Many great inventions and discoveries are made without being the creator’s intent. Christopher Columbus discovered America while looking for a new route to the Far East. Play-Doh was created as a cleaning product. Viagra was intended to treat chest pain.
When mechanical engineer Laurens Pluimers built the first Puqpress automatic tamper in 2011, his goal was not to improve tamping consistency. It was to impress a girl.
“The first Puqpress was used in Laurens’ brother’s café. There was a pretty girl working there who complained to Laurens about her sore arm from tamping all the time,” says Tjeerd Schravendeel, Chief Marketing Officer at Puqpress.
“Laurens worked on jackup rigs. These are insanely big boats that lift themselves out of the water and have to stand firm and stable at all times. His job was to design the stilts for these rigs, so basically responsible for stabilising the entire ship. He could see a comparison between stabilising a boat and stabilising a coffee bed.”
The next day, Laurens came in with a machine half a metre high that tamped automatically.
“It was big, it was bulky, but it worked brilliantly. The girl was happy because her arm wasn’t sore anymore, all the employees liked working with it, coffee was tasting the same from different baristas, and the bar was moving faster,” Schravendeel says.
“I still think it is pretty funny that Laurens can literally lift boats that weigh more than 10,000 tonnes out of the water, but decided to build a career out of tamping coffee beds.”
After receiving such positive feedback, the first Puqpress line, which only consisted of 100 models, was released to cafés around the Netherlands.
“You’re limited in what you can do with the production methods you have available at that low quantity, but the first thing we wanted to get right was gearing and stabilising. It had to function brilliantly before we would sell the first one to a real customer. Once we had that right, we could improve other elements after field testing,” Schravendeel says.
“After about 18 months, some of the machines in that first batch started to break down. The café owners were calling us, saying ‘our Puqpress broke down, can you fix it?’ or ‘can you make a new one?’ So, we knew that until that point, they were happy with it and the demand was there. We started over from scratch with greater investment
for the real model.”
While it’s hard to imagine now, Schravendeel says Puqpress had a lukewarm introduction to the coffee market.
“The tamper was like the holy grail for the barista. It was such an icon of the craft that no-one in the industry could image it’s not the best way to do the job. It needed an outsider’s perspective to see how tamping could be improved,” he says.
“As Laurens had little knowledge about coffee, he just noticed that tamping is quite labour intensive. It’s a weird task that requires heavy force with high precision and a soft touch. A machine is just more capable of doing this repeatably than a human.”
After a lot of talking, feedback, and improving, Puqpress finally saw opinion turn in 2016.
“It just clicked. The market was ready at that point and the growth went quite fast,” Schravendeel says. “People become happy with Puqpress once they discover it. We didn’t expect this when we started, but we are now active in 47 countries.
“We still produce everything inhouse and each machine is made by hand. That’s where Laurens’ engineering background really helps. When we designed the Puqpress, we thought about the entire cycle. It’s easy to build and also check or maintain it. There’s also an extremely low fault rate which has made expansion easier.”
The Puqpress first found success in the specialty coffee industry and with venues producing large amounts of coffee, where consistency was a key consideration. However, the commercial side of the industry has also warmed to the automatic tamper, as consistency becomes more achievable from venue to venue or employee to employee.
“The main thing we hear is that the job just gets easier. ‘I have room left in my head to prepare other tasks’ is one of my favourite quotes,” Schravendeel says.
“Every person working behind the bar knows hospitality stress. The line starts to form, printers rattle, and it keeps going. You have all these variables, people want their coffee in different ways, and things can always go wrong. The more pressure there is, the harder it becomes to maintain quality. Now you have a little friend at your side does the heavy labour for you. So that’s less fatigue not only in your arm, but mentally too.”
Schravendeel adds that many employers say the Puqpress has improved their ability to retain reliable staff.
“A lot of people who buy Puqpress also just want to take care of their personnel and create good working environments. Finding and training good staff can be challenging, so you want to keep them for as long as you can and reduce strain to them physically and mentally,” he says.
With the target audience for Puqpress widening, the company has introduced several models to meet different requirements. The Q1, now in its fourth generation, caters to small- or medium-volume venues while the Q2 is designed for high-volume usage. By the end of 2020, Schravendeel says they will introduce the Puqpress mini, for low-volume shops that still want the perfect tamp.
The company also collaborated with several grinder manufacturers to develop models that sit below the grinder. The M1 is compatible with the Mahlkönig Peak and K30 Vario Air while the M2 fits with the Victoria Arduino Mythos 1 and 2, aiding workflow as coffee is ground and tamped in one swift movement. More models will be launched at the 2020 Melbourne International Coffee Expo, including units compatible with the Mahlkönig E65s and E80 and Fiorenzato F64 and F83.
“A lot of places have very limited space on their bar and a lot of equipment already installed, so where they could put the Puqpress became an issue,” Schravendeel says. “We had good relationships with Hemro and Simonelli, and they are strong players in the grinder field. They could see the benefits in automatic tamping and were very open to working with us.”
With automation a growing trend in coffee service, Schravendeel says Puqpress offers an opportunity to improve speed and consistency without compromising on quality or control.
“There’s a divide between super-automatics, which are fast but offer baristas less influence, and semi-automatics, which have a lower capacity per hour but allow you to control everything cup by cup,” he says.
“We’re believers in semi-automatic solutions, mainly because we believe customers are influenced by a lot more than just their mouth when ordering coffee. It is all part of a ritual and we try to find the sweet spot on the thin line between craft and efficiency.”
Schravendeel says Puqpress will follow with further innovations.
“We are working on some ideas, but we only want to pursue them once we’re convinced they not only make the process more efficient, but add to the craft.”
For more information, visit www.puqpress.com