Weber Workshops: A conversation with Douglas Weber on the HG-2 and KEY grinder
Omar Hi Douglas. I have to say, I'm super, super excited to do this. And the unusual thing about doing this interview thing is normally I have a bit of a discussion beforehand with whoever I'm talking to, so it's always really weird and awkward when I have to kind of switch all of a sudden...
Douglas Weber And pretend like we just started. Yeah, it's pretty funny how you just did that.
Omar And it's always difficult for me to do that and keep a straight face. My audience know that a collaboration with Weber Workshops has been an aspiration to be able to do something with you guys, so I'm super excited to have you on the blog and the podcast. Why don't you tell everyone who you are and what you do at Weber Workshops?
Douglas Weber Sure, my name is Douglas Weber. I own Weber Workshops. Most people know that I cut my teeth, if you will, into design and manufacturing at Apple. I was there through the heyday and the early 2000s up until 2014 when I left in order to pursue what had always really been my true passion, which was coffee and coffee products and putting to use all the things that I had learnt through my time at Apple and applying it towards coffee and things that I saw as room for improvement. That's what I've been doing since 2014.
Omar With regards to your story, because as someone who's kind of involved in the tech industry, people like yourself and Tony Fadell and all, all these guys are kind of held in on an extraordinarily high podium for myself. So right now, it’s like I'm talking to a tech rock star! At Apple you were involved in the in the iPod and iPod Nano, right?
Douglas Weber Absolutely, I was involved in all of the early generation iPods and the first iPod that I was given the reins on the product design for all the mechanical integration was the first iPod Nano. So, I did the first and the second one after we started shifting over to doing a bit more iPhone stuff. But yeah, I was involved in those products, and it's kind of important to remember that back in those days, it was really just one person per discipline for a product. So, you feel a little bit more ownership towards those things than I think latter day products.
Omar That's so cool. So cool. One thing that we talk about quite often in the podcast is coffee journeys and really getting in to the nitty gritty of how do people get into coffee? And I've spoken at great length about my coffee journey, but you mentioned that it's always been a passion of yours, and kind of geeking out on his stuff. What was your journey? When did you realise that you were bitten by the bug?
Douglas Weber Yeah, I think I think I started actually before my true love for the drink. I mean, I started getting into coffee more in high school, with regards to just cafes as a place to sit down and study, because that was just kind of the thing to do growing up in sort of suburban Los Angeles. So, in the mid to late 90s, I guess, is, you know, for those of us who were a bit more academically focused, the cafe was a place to go to, to kind of sit down and read and go through your mathematics and science reading books and all the stuff that you needed to do for regular your regular day. It was kind of an activity because it also gave you a bit of a social scene in addition to getting what you had to do, done and so for me, it was more about the place than it was about what I was actually consuming. I think that was the introduction. Then it just followed suit when I got into university, the cafe was always the place where you could go to both enjoy the time and you're focusing on work as well. It then moved into the next phase once we got into the early 20s and I joined Apple and it was I guess the flourishing period of third wave coffee on the west coast of the US. If you keep in mind that I was in San Francisco, which was one of hot spots working together with a bunch of international design focused people, other people from the UK and Italy and other places that had, I guess, a little bit more cultural recognition of what coffee was at the time, and then the people trying to push the boundaries of that, you know, in the west coast of the states at the time. So we're always drinking the best stuff before we went into work in the morning in the city, in San Francisco, commuting down to Cupertino and playing on the espresso machines at work and talking about coffee while we were designing iPods and the iPhone stuff, the conversations were always intertwined. That really, you know, led to buying machines, taking machines apart, saying, wow, I wish I was designing these instead of iPods but iPods are so cool with changing history.
Omar Just to kind of interject, I think it was Kevin Rose, the angel investor. I think he's also got a tech background as well, but I think it was him that said that coffee was always the energy drink for geeks.
Douglas Weber Certainly it was there long before Monster, Red Bull, all of that stuff. It's always been, but it's also very relevant today.
Omar Totally. Totally. And you kind of mentioned the impact that in your environment that the European idea of coffee and how that evolved the American ideal of coffee. What was your impression when you saw the explosion of something like Blue Bottle Coffee?
Douglas Weber I mean, before the explosion, it was still a very, like, hush hush, but it was like one of the places to go a back alley in the valley where a guy would like to open up a garage door almost, and you could get really, really good coffee. And it was like, well, in a way, because I'd say it was mind blowing but at the same time, those people were also travelling internationally and having some of the best coffee from around the world. I remember one of the most sort of transformative because the experiences I had was going into an early day Coffee Collective in Copenhagen and having an espresso that blew my mind and then I got in to roasting technologies and why everyone on the West Coast was doing really great stuff but stuck on drum roasters that are really limiting and just trying to open up the door even further to more possibilities and concepts. And yeah, we were lucky to have a very good baseline, but we also saw that, you know, people were pushing the boundaries beyond what was in the Bay area.
Omar It really is fascinating for me that this environment, in particular Silicon Valley, where historically it's not really known for having great coffee, but then all of a sudden it was almost overnight people just wanted better coffee. I think it was kind of down to down to retailers to provide them with something better. I guess that there's a similar kind of thing going on with you as well, purely because you don't need to be a genius to realise that your interest in coffee from a from a design and a commercial perspective seems to be more on the grinding side rather than the brewing side, although I would probably argue that they both go hand in hand anyway. But it seems as though that your interest lies in grinding, where did that come from?
Douglas Weber Well, it's funny you say that because I actually started off the opposite way, When I left Apple, I was like the first thing I'm gonna do is I'm going to make an espresso machine. And I got into it and I was just like, OK, I'm gonna get into this and like, do all these things and, you know, it got to the point where I made a decision to have a self-funded company and sort of grow it organically as opposed to taking VC money and one of the things that I quickly, quickly learnt just because as soon as I stepped out of my Apple shoes and got into specialty coffee, I was looking at what people were doing, what baristas were doing and what were the biggest pain points in terms of brewing for making an espresso. One of the things that I saw immediately that you still see today is people grinding into a portafilter, weighing a portafilter, tearing it, grinding into it and weighing it again and then throwing away extra grinds. Then I was just like, this is just completely asinine like people are throwing probably 10 percent of a very valuable commodity that has been grown quite high up in the mountains across the world, transported and then and then roasted by a master local person. And then people are throwing away 10 or 20 percent, what is this? This is clearly a deficiency in the machine that's grinding it and that got into the understanding that like, well, they're doing this because the machines aren't capable of putting out to the dime what they're supposed to be grinding, you can't say I want a 20. something because you won’t get that, you're going to get plus or minus a gram or two.
Omar Are you talking about grind retention?
Douglas Weber Yes and no, because grind retention is really irrelevant when you have a big hopper of beans sitting above the grinder but more than that is just being able to hit something on the dime in terms of what you're grinding. If you were to take away the hopper, which is what some people did, but they didn't do that in coffee shops, they're just like over grinding and throwing away. That just got me to say, OK, they're doing this because they're limited by the machines and they're compensating with practice, which results in a lot of waste and say, OK, like first thing I would do is start make a grinder that that doesn't retain anything and remove the hopper. Because I always thought the hopper was like the most ridiculous thing in the world it's like the worst thing you can possibly is to have a couple of a couples of kilograms of beans sitting up there above like a heated motor source, like changing the way that it needs to be ground throughout the day and lessening in quality as the day progresses. That it's the same as a cafe as well as the home. The home is just absolutely ridiculous.
Omar But it's bonkers. It makes no sense to have to have a setup like home. You're essentially keeping your beans in the worst environment you possibly can, you've got the bottom portion being chemically altered by the heat being emitted by the motor. And you've got the top being diminished by oxidative stress!
Douglas Weber Yes! So the first thing I did was remove the hopper, figure out how to get exactly out, what you put in, which results in sort of zero retention concepts and looking at that. It just started snowballing from there and now we're in effect single dosing. But now that we're single dosing, what are we going to put our beans in? OK, now we have to go and invent a Bean Cellar so it like what are the ideal condition for storing beans? well, OK, their freshly roasted, their giving off of CO2, cO2 is actually a nice gas as opposed to oxygen. And just using like the by-products of fresh beans in order to create an optimal storage environment led to the invention of the Bean Cellar. It's nice to make them in glass and have these really beautiful objects, but like people are gonna want to do this commercially so inventing a food safe plastic version for the roastery. But then people started using them at home, because then they can use a bunch of them and then throw them in the freezer. It's like one thing just leads to another. That was sort of like the story of the beginning is to set out to make an espresso machine but it was like, wow, there's all these things to do just with grinding and stuff that people have looked at these things before and had the resources and favors owed to me from Apple days, people in places that owned very big electron microscope and could give me like crazy data on grind profiles and distributions and stuff and just a very analytical way of looking at the manufacturing of burrs, the manufacturing of the grinder, what the input and output of those things are and how that affects both analytically as well as just empirically what you're drinking in the cup. Putting the pieces together, really got me down the sort of a rabbit hole of grinding, not just not espresso creation and to an early realization that there's probably more deficiencies in the coffee grinding then there is in the espresso brewing. That’s just with espresso brewing but the same applies to pour over or AeroPress or whatever you’re using.
Omar One thing that I really like about what you're doing, so companies I've spoken to have started from the user’s perspective. So from the from the person who's using the equipment and what can they do with the design of their product to make their workflow easier. Essentially, what you've done is you've started from the product, which is the coffee you've started from how can we kind of create an end product which is optimum and provides a certain amount of respect to this commodity. How can we stop wasting stuff? How can we keep it in an environment where it's as optimum as possible? And then that's kind of evolved to your design.
Douglas Weber There is a word that we used back in design school it was 'need finding' I hated it at the time and I don't intentionally apply those practices to day-to-day stuff, but it became very apparent that I was in a way doing that because I saw something that was just mind boggling. It wasn't like I was searching for this problem or anything I was just like really interested in coffee, knew this stuff hadn't really evolved in a long time, and then saw people trying to push the envelope in terms of what they were doing with coffee, but there were clear deficiencies in the machinery. So, in a way, it was back to square one in terms of need finding something that I always despised, but doing it in a way that worked for me. I think the thing that I probably didn't mention also, which was I set out to make an espresso machine, but then when I got into sort of the grinding stuff and realized that there is a much lower barrier to entry in terms of product creation from that. Just in terms of a product safety and ease of bringing to market standpoint as opposed to high pressure boilers and other systems and stuff which is easy to pencil and design on paper. But when it comes to the practical aspect of sending those things all over the world and having people have a pressurized high temperature boilers and stuff and with a sort of national company like what is the best way to get into this? And it's, again, a barrier to entry. It's like, OK, we're going to start to put one foot in front of the other, start with the grinders, because even though the barrier to entry is lower, it is actually probably just as big a problem to be solved in that field as there is in espresso brewing.
Omar I have to say, before we get into the, well already have going into some intricacies of coffee grinding anyway but before we kind of move more into that, I have to congratulate you, my background as hedge funding and my number one complaint about start-ups is VC funding. I always find that companies with VC funding really don't actually know what it means by bootstrapping.
Douglas Weber It drove me nuts. And I saw the majority of people who were leaving Apple. It was like they would leave; they would find something to create but the goal was getting a bunch of the VC money and peeling away between 10 and 20 engineers from Apple to come with them on some boondoggle was more important than thing that they were trying to create. More times than not I would just like just take a look at it like, what are you making again? Like this thing? And you got how much money? And you have how many people? I could never understand it. I saw so much of that and it was just such a turnoff that I was like screw this like, like I can make a product that I think is very viable, probably by myself, not that I want to do stuff by myself, but it's like the idea of bootstrapping and growing something organically is so imperative and necessary as a litmus test to how viable the company is. If you can do something like that and prove that there's like a good need for it, great, so you only make one hundred products and you sell them out instantaneously as proof that there's a market for it.
Omar And something that we've kind of both previously discussed at fairly great length is the importance of organic growth. You can't really do that when you've got, you know, nowadays to be funded by VC with five million dollars is fairly standard now, that's kind of seed money level stuff, that that's really nothing. So, you can't have organic growth when you've got five million dollars in the bank account with no product, with no concept. So I have to congratulate you, it's easier said than done, but you said you wanted to do it and you did it and you've made a success of it. As someone who doesn't really like start-ups that have these extraordinary VC budgets, I have a tremendous amount of respect for what you've done so congratulations on that.
Douglas Weber Thank you so much. We still operate in a very similar way to when we started, I still look at everything and spend it as if it were coming out of my pocket because in essence it does. But luckily things are, you know, on a good trajectory. So it allows us better growth, employees and resources in other stuff.
Omar All the stuff that makes your life a little bit easier. So, you started off with the espresso machine idea, then you moved over to the grinder. Was the EG-1 the first product that you guys came out with and kind of what was the what was the thinking behind that and how has that been for you guys since you released it?
Douglas Weber Yeah, the EG-1 was the first I mean, we had to sort of a fun side project before that, which was the HG-1 which was a hand grinder and that almost by definition, is very limited in terms of who's going to be adopted.
Omar Well grinding at home back then especially was already niche and hand griding was a niche product in a niche industry.
Douglas Weber Yeah, yeah, and plus the complexity of it as well was very easy so that was like a nice thing to have coming out of the shoot. But the first real product that involves some engineering effort and coordination was the EG-1, and that was the one that we really intended to help solve the problems of like cafes throwing away 20 percent of their coffee grounds just to make a cup with a repeatable extraction so that was really the first the first sort of flagship products.
Omar What year did you guys come out with that?
Douglas Weber 2015 announced it. So, we founded the company in 2014 that it was the end of 2014. And then, in 2015 we announced it was probably six months of really quick engineering and design prototyping and stuff to get the first model they released it in less than a year of starting the company, primarily just using a bunch of manufacturing resources that I had created during Apple time.
Omar That's amazing. And then that kind of evolved into, excuse me if I'm being a bit overzealous about this, but an iconic grinder, which would be the EG-1. Iconic for its design, for its capabilities and also for its price as well.
Douglas Weber Yeah, it's funny you mention the price, because when you look at the world of commercial grinders and stuff, it's actually very like on par with its peers. But when you look at what goes into it, it's something that could only be done by direct marketing and cutting out all the middleman, particularly in the commercial grinder to look at is going to go to a distributor or a wholesaler and It's like all these people are skimming off the top. It's that business model is so outdated.
Omar It's a tremendously inflated and bloated and route to market.
Douglas Weber Yeah. I mean like a cost of materials, like that's a fraction of what ours is, but selling at a similar price and you see it and what you're getting. But it's just different in terms of the visibility because we never try to market ourselves exclusively for either the home or for the commercial environment, we just trying to make the best things. And they should be applicable, whether you want to use it at home or in the coffee shop and then you have home users start to look at this stuff. It like wait, a home product costs this much? But It's actually a commercial quality, if not greater. But people are also choosing to use it their home because it doesn't happen to be the same size as a commercial grinder.
Omar Actually, when I was talking to a friend, because I said I've been I've been quite excited about this. So, I was talking to a friend about this collaboration that I'm doing with Weber Workshops. And he went online, had a look, and he was like, oh, my God, three and a half thousand dollars on a grinder. I'm like, Yeah, but hang on a second, it's expensive, but is it overpriced? That's the question that you need to ask, that's the key question. And that's what I ask about everything that I invest my money into or anything that I feature in the podcast. to me it’s so clear and so obvious that it's not overpriced. You know, if you if you compare that to the EK 43 I mean, which is more expensive or the same kind of price range but I mean, look what you're getting with the EG-1. That’s pretty much what I said to my friend, and he said hang on a second that that makes perfect sense. Yes, it's expensive stuff and you can't really talk about the products that you're producing without mentioning the prices because, you know, in anyone's world, three and a half thousand pounds is expensive, but it's not overpriced. And I think that's what's really quite fascinating about what you're doing,
Douglas Weber Yeah, you've actually hit the nail on the head, if anything, it's actually underpriced for what it is for a typical market. I mean, somebody recently quoted me and I had to laugh because it's something I shouldn’t have said that like it’s clear that I didn't get my MBA because of blah, blah, blah, and because I'm not doing things according to typical business school approach where you're manufacturing something and doing four times mark up. And I'm like, well, this is what it cost me to make this is what I'm happy selling it for but I have to do that according to my terms and my terms are and so is direct and if I am going to have anyone distributing this, it’s not going to be a typical distributor model. They're not going to take a 30 percent cut and do this because it just doesn't work with the way that we manufacture and sell things. And I think it's good because I think the customer gets like the greatest stuff that I'm not going to say that it's affordable is not the right word...
Omar Yeah, but then again, like, you know, if you if you kind of peer through all the all the products and brands that we feature in the podcast, none of them are affordable, but they're all worth it.
Douglas Weber Yeah, it's definitely worthwhile. At the end of the day, because I like to look at things on a full life perspective and when you consider the cost of the use,
Omar Cost per use is the formula that we that we use on the podcast, it's a cost per use over the lifetime of the product.
Douglas Weber It's going to be like one of the cheapest things in existence because everything else will die in three to four years or whatever, and ours you'll use until YOU die and that's the difference. Yeah, and when you look at things like that and also just the value in your daily experience, like having a mitigant experience on a daily basis probably for three to four years until you repeat that exercise versus enjoying that process every day for the rest of your days. To me, that's a no brainer but I'm in a strange part of the mindset in the world, I guess. And that's where I started. But I, I started this with the belief that if I think that way, there must be other people. I think similarly, like yourself!
Omar By the magic of the Internet, we have found each other through the ether. And we're now here having a conversation, two like-minded individuals, which kind of supports the idea of the Internet being an echo chamber that we were discussing last time.
Douglas Weber Oh, yeah. We should we shouldn't be talking to the haters!
Omar The thing is, is you have so many quote unquote, influencers out there who tote things as being affordable therefore, it's worth it because it's disposable in its nature and I think that is a terrible mindset to have. I think you should really invest in what you have, whether it's a coffee grinder, whether it's a jumper or a pair of shoes or whatever it might be. I've got a huge problem with planned obsolescence. I think that's a really terrible way that brands work
Douglas Weber its complete horseshit and it's like the bane of modern society.
Omar yeah. I totally agree with you. I mean, I kind of touched upon it in one of my blog posts, and it's definitely something I'm going to be expanding on. It's such a beautiful moment where you find something that, yes, is expensive, but it's overpriced for what it actually is. And I think that's when you really find the cusp of engineering or I hate this term, but the cutting edge. But truly, when you find something that is underpriced for what it is, but it's already at a fairly I guess you could call it an inaccessible price point because £3500 will for most people will be inaccessible. I think you know that you're producing for a small portion of people who enjoy their coffee. But I find that what you guys are producing is at the cutting edge, and that's someone talking from using one of your products and that's your cheapest product, I think that you make, which is the blind shaker. I have used none of your stuff and just by using a metal cup with a lid, with a plunger in it, I can already tell that, you know, things are going to be next level with your more expensive and focus point products in your in your range. I'm a huge fan of the blind shaker and I think it’s probably the most covered product online?
Douglas Weber Yeah probably! I think it’s because it’s the most universal.
Omar And I think it might also be because of its accessibility with regards to price point as well, it’s a fairly, fairly accessible product.
Douglas Weber Yeah, we always refer to it as the gateway drug. It's an easy way to, you know, to have a taste of what it means to use your stuff. It's not it's not intended, you know, to make some money for the company. But we want people to have a taste and to understand what it means to think about the experience and the materials and the quality of workmanship on what they're buying. And even for that, it costs eighty dollars and people would say that that's crazy expensive, but it's really not for what it is.
Omar You’re right, it really isn’t, I mean, there's dosing cups that I've seen out there that are significantly more expensive.
Douglas Weber Really?
Omar Yeah, but I really don't like dosing cups, I've tried a few dosing cups and they don't distribute the grounds very well and I always end up using WDT as well. I think they're just a bit of a waste of money, to be honest. I think it’s more of a workflow flourish that people enjoy using but doesn’t actually really do much. Which is why I love the blind shaker so much. You've got all these side products that have branched out from it but you've recently come out with some new products, two new grinders, the HG-2 and the KEY. Do you want to tell me about those, and why you’ve released these particular grinders?
Douglas Weber For sure, they were they're kind of designed in parallel. And one of them was HG-2 which replaced the HG-1, something that had been around for many years and really it was just time to make that product what it really needed to be to be usable for everybody. We had many years of creating this of making this product and having it go into homes where only dad would use it and he would only use it sometimes because if you got into lighter roasts, it became very difficult to use. I think it was spawned originally as much an exercise in aesthetics as it was in true usability and thoughtfulness about the kitchen and we wanted to just grow up and face what it really needed to be and make all the necessary improvements for it. And so, what we did is there were certain aspects that were good, you know, it has probably the right posture for actually grinding beans effectively that you're holding onto and providing stability with your left hand, grinding on a big flywheel with your right, so that stays. But everything else, like when it comes to, OK, now, how easy is it? One of the first things that we came about with that well, several things. One was just like unnecessary space thing was much bigger than it needed to be so how do we reduce the footprint, that was very easy to reduce it to the minimum of what it could be. One of the very big things on it, when you have a flywheel with an arm sticking out the side is the arm sticking out the side ends up taking an extra 100 millimeters of counter space when it's not in use. And that's quite a lot when you're living in an apartment, even a nice apartment in a place like San Francisco or London, it's prime real estate. I was referring to the countertop, the kitchen as Ginza real estate. I think considering that for the customer, I think this is a very important thing. So we created 10 or so prototypes of a foldable handle so that when you're not grinding with this thing you fold the handle out of the way and you're saving yourself 100 millimeters, which is another item in your kitchen, pretty much, so there was that. And then the very big thing about how easy it is to grind beans, especially when you're switching lighter roasts and darker roasts the fact that this is always the grinder that only dad would use, only what he's doing, particularly athletic.
Omar Douglas, if somebody was reading this and kind of didn't really get what you mean about this whole lighter/darker roast difference, why would it be more difficult to grind a lighter roast?
Douglas Weber Of course, for lighter roasts it's harder. You haven't embrittled the beans so much to make it easier to grind. And so it takes more force to turn the flywheel and that led to an invention which was very simple and innocuous seeming at the time by it was quite an endeavor was to add a transmission inside of the same gearbox. So keeping the same gearbox size, but making it basically half the work to turn the flywheel.
Omar So you essentially integrated some kind of gear ratio?
HG-2 Transmission Switch
Douglas Weber Totally. I mean, it's by all definitions of the word, it's a transmission. So, it's a transmission gearbox and you basically swap between two different gear ratios in order to do a one to one or one or two. And you feel it immediately. I mean, very recently, James Hoffman came out with a nice unboxing of his HG-2. He takes out of the box and while he’s grinding, he’s making all these hard to grind face and then you like his eyes light up and he down shifts the gear and then he smiles. He did it better than we ever could imagine.
Omar He’s literally the best it is.
Douglas Weber He's just golden to be fair.
Omar You put it perfectly you called him a true gentleman, which he is.
Douglas Weber He really is, I mean in everything. I mean he was completely fair when he started evaluating all these things, absolutely insisted upon, you know, paying for everything. I can't speak highly enough of him, he’s a wonderful guy. But back to the HG-2. So now it's not just the grinder to use for medium to dark roasts and you don't have to pop a vein while you’re doing your lighter roasts. I mean, even in my own household, it was always the thing that only I was only I would touch only I would actually dare to touch it.
Omar Maybe you were the only one who was physically capable enough to use the damn thing?
Douglas Weber True, and that is kind of in a sense that there's a bit of inevitability. I mean, if you're committed to hand grinding there's a certain amount of work that has to be done to those beans, so you're not going to magically eliminate that work. But what you can do is you can, one, reduce all the inefficiencies of getting there so all the friction and all the ergonomic problems that exist with most hand grinders of like trying to hold some of your hands, like, you know, do something in the wrong axis is the worst way to try and hand grind something
Omar The worst axis would be horizontally, right? I think that's just such a terrible, terrible design.
Douglas Weber Makes no sense. Yeah, and the HG-1 was in a good place to address some of that, the ergonomics were good, you're able to transmit a bunch of your force into it effectively, but you were stuck in high gear all the time, which meant that it was kind of like riding a single speed bicycle through San Francisco. It's like the only people that do that are the maniacs. But, you know, the world wised up with bicycle and they created gears and it was kind of the same thing for the HG-2. It's just less max bench press and more, you know, 12 reps.
Omar I really like that analogy, that you definitely don't want to have to wake up every morning thinking you're going to hit your one rep max.
Douglas Weber Exactly.
Omar I think I've told you this, I love hand grinding. I have a hand grinder and I have an electric grinder and I enjoy it. But I'll tell you what, the problem is, is really loving and enjoying light to medium roast coffee it does not necessarily pair well with 98 percent of the hand grinders on the market. So yeah, it makes perfect sense to put a one to two ratio in there just to make life a bit easier. It takes a bit more time but I think people who are using a hand grinder are already willing to commit that time.
Douglas Weber It was the first time that my wife ever actually walked up and started to grind coffee on the machine. I said to her that you have to try it, this is actually going to work now and she was able to step up to the plate and grind a cup of coffee and say that it was acceptable.
Omar That must have been like the ultimate Eureka moment.
Douglas Weber It was just like, OK, this now deserves to exist.
Omar So the Hg-2 was essentially an evolution product off of the HG-1 you realized a few bits that need to change and you've kind of evolved it to make it what it needed to be.
Douglas Weber It ultimately went into taking every single piece, every single mechanism and redoing everything. There's not a single piece that's the same as it was in the original. The whole purpose of the original was to make it very cleanable, accessible burs from the top and the bottom. But you had to pull out a brush from a drawer or something it's like this is another great idea that I stole from my wife, which was like, OK, we have a brush, we have a place to put it that was going to put it somewhere like in the body and she's like why don’t you put it in the grab handle? So I found a place to put it in there and it was wonderful! It's like exactly where it should be. And then, you know, every time you open up the door, like ten more doors, it's like, OK, well, now we're going to put the brush in there. But how are we going to deal with, like, taking out a brush and putting it back and making that experience? So we ended up coming up with this really nice hardwood handle and the solid brass sleeve that can cover the bristles when they go back in. But then when you push it back, it automatically retracts so when you pull it out it's already ready to use. There's also a magnet and basically an attraction plate in the handle so it's all the way in it can't just fall out, so it magnetically gets sucked in. But it's just these little things and getting those details right takes thought, iterations and a lot of development, you know, like finding the way to do that and to embed those things in a way where things still remain seamless and the materials are still integral to what you're holding. It's not trivial.
Weber Workshops Brush
Omar I think that great product development and product design in particular is so obvious when you've got something beautiful, when even the brush is just beautifully designed. I mean, I've seen the video that you sent me and it's like this hardwood thing with this beautiful brass hardware that retracts over the bristles and I mean it’s a brush at the end of the day. But when you look at the brushes that's shipped with so many of these other grinders, I name no names...
Douglas Weber It’s just a brush off the shelf in China. Like I started off with an investigation into what type of hair is the best to use for a coffee brush.
Omar What type of hair is the best?
Douglas Weber It's actually a combination of horse and boar because they end up being different levels of stiffness, and you want a combination of both stiff in order to get the stuff that really stuff stuck in the crevices as well as to kind of dig it out of the corners in combination with a little bit softer and like a horse hair to whisk away the smaller particles on the surface. That was the start of creating the brush we use in our grinders. The thing is that I want our products to last and I guarantee you the handle of the brush will look so much cooler in 20 years’ time then it does now.
Omar I totally agree with you and I said this on a recent blog post where you want your stuff to come on a journey with you. At the end of the day, you want your stuff to be able to tell a story about what it's done with you and you want to form relationships with your stuff as well. I know that sounds really silly and I know a lot of people will probably laugh about that but for me, that's quite important to be able to buy your stuff and form a bond and a relationship with it, wanting to look after your stuff as opposed to being obliged or forced to do so. I think that's a big problem with modern globalism and consumerism, where, unfortunately, the economies of scale are all set in a way where the majority of people aren't in a position to be able to afford to invest in things that are nice enough for them to want to look after, which is which is very unfortunate. But I think it really is important to like your stuff, to form a relationship, to make a bond, to go on a journey with your stuff like, you know, I've got a watch, which I've had for I was given it when I was 13 by my dad and it's a bit small for me now, I mean, it's like a thirty-six-millimeter Rolex Date just. It was his first watch that he then gave to me when I was 13 and whenever I wear it, it reminds me about all the stuff like what has this bloody thing been through? You know, it's older than me. What stories has this thing got to tell? And I think that's the same thing with anything that you buy, whether it's a grinder, a watch or a car. You know, the stories that your vintage Porsche has got to tell. Can you imagine the things it's been through?
Douglas Weber Yeah, its seen a lot of action.
Omar Exactly, and more action than anyone will ever have in a lifetime. That's the thing about machines, you know, is that they should be designed to outlive humans and so the things that they go through, the stories they tell by their wear and tear and the way that they evolve over time with their owners is extraordinary. Talking about products evolving, something I'm very excited about is the key grinder, because that is a new product altogether for you guys. Tell me what the story is behind that.
Douglas Weber Very nice segway! We had this platform for the all the new things going into the HG-2 and one thing that I didn't talk about yet, as you've already mentioned, that the blind shaker and the way that we have dealt with the ground's coming out of the grinder has been very integral to the products. It was really probably the biggest aha moment in the design phase of both the key and the HG-2, because they were happening in parallel was what we now call the magic tumbler. It didn't have a name for a long time, it was it was this thing that because I've always been thinking about how to handle the stuff in, I called the work place, which is actually know just your countertop or whatever, but your...
Omar Coffee bar or whatever it might be
Douglas Weber your coffee precisely. But what do you do with the ground's coming out? How do you get them from the grinder to where they want to be in a very clean and deliberate manner, and you already mentioned the word, so I'll say it again, but WDT, Weiss distribution technique and the fact that, like, there is sort of this inherent need to take what is a pile of freshly ground coffee and homogenize it by taking a chopstick or a whisk or something and stirring it up. The differences are night and day, if had an espresso machine and done that process, tamped and pulled a shot, you can tell that you will have a significant reduction in channeling improved extraction quality, improved extraction yields. And I was just thinking about this well while driving home one day from work and I had to pull the car over because it was like so obvious, but I couldn't fathom that no one had thought of this before was to utilise the fact that you have a spinning rod already because any coffee grinder has a spinning main axis and a top burr and bottom burr. And to use that motion to actually complete this task for you, it's like, oh fuck, this thing just has to be directly coupled, you don't need a funnel underneath this like this, the entire blind shaker should be stuck to this. So, I’m thinking how the hell am I going to do this so I quickly sketch it up, the next day finished a CAD, kicked off a prototype within twenty-four hours of having an idea as well as contacting our patent lawyer that we use for all of our stuff and he was just like, holy shit. Like really this is like this is it, this is such a no brainer. The first prototype took a couple of iterations to get it right but we were also able to, in a sense, not create just the final solution, but also the platform, because, you know, we created the wiper and the little stainless stirring rod that goes down in to the magic tumbler which is a removal piece so we can evolve the design over time but what we currently have is a pretty great foundation.
KEY Magic Tumbler
Omar I am also guessing that since WDT reduces static that it kind of mitigates the need of spraying water on your beans before grinding?
Douglas Weber You're right on with that, there's inherent static electricity that's created by bean particles rubbing on bean particles. So it's creating by itself and you ultimately have to dissipate that and having something like a grounded, stirring rod in the inside actually does wonders at reducing that.
Omar This is exciting for me because I actually RDT purely because of the workflow element, I like to weigh my beans in the same cup that I'm going to be grinding them into. I don't like having a separate cup to do different jobs. So unfortunately, if I'm spraying in the cup that I'm going to grind into, I then have to wipe out after I've just dosed it into the into the grinder
Douglas Weber Its just horrible.
Omar It's so ridiculous. I don't like it, but I've noticed once grinding into the blind shaker shaking it up completely mitigates any issue that I have with the with static so that's actually a great point. The WDT wire that you've got now attached to the inside of the chamber, that's something that you've now integrated across the HG-2 and the key?
Douglas Weber Yes absolutely! But yeah, it is funny because when we look at early renditions of the key before we even called it the key, it used to be called the EG-2 but this wasn’t meant to replace the EG-1 so we were kind of stuck with the name for a while.
Omar For those who don't know, EG-1 stands for electric grinder. HG-2 is hand grinder and the key is a standalone product, it's something new.
Douglas Weber Yeah, and in earlier generations, it actually looks like a motorised HG-2. But when we really got into the nitty gritty of creating this thing, I think inherently conical grinders are more accessible to the masses, there's always going to be the argument about what's better between conical and flat burrs, I think that's a separate conversation entirely. We could probably do an entire podcast around that. But ultimately, I mean, conicals are great, they're here to stay as are flat. They're both staple's but conicals inherently are, I guess, more deeply rooted in coffee culture. And then when we really started thinking about it, we got into like, OK, like, what are the key things that we want to do with this? Ultimately, we wanted the maximum amount of grander and the minimum amount of space because again, space is always at a premium and we're never going to sacrifice what grind quality is and grand quality is defined by things like burr size, its ability to change the speed of rotation, the quality of your concentricity and just axial trueness of the of the design. So keeping all the good aspects of the HG-2 and the massive grind chamber, but getting rid of everything else. When we did this, I realised that I was able to fit everything else into a frame that was actually narrower than the grind chamber. Which was kind of funny because then you can take these 83mm conical burrs with like a really nice way of controlling the burrs relative to each other, a really good grind adjustment mechanism and t's exactly 110mm in diameter. But then I was able to fit all the electronics and everything else into this slim body that was just 80mm wide and 80mm is less than the width of the credit card. The reason that I came up with the name Key is like I was just like trying to figure out what to name the damn thing and I was looking at all my engineering drawings and I was looking at the one of the foot. And I was like, it just looked like a key from the side. so, the name key came to mind, and then I was like Jesus Christ this name is perfect!
Omar I want to just kind of mention, to me, the Weber Workshop grinders are the most high-end home grinders that I've come across, the most pedantic about detail that I've ever come across regardless of budget. But from my experience 83mm Conical shape burrs are pretty big, I don't think I can think of a grinder with conicals that big.
Douglas Weber They're bigger than almost any commercial burr grinder, which is the crazy thing. There’s a couple of companies that make burrs that size and one of them is Mazzer and they only use them standard in and they're three phase version of their big industrial grinder. Most of their Roburs use 71mm, which is a big step down in size from 83. And you know, it's like. one of the rare cases where bigger is better.
Omar Yeah, especially if your motor and electronics can keep up with that as well. But what I find extraordinary is not only have you managed to make such a small footprint of the grinder by maximising capability, but is it also a variable RPM grinder as well?
Douglas Weber Yeah, I would never I would never put an AC induction motor in anything because it's just like sacrilege to do that in modern day. But that is default cross the industry for almost anything, anything that is using a grinder where you can't do that is what they're doing. For me, I always look at things in terms of power density and longevity and what it comes down to. You know, brushless DC is a motor technology is just the way to go. One of the free freebies that you get from that is it's a very simple way of controlling your R.P.M. without sacrificing your torque output. As long as you have something like AC induction motor and you’re trying to throttle it down to not have the momentum, then you don't get your torque output and you're going to burn out your motor at a lower RPM. So, by using a better motor technology, putting that in there we're able to create it so we can go from anywhere from 50 RPM to 300 RPM without a major difference in torque. When you see it go like 50 is slow, it's very, very slow, like no heat generated grind but goes up to 300, which is fairly quick.
Omar As I mentioned, I've never actually come across a machine with such large conical bows before. I didn't know prior to this conversation that the burrs were that big, that's extraordinary. So you've got some of the biggest conical buds I've ever seen in a in a home machine, in fact, bigger than most commercial machines. You've got one that fits in the footprint that the majority of fairly affordable grinders can also fit in. It's a variable speed grinder as well, which is crazy for the price, and you've got something which is made by you guys so, you know it's one of the best made products money can buy.
Douglas Weber That’s very kind of you to say. Of course, we have spoken about the importance of the condition of your grinds coming out of the grinder but what about cleaning the machine? Clean burrs and cleaning your grinders shouldn’t be a monthly process, it should be a daily process if not like a shot-by-shot process in between cups and stuff. And, you know, like we really have one of the only platforms we can do all that stuff, tool free, so it's just done in a matter of seconds and that will impact the quality of what you're drinking as much as anything else.
Omar And also not only tool free, because there are there are a couple of things that I've grinder's that I've used that are mostly tool free, but it's a nightmare tool free, do you see what I'm saying? It's like a five-minute job tool free. You have to spin this for like two minutes and constantly do it, but with your products, whether it's the EG-1, HG-2 or Key, it's a beautiful tool free. It's a very quick and efficient and very pleasurable tool for kind of work flow to clean your burrs.
Douglas Weber Yeah, and it's almost it's almost a fun thing. I have a friend, a friend close by to me here who always laughs because his daughter in middle school, he says his grinder is always spotless because his daughter loves coming in to take it apart and clean it, so she'll do it like every day.
Omar Amazing and amazing. And I can definitely attest, very similar to you, I'm a stickler of just keeping anything clean. I'm kind of one step below OCD when it comes to cleanliness.
Douglas Weber That's about where I like to be too.
Omar That kind of comfortable zone before you start losing your mind. I love to keep my burrs clean but I thought, hang on, let me really just see, because I don't think people realise there's two things which I've always found insane. And I was overjoyed when I found that you guys were addressing both. Number one was people who were drilling holes in burrs to hold them in to the grinder chamber. But yet those same people complain when a burr gets chipped and they think that's going to degrade the quality of their particle consistency. I've always found that absolutely insane. I'm like, your burr has got three holes in it and you're concerned about a chipped blade. Are you insane? Are you nuts? That’s one thing and the other thing is the complete disregard of the effect that the buildup of coffee oil has on your burrs, the degrading almost corrosive nature of coffee oil.
Douglas Weber I highly recommend anybody who owns a coffee grinder that's not one of ours to take it apart, they gather all the stuff that's in the crevices, make a little bowl of it and spread it on like a Kleenex or a tissue paper and smell it. It is rancid, disgusting stuff is just horrible and to think that that is the type of stuff that is contaminating your brew. I always try to draw the analogy of going to a sushi restaurant where the chef never washes his knife, and it’s kind of what you’re doing if your drinking coffee ground on an unclean grinder. But any almost any coffee shop in the world that you walk in there and ask them do you clean your grinders they're just like, they'll give you the deer in headlights look.
Omar An answer I’ve heard quite often is why would we because I think there's a common fallacy that I've heard, which is I'm always using my grinder so the retention and build up that's in there is always fresh. And you're like, no, it's not actually, the wastage in there is not fresh it's just a buildup.
Douglas Weber It's as fresh as your colon.
Omar Exactly. Those are like the two things that bothered me and the fact that you guys were attaching your burrs through locking pins and magnets, I thought that was like. Honestly, I found it so perplexing every single time I saw Mazzer burrs and it had these massive, they're not small, they're massive holes in in the burr and three of them on each burr. You know, you guys kind of solved that. But, you know, I decided to do a test. People who don't clean their burrs, they're not doing a monthly clean, they're just never cleaning their burrs so we're talking years of coffee build up. Regardless, I thought let me just leave it for a month, so I used it every day with a 15g dose. very quickly it became apparent that my grinder was finding it more difficult to chew through the coffee, that was number one. And number two, you could taste the bitterness and that bitterness I'm tasting is rancid coffee. When I cleaned my burrs after a month, I couldn't just brush it off. It was stuck on there. It was it was really intense. I love the fact that you guys have kind of taken these issues, glaring issues, they're not like niche problems in the coffee. They glaring problems that everyone complains about, but nobody fixes.
Douglas Weber I don't even know if people are complaining about not being able to easily clean your burrs, I think they were just turning a blind eye.
Omar One thing that I have noticed is the moment someone comes out with a better alternative, the previous was a huge problem. But before that actually happens, the previous was fine. But the thing is, is before I found out about your product, the EG-1 I was like, wow, there's these problems, like, you have to clean your stuff, but you need a bloody a wrench and an Alan key to open up the damn thing. You need to be a mechanical engineer to take the thing apart. So I thought that was absolutely crazy. So how much is the hand grinder and how much is the key?
Douglas Weber The HG-2 starts at $1495, so it’s basically a $1500 grinder but the magic tumbler is an add on even though we've seen an attach rate of almost 100%, everybody wants that and is an additional 100 on top of that. So, it ends up being a $1600 machine. The Key is going to retail during steady production at $2000 is where that's going to be, but because we're going to crowdfund it and start in June. we're still debating whether or not were going to start June 8th or June 15th but it’ll be early to mid-June. For all the early adopters who preregister on keycoffeegrinder.com, they're going to get a $500 rebate. So it's going to be basically $1500 for the key, which is...
Omar That's insane.
Douglas Weber Ridiculous. I almost feel bad, like as a businessman it has its pluses and minuses but we're going to get that to a very, very significant number of people. People learn about the brand, it’s going to help cement us and I think a better place in the industry, which is part of the longer-term plan. But for what you get for your money is just it's ridiculous.
Omar I mean, off the top of my head, firstly, that's unbelievable. You're right. It is ridiculous. That's a crazy, crazy price for the things that we just listed here about that particular grinder, because the other ones that are coming to mind that are in that same price point, this completely blows it away.
Douglas Weber It blows away $4000 grinders. If you do you value space on your countertop or your cafe you can line three of these up next to each other in the size of a typical Robur. It's 80mm wide, even the Niche Zero is 122mm. One of the guys who's on my board who was very actively involved in the day-to-day reviews when I was doing the design process was the industrial designer with me doing the iPod Nano. And we're both like total coffee nerds and he's the British Italian. So coffee runs in his blood. He's been in San Francisco forever and he retired from the Apple design team a few years ago, joined our board out of pure friendship and love of coffee and stuff. But it was it was us again talking about how we're going to miniaturize this thing. It's really fun to do that together with him as part of the network of people to make it happen. And really, that's what we came up with.
Omar A final bit that I just wanted to talk about was workflow. Workflow is super, super ingrained with what you guys are doing at Weber Workshops, It's all about the experience as well as the end result. It's about really making things super smooth and efficient and visually beautiful as well. At the end of the day, this is something that I've been really passionate about with hi fi, so many hi fi nerds and audiophiles, you know, you're in Japan and the Japanese are crazy about hi fi and audio. But so many audiophiles go for sound quality over aesthetics, and you look at their setups and it looks horrendous. It's like wires everywhere, it's a joke. Yeah, but it sounds beautiful, but I think you need to balance visual appeal and an auditory appeal as well. The same thing with your coffee equipment, it should look beautiful in your kitchen...
Douglas Weber The same thing with anything in your kitchen, anything that's a valuable space. You spend so much time there, like your children are going to develop memories of these places, it’s going to shape actually their view on aesthetics, and teaches them about overconsumption and something else compared to sort of a lesson in life like this is the way that things should look and function. They're going to see it from the time they're born and they start, you know, creating memories until they go off to college and then they have to get the same thing for their countertop. Just having stuff that you can respect and functions well will teach your kids about Products, consumption and the quality of what we're consuming in the kitchen and in general.
Omar Wonderfully put. You said it better than I could. One thing that I did want to talk to you about was the bean cellar. Coffee storage has been something that I've been really excited and interested about purely because of my interest in oxidative stress. If you could just tell me a little bit about how the bean cellar works. Is it purely an aesthetic thing or is actually a good storage for your coffee?
Douglas Weber It's a wonderful storage solution, but the key to making it work is to put in freshly roasted beans and the most freshly roasted your beans are, as you already know, they're going to be giving off a significant amount of carbon dioxide for a couple of days. As long as there's something fresh in there and as you also know, carbon dioxide is denser than oxygen and so when you're sitting there and you're sitting on your countertop, you have freshly roasted beans in your in your cellar. They're basically accumulating carbon dioxide from the bottom and they have a one-way valve at the top that allows you to outgas what is essentially pushing out all the oxygen that's left in the container. So regardless of what the overhead space is above your bean level, depending on how much you just think you're going to fill it up with basically a cartridge of carbon dioxide as opposed to oxygen, which is a much more ideal way to store your beans. The other great thing about this is that is kind of obvious when you're storing something either a can or in a bag, but opening and closing or a bag exposes all of the beans to oxygen when you're only using a small portion of them. And from the very beginning, pre dosing, putting them into these bean cellars as a way to store them, gives them their ideal environment and then to keep it in that ideal environment until the moment that you grind them. As you know, like I said, I run a couple cafes here in Japan and as soon as we shut down for covid, I was like I had a whole bunch of beans that I was sitting on and I was like, what am I to do with these? And I started investigating freezing beans and realised that the only reason I hadn't done it up until now is just I didn't need to but then what I realised is when I did do it and I looked at what I was doing I really didn't see any significant degradation in what I was drinking. The more that I started, you know, talking to other people who were really very adamant about drinking high quality coffee and having some of the best stuff around the world is they can keep a collection in the freezer and sort of prolong indefinitely their shelf life. I was amazed to not have a difference in the aromatics and we could take it right out of the freezer throw it in to the grinder and have that same, like, aromatic experiences as if it had just been roasted five days ago and had the proper ageing and everything. Having those things already done in the bean cellars, in their good environment and then frozen means that you kind of have these things on file. You can have all these different beans on file to take whatever you want and really cheat the expiration date.
Bean Cellar and Commercial Bean Cellar
Omar so you could use the bean cellar as an archive, almost a coffee archive. I think a really cool way of doing it is because you guys make two different types, right. You have a glass one and a commercial one, which is a which is a food safe plastic. What a cool way of doing it would be maybe the coffee that you're using during the week you have in the glass one which looks beautiful on your counter, and then maybe you could have the commercial one for your archival purposes of the one that you want to keep and enjoy at a later date.
Douglas Weber That's exactly how we end up using them, the glass ones are it's too nice to stick in the freezer and they're actually not as useful in the freezer because you don't want to just throw them into, like, a bag or like you want to archive them like that. You want them on display and they're ready to go and because of the way that the caddy is designed and everything, it's like one of those things that also has some of your coffee tools. It has the brush, it has the funnel for dosing, so having it on your workspaces is a nice thing.
Omar That kind of sums everything up in a nutshell is the stuff that you guys make is just stuff that you want to have on display. It just looks beautiful. You know, the base of the bean cellar is this beautiful piece of wood, it’s nice to touch, everything is just very tactile and it has character, you're making products with a personality. You're making stuff with character that's super functional, but you're not forgetting that human aspect of making coffee. Super high amount of admiration for what you're doing. Once again Douglas, thank you so much for your time, I know that your very time poor, it really means a lot that you've decided to spend some of that with me, so I really, really appreciate that.
Douglas Weber It's a pleasure. It's fun to look forward to seeing what you do with the stuff and where you find yourself on your coffee journey. I sincerely hope that there's a little bit more Weber Workshops representation on your platform in the near future. I'll do whatever I can to help out.
Omar I really, really appreciate it Douglas, this has been an absolute pleasure and I’m looking forward to doing more with you!