Coffee and crowdfunding aren't new bedfellows, but an Italian project to rethink the espresso machine, La Fenice, may be the most ambitious we've seen so far. The chrome and wood brewer may look retro at first glance, but it claims to house some seriously new tech - in coffee making terms, anyway - relying on electromagnetic induction to heat water almost instantaneously, give incredible control over its temperature, and even save electricity by avoiding keeping a boiler up to temperature all the time, along with some other sprinklings of geek-appeal.
Traditionally, an espresso machine would use at least one boiler in which water is kept at 195-200 degrees fahrenheit. Various different methods to increase the degree of control over that have emerged over the years, including using a PID (proportional-integral-derivative) to rapidly cycle the heating element on and off and keep the temperature within a narrow range.
The La Fenice team, however, says they've got a different, better approach. The PCB in their eponymous machine measures the temperature of the water - not a boiler - as it's heated by passing through an electromagnetic coil.
That's then pushed through the ground coffee (or, if you're feeling vaguely blasphemous in coffee circles, a K-Cup or other pod) to either make espresso on one side, or brewed coffee on the other.
Precise control over the temperature, however, means the La Fenice can feasibly do temperature profiling, where how hot the brewing water is gets adjusted through the process. For instance, by lowering the temperature while pulling a shot of espresso, you could potentially cut out some of the over-extraction that leads to harsher tastes in the cup.
La Fenice can also potentially do pressure and flow rate control, also giving greater flexibility. Meanwhile, a freshly-added set of stretch goals on the Kickstarter campaign look to add things like USB and WiFi connectivity, apps for desktops and iOS/Android, and more.
The team has already reached its initial goal of $70,000, and is beyond $130k at time of writing; it'll need to hit $350k if you want to see WiFi in there. Pricing for a backer unit started out at $250, though all those units are gone, and you'll now need to stump up $300 or more if you want a La Fenice when they start shipping in December.
It's an ambitious timeframe and a surprisingly low price, and as with any crowdfunded project there's always the possibility of things running late, not quite going to plan, or simply not working out at all. Nonetheless, it's got the coffee scene curious: CoffeeGeek's Mark Prince tells me he's tentatively excited, to the point where he's backed the project, despite the lingering questions over how precise the heating system can be, particularly on US 110V electricity supplies.
Estimated retail cost is $500, and La Fenice says it's had a working prototype running for a year and is confident it can hit the end-of-year release.