Q&A with Inventor Joe Behm, Creator of Home Roaster the Behmor 1600, and the new Brazen Brewer

The plans and development of the Brazen Brewer.

The glass carafes that essentially cook coffee that has been spit through an old-fashioned coffee brewer are largely absent from the specialty-coffee industry—finally. They hung around for a long time and can still be found in chain breakfast restaurants. But with the advent of manual brewing—which is actually a call back to our grandmother’s way of making coffee, i.e. Chemex, pour-over, or immersion—came the final push of old-school coffee brewers out the door.

But manual brewing can’t be the end-all of brewed coffee, can it? We say absolutely not. There are several stand-out brewers on the specialty coffee market, some meant for cafe use and others designed to serve the pro-sumer the best brewed coffee possible in the com for of his own home.

Meet the Brazen, by Behmor. Yeah, the company name sounds familiar because its the same outfit that produces the very popular Behmor 1600 home roaster.  Now company owner and mastermind Joe Behm has gone and invented something else that’s going to blow coffee industry folks’ minds: the Brazen home brewer. And here’s one of many reasons why you should sit up and listen: this high-end brewer is tomorrow’s Humpday Giveaway prize!

Meet the Brazen Brewer, which will be up for grabs for tomorrow's Humpday Giveaway. Believe it or not, this is a home coffee brewer that

Meet the Brazen Brewer, which will be up for grabs for tomorrow’s Humpday Giveaway. Believe it or not, this is a home coffee brewer that features on-board system calibration, altitude correction, on-board proportional controls, pre-set/wet function, water dispersion and accuracy in temperature delivery, and wide temperature range options and manual release.

The Brazen Brewer is pretty slick, and pretty groundbreaking, too: it boasts adjustable settings for presoak and brew time, as well as the ability to contra the brewing temperature from 190–210 degrees F! It even features calibration for altitude compensation.

The Brazen won the People’s Choice Award for Best New Product at the 2012 SCAA show, and the coffee it makes has been called “maybe the best dripped coffee from a machine” by Gizmodo. It sells for $199.

I had a chance to ask the inventor and developer, Joe Behm, some questions about how the brewer came into being. Here’s how our conversation went…

I’ve read on the Behmor website about the Costa Rica trip that you and your wife took where a visit to a coffee roaster inspired your company in the first place—can you tell me more about it?

The trip to Costa Rica was the seed for what later would become Behmor Inc. and the Behmor 1600. Before that trip, my exposure to coffee had been canned or from grocery store bins. The coffee bought on that trip changed me.

What was the roaster you visited like?

It was a little shop with shelving on one side with bags of freshly roasted coffee, a cashier’s counter and glass partitioned area with what I’d know today to be maybe a 5-10 kilo roaster. The shop’s name is Café Monteverde.

What captivated you about it so much?

It wasn’t so much what occurred that day or immediately after the trip, but it became the standard by which I would later come to judge coffee.

What did you do before founding Behmor, Inc.?

After two years of college I found myself at a crossroads, so for some time I worked on high rises (just after the steel went up), doing masonry work and then found my first calling as a sales rep in the electronics industry working for a company called Marshall Industries in Irvine, Calif., an area which was central to the industry and home to companies such as Western Digital. I was heavily involved in the industry and despite no formal electronics or management training, in the fall of 1991, a UK-based firm, Datrontech, asked me to form a new venture in the U.S. to head their expansion into the U.S. markets. In 1995, after the company went public on the London Stock Exchange, I decided to leave, move to San Diego and marry my high school sweetheart, Kerry. I began working for a start-up, and after a couple years, I realized I was teetering a bit and friends recommended Costa Rica specifically Tamarindo, Monte Verde, and Manuel Antonio (Jaco/Quepos) for a vacation.

Were you a home coffee roaster before the Costa Rica trip?

No, that came later (June 1999). While drinking a mediocre cup of coffee in my kitchen, I found myself longing for that brilliant coffee we drank in 1997. I looked at a toaster oven and my brain started clicking. What if I did this, this, and this? I made some basic drawings and put them aside. A couple weeks later, I saw an infomercial for the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie and thought it could be the basis for a coffee roaster. With zero knowledge of coffee roasting or patents, I asked a law firm about whether an item could be made for something already patented. The answer was yes as long as the patents didn’t conflict with existing patents for similar devices. After several years of putzing around and with the guidance of people such as Scott Reed, Ted Lingle, and Don Holly, I finally got a basic design that functioned moderately well for roasting coffee. About six months later while discussing plans for the cylinder, I met with several people and in passing mentioned my original idea of a small roaster which led to comments that were essentially: “The hell with the cylinder—do that.” So, I went back to the drawing board.

At that time, what did you feel was lacking in at-home roasting equipment?

An affordable unit to enable anyone to roast at home easily and indoors with little inconvenience. I first explored what home roasters were available in the market. For the most part, the market was limited to small capacity, air-popper versions with no programs or smoke suppression.

Clockwise from top left, the development of the Behmor 1600 home roaster.

Clockwise from top left, the development of the Behmor 1600 home roaster.

What did you want your roaster to accomplish?

I realized what was needed was a larger capacity roaster that incorporated some electronics but also had smoke suppression. In fall 2001, I began a journey that took me from cardboard mock-ups to final designs, to what in 2007 became the Behmor 1600.

Did anything in particular inspire the development of the Brazen Brewer, when you set out to develop it in 2008?

I saw a need for a brewer that matched Technivorm’s high-temperature water delivery that was more affordable for the everyday consumer.

What were you finding lacking in brewers available four years ago?

None had any temperature controls or pre-soak/wet function, and water dispersion was atrocious. Every brewer having the proverbial coffee-grounds “donut,” where grounds were deeply sunken in the middle and looked to be covered in a light brown paste surrounded by grounds, which at best, could be described as moist but lacked proper extraction.

What did you hope to solve for?

All of the aforementioned- accurate temperature control, pre-soak/wet function, and controlled water dispersion/distribution and more.

The plans and development of the Brazen Brewer.

The plans and development of the Brazen Brewer.

Tell us about some of the Brazen’s special features that are unlike anything else available on the market?

Gort, as we nicknamed the Brazen (from the original 1951 The Day the Earth Stood Still fame), required us to re-invent the wheel because all other brewers were based on 40-year-old drip machines that weren’t really drip, but rather spurting and spattering water delivery systems that delivered poorly.

The features we are most proud of are:

On-board system calibration: Why is that important? Every consumer system be it a kettle, brewer or other heating system that claims to be variable temperature has no real accuracy because the components have varying degrees of tolerances from 2 percent to 5 percent plus or minus. For example, imagine setting any item, kettle or brewer, to 200 degrees Fahrenheit thinking that’s what you’d get when in fact everything, due to these tolerances, was delivering water that could have a full 12-degree spread. It would be like playing horseshoes and believing one tossed in the cornfields, 100 feet from the stake, was a good toss. By taking my background in electronics and understanding laws of physics, we developed a system that recognizes baselines needed to calibrate the components through a set-up procedure, then auto-correct deficiencies in tolerances via programming code. Given that all components can drift over time, the function can be repeated when the system is moved to new locations or recalibrated with data stored in on-board system memory.

On-board proportional controls: Once calibrated, the system would be useless if we didn’t incorporate proportional controls that facilitated “glide in” to desired set points. If we did not control the rate of ascent when the water was heating, the set point really was never met. Think of coming to a stop sign and gently coming to a stop (gliding in) or racing up to it, slamming on the brakes and hoping not to slide through the intersection. This was our second challenge controlling water’s ascent. Independent tests have shown we can be as accurate as one-half of 1 percent plus or minus to our set point in the system’s stainless steel reservoir.

Altitude Correction: While the data provided at sea level was accurate at elevations as low as 500 feet, that data was inaccurate by approximately 1 degree Fahrenheit per 500 feet in altitude. To correct this, we added code so that once the system was calibrated to the correct height (input by users in system set up) it corrected the temperature to the elevation. It is key to understand, we do not defy the laws of physics with this auto correction but rather correct for accuracy in data provided, specifically temperatures (set point) for the particular elevation.

Pre-soak/ wet: With knowledge gleaned from commercial equipment and manual pour over, the idea of a pre-soak/wet was incorporated to allow users to control the time between the per-soak/wet and the actual start of brewing. Providing the user with this level of control gives users an opportunity to adjust to their preferences and adjust for freshness of roast and/or roast levels.

Water Dispersion and accuracy in temperature delivery: Once hot water is brought to a proper set point, you then have to deliver it evenly and precisely. We developed a water-dispersion disc that showers water over the grounds as it is released through a program-controlled valve. Through testing conducted by a NASA-certified testing agency, in some tests we have 97 percent uniformity of extraction with water to the grounds.  Because of continual temperature control during the water release, water temperatures are within 1 degree Fahrenheit throughout the brewing process, creating consistency for the user.

Wide temperature range option and manual release: We allow users to control temperatures ranging from 190 to 210 degrees Fahrenheit. This lets the user better fit the temperature to the coffee and/or roast level to have the best dissolved solids ratio for each type/roast. In testing, one blend extracted ideally at a set point of 195 degrees Fahrenheit, while others were ideal in the 198 to 200 range. In other instances, we found users felt African coffee or lighter roasts fared better at sub-200 degrees, while darker roasts or more fuller/richer coffee fared better at higher temperatures. While gold standards call for 195 to 205 degrees, we felt allowing users a wider range created more options, such as a manual release option where users can control the length of time water is released with a built-in count-up timer, and conversely, the amount of time between water releases.

The Brazen at home. You could have one in YOUR home if you win tomorrow's Humpday Giveaway!

The Brazen at home. You could have one in YOUR home if you win tomorrow’s Humpday Giveaway!

In your house, do you use the Brazen every day or do you sometimes manually brew coffee? If so, what methods do you enjoy?

Since developing the Brazen, I have no reason to brew using other methods. If I want a pour over clean with character, I simply use paper filters and press start. If I want more mouth feel, I use the gold filter we provide free with every brewer. It’s the best of all worlds. I could see where others would want to utilize different methods, so we added a manual water release where the brewer can act as a kettle.

This is a very high-end machine, so who do you see as your consumers?

Anyone who wants superior character, such as pour-over taste, with automatic features eliminating the fuss and cleanup of using coffee they purchased or home roasted.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve been blessed in life to have not only married my best friend but also to have had two careers in life that I have genuinely loved. I love what I do now more than I could ever imagine. One career shaped me, and the other inspires me. I love the people, the cultural diversity that includes religions, ethnicities and even politics, all sharing a common goal of all things coffee. Whether it’s the sustainability of coffee, attempting to ensure a quality of life for the people involved, from workers to their children, or simply trying to bring all the character in the beauty of coffee to the consumer with affordable equipment, it is wonderful, and I am extremely thankful for that fateful trip to Costa Rica back in 1997. It changed my life, and I hope to continue to change how others can enjoy what’s in their cup without needing to be in the 1 percent: to have all walks of life from the everyday Joe to famous astrophysicists to the billionaires whose families fund wings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian to coffee farmers and professionals using our roaster for sampling or the Brazen for cuppings.

Thanks, Joe! And thanks also for supplying us with a brand-new Brazen Brewer for tomorrow’s Humpday Giveaway prize here on Barista Magazine’s blog! Folks, be sure to come back at 7 a.m. PST tomorrow (Wednesday) to play for your chance to win this bitchen brewer!

About the Author

Sarah

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.