and brothy character with out any astringency. Impressive.

To a gaiwan-thumping tea purist, a traditional steep method may still be preferred, but for a commercial application where speed and consistency are essential, the Steam Punk impresses with its elegance at handling both bean and leaf with equal grace. It also self cleans with a rinse cycle that completely flushes the crucible leaving no apparent flavor carryover. No coffee residue contaminated the precious leaves or flavor transfer from one tea to the next! With its beautiful design and clear glass chambers, Steam Punk also adds a bit of theatre to the brewing process. Customers can watch their leaves dance and enjoy the color of each beautiful infusion.

At the end of our day, my new friends at Alpha Dominche were pondering coffee in their mornings and tea in the afternoons, newly enraptured with the white tea in particular. I was pondering the delightful cups we had brewed in their fascinating machine. Set to launch in late August, we look forward to Alpha Dominche's success and are pleased to see their Steam Punk do both bean and leaf delicious justice.