Our inventive spirit was called on when we received the shortest brief we've ever been given:
"Design the fastest and hottest drip coffeemaker".
Mr Coffee’s marketing team had identified a clear unmet need, that drip coffeemakers simply didn’t deliver on expectations “when it’s finally finished brewing, the coffee is just not hot enough”. If we were able to create a drip coffeemaker that delivered a pot of coffee much faster and hotter than before, the opportunities for Mr Coffee would be enormous.
Rewiring the Technology
We selected 20 coffeemakers from across the world to test -some were direct competitors to Mr Coffee in the US, and some were niche brands from Europe and Asia that online fans boasted having ‘the hottest cup of coffee”. We just had to check them out. We measured timing and taste for each unit for two different coffee types. We also tracked the temperature at several different places to discover whether any were meeting the recommended temperatures provided by the ICO (International Coffee Organization).
"The challenge was exciting, and with only 8 weeks to solve it we rolled up our sleeves and got brewing.."
The results were astounding. NONE of the coffeemakers could deliver a pot of coffee within 10 degrees of the recommended temperatures! The tastes varied, some were too bitter and some rancid, and some quite acidic, evidence of underheating and burning of the coffee while in the filter.
The teardown was even more revealing, all twenty units used the same principle first invented in 1954 where the water travels downward and through a calrod under the pot and then up to the showerhead. Because of the short amount time needed for the brew, the first water passes through the calrod before it heats up, thus starting the pot with cold, bitter tasting coffee. Some units compensated with overheating the second half of the water, reaching a better pot temperature but bringing a lot of burnt gut-churning coffee with it. Our lab tests corresponded with what users were complaining about.
Hatch describes the team’s big moment: “The breakthrough came when we decided to omit the troublesome heating plate entirely and instead heat the water to the ideal temperature in a small boiling chamber right next to the beans.”
Turning to the drawing board, our engineers and industrial designers came up with several different hypotheses of how we can solve the heat and delivery issues. Each was sketched, some built in CAD and many were mocked up and tested. The best three proved outright winners, but each was a strong departure from the current tried-and-tested format. We refined them adjusting dimensions, wattage, and valves until one prototype rose clearly to the top.
Using flash-boiling to heat the water it could reach a consistently correct temperature at the showerhead from start to finish. With just the right tube and chamber configuration we found it was not only faster but even used a lot less wattage too! It’s a beauty!
Not your grandmother’s coffeemaker
The old system had become so commoditized, the components were all very cheap. Introducing completely new parts meant we could not operate at the usual $20 retail. This new ‘hotter faster’ brew had to come at a premium. So the goal of this second part of the project was for the new machine to somehow convey the ‘hotter faster’ difference, and look more valuable, more high-end too.
Our industrial designers worked with the Mr Coffee team to identify which high-end features and visual cues users (and retailers) would respond to, and in doing so arrived at a design that provoked the just right emotional responses from users, that this was clearly hotter and faster, and this was “not your grandmother’s coffeemaker”.
Raising the Bar
The Optimal Brew launched at a $99 price point, daringly breaking the traditional $20 ceiling. But the efforts paid off and it quickly became the best-selling coffee maker on the market. The 'Optimal Brew' created enough new brand trust for them to then successfully launch several other types of coffeemaker at prices up to $200 and become once again the leading coffeemaker brand in the US. This proving; the right cup of coffee can make a world of difference.
“The high price point was not the goal, but because we were able to deliver a performance better than any competitor, the high price point suddenly became possible,” said Hatch.