Ristretto Roasters Meets Steampunk

by Teresa Bergen / Photo ©  Ristretto Roasters

On a recent Friday, the Ristretto Roasters on NE Couch Street in Portland was unusually busy for noon. Portlanders occupied high stools at the big shared table in the middle of the ultra-modern café, talking or pecking their laptops. In between fulfilling drink orders, baristas worked on a new recipe for a batch of Nicaraguan beans. They’re using the Steampunk brewing system to find the perfect temperature, brew time and amount of agitation to bring out the best in the coffee. The machine combines both siphon and French press technology.

Alpha Dominche, the Utah-based company that makes the Steampunk, won the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s best new product award in 2012. The SCAA met in Portland that year. Steampunk inventor Khristian Bombeck and his Alpha Dominche colleagues wandered into the Ristretto outlet in NW Portland.

“They were stunned by how cool it was,” said Din Johnson, who owns the four Ristretto cafes. “They loved our whole vibe. They pursued us.”

Johnson, a former contractor with the precise focus of a coffee engineer, wasn’t sure. The Steampunk was brand new and still had some kinks to work out.

“They flew me to Utah,” he says. “We played with it.”

Finally convinced, he designed the Couch Street café around the machine. Johnson is the first café owner in Portland to use this new technology.

The Steampunk needed just the right space. A large boiler is hidden under the counter. Above are three glass crucibles. The barista inserts a rod with a metal filter, which divides the crucibles into two chambers. Push a button and the machine pulls water into the upper chamber, injecting steam to raise the water to the desired temperature and saturate the coffee. After the right amount of agitation, vacuum pressure pulls the coffee down through the filter into the lower chamber. Coffee’s on.

The Steampunk’s draw—aside from it being a cool looking machine that customer enjoy watching—is precision and consistency. It comes equipped with an electronic pad, a computer Johnson and his crew call the HMI, for human-machine interface. Baristas can program temperature, brew time and the amount of agitation into the HMI for a particular batch of beans.

“Ristretto is very diligent and precise about how we do things,” Johnson said. “We have to make it kind of a science.”

For Ristretto Roaster locations and products, go to ristrettoroasters.com. Ristretto’s free coffee cuppings on Sundays at noon at the Couch St. location are a great way to discover the beans you love most. For information about visiting Portland, go to travelportland.com.