It seldom happens that a really new way of making coffee is invented and almost all of them have one thing in common: heat. After all, it’s hot water that quickly drains the soil of taste and body. But Osma, a new device that uses a completely new type of coffee-making technology, makes a rich, strong espresso-like drink at any temperature, including freezing cold – and it could be the next big thing in the industry.
Osma is the latest project by the designer Joey Roth, who has developed from high-concept loudspeaker technology to tea and coffee technology and has now found a way to combine these two different occupations with a unique vibration extraction method. And while Roth has had several successes over the years, this could be the most valuable to date.
To understand why, it helps to understand the way coffee is usually made, which is generally due to one of two things: soaking the coffee grounds in hot water or pressing through the coffee grounds.
In the first case, which includes dripping and pouring, french press, and others, the heat of the water passively frees the oils and volatiles from the ground beans, and then filtering leaves behind the tasteless solids.
The second case is espresso, in which the desired chemicals are extracted not only through heat, but through the process of microcavitation. Here, through heat and pressure, CO2 is released from the soil and forms tiny bubbles that collapse quickly, a process that also causes the flavors and aromas to be squeezed out.
In the first method, cold water can be used, with the advantage that certain substances that would be destroyed by heat are retained, resulting in a different taste profile. Unfortunately, it can take hours or even days to reach the desired strength and other desirable compounds will be broken down during this period. And cold water cannot be used in the espresso process because steam is required for extraction.
Despite the inconvenience of cold coffee, anyone who has visited a cafe in the past decade can say that it is hugely popular all year round, but especially in summer. The appetite for the drink is endless, even if it’s just about pouring hot coffee or espresso over ice. What if strong, delicious coffee could be made without heating it, watering it down, or waiting for days? That is Osma’s suggestion.
As far as I know, the Osma system is different from any other brewing method. In essence, water circulates continuously through the terrain as it is moved in a kind of standing pressure wave. It produces 8-12 ounces of coffee, which is less concentrated than espresso but not as mild as coldbrew, in about two minutes.
“This is a fundamentally new expression of coffee to experience, ”said Roth when I asked him to characterize the flavor profile. He had compared it to the Kyoto-style slow drip with the added creamy mouthfeel and lighter flavors of espresso, but decided the analogy was imperfect.
His reservation is justified because the method is really quite different. In addition to using cold water instead of hot and an acoustic wave instead of high pressure to create cavitation, the Osma Pro is unique in that it uses a circular process instead of a one-way street.
Almost all forms of coffee preparation are unidirectional: water enters, meets the coffee grounds and coffee comes out – with the exception of percolators, which are not exactly the aficionados’ first choice. The Osma method, on the other hand, sucks up the water, guides it through the floor and stirs it, then returns it to the same container, where it is sucked up and passed through again.
This circular process can be stopped sooner or later, resulting in a lighter or heavier brew, but after about two minutes there is a sweet spot that Roth believes makes the best cup for most purposes.
The system was developed in equal parts by chance and ingenuity. Roth remembered boiling water at room temperature in a commercial vacuum chamber with co-founder Dan Yue, which kind of worked, but not really, and certainly not the kind of device that could be resold to a consumer. Yue speculated that it was the microcavitation process that made this extraction possible without significant heat.
“We checked this with a number of other experiments and confirmed that microcavitation was indeed the magic switch,” said Roth. “From then on, we spent about two years developing a mechanism that would efficiently facilitate cavitation using acoustics in a tightly packed basket of ground coffee. With the help and insight of our partners James and Hiver (co-founders of Chromatic Coffee in San Jose) we developed the Osma Pro. “
Drawing a strong, cold coffee beverage with espresso-like and cold-brew-like aspects as needed could be a turning point for coffee shops. Currently, they have to anticipate demand, prepare cold brew a day or more in advance, risk shortages if demand exceeds supply, or otherwise offer hot coffee poured over ice, an accepted but rather incoherent approach.
At $ 695, the Osma Pro is a bit pricey for home use, but it’s quite the style of gear most cafes use. Like Roth’s other work, industrial design is simple and beautiful. Given its small footprint (roughly the size of a standing grinder) and the fact that it frees up valuable refrigerator space that would otherwise be filled with gallons of coldbrew, it makes a lot of sense.
Perhaps that is why an unnamed but apparently large coffee company has expressed interest in partnering with Roth on the machine, as he shyly explained. It’s nice to sell a few hundred to boutique cafes and Roth said preorders are above expectations, but a great partner who could move units into the thousands? This is the beginning of a global business empire.
Incidentally, it all started with a device that has unfortunately now become obsolete. The first Osma brew I came across was a portable, battery-powered device that Roth sent me in beta for testing that uses biodegradable coffee pods and a scaled down version of the acoustic stirring process. However, this ended up in a kind of dead end of development – while it was an interesting tech demo and was pretty good at making coffee, it quickly became clear that the countertop version, which was quickly improving, was the future of the company.
The only real question now is what to name the drink. I suggested Coldpresso (Icepresso is more melodious, but too close to the original), Roth thought cold flash, but admitted that everything he came up with was cheesy. Whatever the name, you can probably expect to see it at your local “serious” cafe. If you run one of these or have enough cold coffee to warrant a larger purchase, you can line up on the Osma website to pick up a machine.