About this project
Making fresh coffee is as much an art as it is a science. And truly awesome coffee starts with two things: fresh beans and a great grinder. We've taken these two critical elements - fresh beans and consistent grind - and combined them into one amazing machine: Voltaire.
Voltaire is the world’s first high-performance portable burr grinder. An IoT-connected (Internet of Things) sensing platform and smartphone app allow users to measure bean freshness and receive replenishment alerts or auto-replenish when it’s time for fresh beans. Voltaire’s high-performance LiFePO4 batteries will last through over 3lbs of beans and hold a charge for up to three weeks. This is seriously smart coffee.
If you’re not into the whole internet-of-things movement, but still want an amazing portable grinder, you can opt out of the sensing platform and simply pledge for the standalone model. We won't hold it against you - even without a "brain," Voltaire is brilliant.
Coffee has a lifespan. Green beans can last months before decline. Roasting them creates yumminess in the form of sugars, amino acids, and volatile compounds and gases that, ultimately, are also a key factor in the staling process. (More on that later.) After it’s roasted, a bean’s lifespan can be measured in mere days. The yumminess starts to fade, and rancid flavors creep in. Odds are, the best cup of coffee you ever had came from super fresh beans.
There are a variety of factors that contribute to staling. We’re going to get a little nerdy here, so bear with us. Carbon dioxide diffusion, lipid oxidation, and aroma loss in the form of escaping volatile compounds are primary suspects. These reactions occur over time and are accelerated by heat, moisture, surface area, and oxygen exposure. It is a complex and fascinating process. Since there are a variety of environmental factors that come into play, it NEVER HAPPENS in the exactly same way. And it’s invisible.
With the naked eye, it's impossible to look at a bean and tell just how fresh it is. But that's why we're here.
We’ve developed a sensing platform that measures what we can’t see: volatile compound release, gas concentration, temperature, humidity, bean mass, and volume. The sensor array communicates with a machine learning algorithm that can also consider inputs like roast date, purchase date, bean varietal, roast style, and other known factors. We can tell when your beans are really really fresh, when they start to degrade, and when they’re in the red zone of mediocrity. Over time, with more users and more data, we’ll continually refine our algorithm as it learns about different types of beans and roasts. Your grinder will be smart, and get smarter. And you’ll never have to drink stale coffee again.
The whole platform is wifi- and app-connected. All of the sensing data is available so that you can drill down on what’s happening inside your beans and in the surrounding environment. Voltaire also monitors mechanical data each time you grind - fineness, grind time, mass, and volume throughput. The app can even monitor total bean storage across both the Voltaire Grinder and Airvault Smart Container (see below!). When your beans get too stale or simply run low, it can remind you to buy more beans, or reorder automatically from your favorite roasters. We’ll be partnering with roasters, subscription services, and platforms like Amazon DRS to make the process totally seamless and fun.
So how do you avoid drinking bad coffee? You (now) know your beans are fresh. The next major step is to grind beans when you’re ready to brew, and not long before. Ground coffee has a lifespan that can be measured in minutes, which is why having a grinder is key. And THIS grinder gets it right.
Voltaire has components and features you’d expect from a barista’s dream setup. It’s what they’d bring home from the coffee shop - and you can even take it on the road.
We built this grinder from the inside-out, starting with conical ceramic burrs you'd normally find in a much larger grinder. We selected one of the best ceramics manufacturers in the world to make them for us. They generate an extremely reliable end product, and can be adjusted for French press, Turkish, and everything in between - including espresso, which demands highly consistent particle size.
Why conical? Conical burrs are an efficient grinding surface that can run at a relatively low RPM. That means less noise, and less heat buildup during the grinding process.
Why ceramic? Ceramic is harder and more long-lasting than stainless steel, and won’t need to be sharpened or replaced over time. It’s also very insulating, which means less heat retention. Heat starts to excite all of the volatile compounds in your beans, and you want those to end up in your cup as part of the brewing process, not to lose them beforehand.
We designed a stepless adjustment collar so that you can fine-tune your grind with expert precision. Most grinders allow you to choose from a handful of pre-set adjustments, which is easier to engineer but makes for an inferior end product. We're doing it the hard way, but it's worth the effort.
The beans drop directly from the hopper to the catch cup, which minimizes heat buildup and protects delicate flavor profiles. The more common alternative, a diagonal chute, overheats the beans and allows stale residue to build up.
A digital LED timer allows you start grinding and add - or subtract - time whenever you want. Once you've found the perfect grind time for your favorite brew, you can store that setting and activate it with a single touch.
A ring of bright LED lights above the catch cup illuminates the grinds as they descend from the burrs. It’s a beautiful sight, and also makes it easier to see how much you’ve ground.
The anti-static catch cup keeps grinds from jumping around or clinging. It can hold about 0.5lb (.22kg) ground beans, which is a little over 1.5 cups (350ml).
The lid locks in place for easy transport. An o-ring seal around bean hopper also limits oxygen and UV exposure to help slow the staling process (though the best hope for long-term bean storage is vacuum seal and toss them in a dark, cool place like a pantry cabinet or your freezer.) Like the catch cup, the hopper can store 0.5lb (.22kg) ground beans, which is a little over 1.5 cups (350ml).
The bean hopper can be removed for easy cleaning, and the components that come into direct contact with beans are dishwasher safe so that you can scrub away rancid oils or stale aromas.
Compatible with 100-120V and 220-240V power sources - when we say that the grinder can go anywhere, we mean it.
The stuff above makes for a really amazing feature list. We almost could have stopped right there - but we didn't.
We've put all of these features into a grinder you can hold with one hand, and that means you can take it anywhere. Voltaire’s high-performance LiFePO4 batteries hold power for weeks between charging.
Grind in the middle of your countertop, not in a corner by the outlet. Make fresh coffee on your backyard picnic table. Or take it even farther - you don't have to drink instant coffee on your next adventure. You can bring this grinder on a camping trip, to the beach, to the ski slopes, tailgating, or to next weekend's bike race.
Sensing the freshness of your coffee beans could be seen as a gimmick. Cool idea, but will it work? We’re a skeptical crew here at GIR, so we did a lot of testing to make sure we’ve got the goods. Our technology is patent pending, and there’s a lot more to come. But we thought it’d be fun to share some behind-the-scenes peeks at our process. To validate and refine our approach in the real-world, we designed test rigs with the help of none other than uber nerd Scott Heimendinger, THE Seattle Food Geek.
You’ve probably heard Scott’s name before, perhaps from his wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for the Sansaire, an amazing and affordable immersion circulator for cooking sous vide at home. Before co-founding Sansaire, Scott was the Director of Applied Research at Modernist Cuisine. He also laser-carves pumpkins in his free time.
Scott is a longtime friend of the GIR team, and a few months ago we chatted with him about the bean freshness sensing capability we were starting to build. When Scott heard about what we were planning, it tripped the geek-o-meter. He was both interested and gracious enough that he offered to help us research and prototype our sensing platform.
You might have guessed this already, but it turns out that Scott is a boss. He designed several sensing rigs so that we could look at volatile compound concentrations over time and the impact of things like temperature and bean grinding itself. This was a great proof of concept and helped narrow down our choice of which particular sensors would perform the best. Scott made a prototype of the sensing platform, and now we're running a number of other longer-term tests and integrating the sensors into the design of the Voltaire grinder and Airvault storage container.
Scott is going to back to his 30W CO2 laser to etch some more vegetables, but we were so lucky to have him in an advisory role. We're grateful for the amazing kickstart he gave us (pun intended) and we're ready to build the real deal.
We're able to deliver such a clever sensing base thanks to the countless contributions of makers and hackers who have driven down the barriers to entry for IoT devices. We want to continue that spirit of tinkering, for those of you inclined, by making the Voltaire Sensing Platform’s firmware largely open source. Want to create your own alerts, convert temperature readings to Kelvin, or use the sensing base for some other purpose entirely? Go for it.
And if apps are your thing, you can take advantage of the Voltaire API and SDK to develop your own applications that interact with our proprietary sensing technology.
Designed to match Voltaire, the Airvault Smart Container integrates our patent-pending freshness sensing platform into a beautiful storage vessel. An airtight lid limits oxygen exposure, and a one-way valve lets excess gases escape. 1.5lb whole bean storage capacity.
This 16oz glass carry cup is a sustainable travel cup, styled for grownups. It’s the perfect companion to the Voltaire family. Most importantly, it does all the things that cups do. Ever Cup’s sophisticated silicone sleeve insulates hot and cold liquids, and its stylish lid incorporates a novel locking mechanism to prevent spills while on the go.
This is not about making snobby coffee. It’s about helping everybody make better coffee with fewer unknowns in the equation. You can use freshly ground beans in your office drip setup (and be an office hero!), or that fancy espresso machine you splurged on. Either way, starting with fresh beans and a great grinder is pretty much all you need to start down the path toward maximum deliciousness. And that’s what Voltaire is all about.
Risks and challenges
This is our fourth Kickstarter - our backers have helped us bring over 30 products to life. Voltaire is our biggest project yet, but we're ready for the challenge. We have a beautiful functioning prototype, and we're ready for the next stage. We'd love your support.
With strong existing manufacturer relationships, deep experience in bringing product to market, and a fully committed in-house development team, we are ready to tackle the final steps.
This is our first production run for the Voltaire product line, so we'll have to tackle the financial challenge of meeting order minimums, production challenges such as rapidly adjusting molds if changes are required, and coordinating packaging and packing logistics... it's a big workload, but after three Kickstarter campaigns we know a bit about fulfillment (and we've delivered on time in every single campaign).Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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