An expert barista can design a creamy leaf or a heart as the topping for a cup of latté. But can he write “I Love You” or “Happy Anniversary” in the foam? What about creating an image of the customer’s significant other?
He can with a new Israeli invention called the Ripples coffee “foam printer.” It’s a machine, said Yossi Meshulam, the CEO of the company behind the device, that “for the first time brings a sense of style to a cup of coffee. With Ripples, you don’t just get coffee – you get a piece of artwork.”
Meshulam’s firm, SteamCC, is equal parts tech start-up and design studio, with experts from both sides joining together to create what might be the biggest innovation in the coffee business since Mr. Coffee made home brewing easy and automated.
The Ripple Maker, as the device is properly called, works by combining patented 3D printer mechanics with ink-jet printing technologies using a natural coffee extract, called Ripple Pods, to create the ripples – the actual “printed” foam content that tops a cup of coffee.
To create a design – for example, to print out a personalized “Happy Birthday” greeting – the barista chooses the appropriate design from among the hundreds available on the Ripple Maker’s touchscreen. The design is then printed out through hundreds of tiny pinhole openings that spray the coffee extract through the machine’s nozzle, forming the desired pattern. The result: a personalized cup of coffee.
The best part of the Ripple Maker, said Meshulam, is its speed. “The entire operation takes about ten seconds. To make a proper cup of coffee takes at least one to two minutes, so the extra few seconds the Ripple Maker requires is negligible.”
More than just a novelty design device, the Ripple Maker opens up a whole new world for advertisers, organizations, restaurant chains and even airlines. As the machine was introduced last week at a major consumer electronics show in New York, SteamCC announced that it had entered into an agreement with Lufthansa for use in its first-class and business lounges.
“Baristas in the lounges will be able to print out the company’s logo on cups of coffee, of course, but they will also be using the machines to print out more personalized content, designed to build brand loyalty,” said Meshulam. That could contain destination information (logos of cities passengers will be flying to, surprise frequent flyer mile award notifications, etc.).
The machine comes with a large library of designs, including greetings, jokes and symbols like smiley faces), but customers, e.g., coffee shops, conference organizers, offices and retailers, can design their own toppings and upload them to their own machine or to the general Ripples library. In addition, Ripples will include a downloadable app that consumers can use to submit their own designs, images, or text.
The Ripples machine has been under development for over a year, and pilot tests in Tel Aviv and New York were greeted enthusiastically by both consumers and businesses, said Meshulam. The company has received seed funding from Landa Ventures, a VC fund run by Israeli 3D printing pioneer Benny Landa.
Lufthansa is the first of many companies Meshulam expects to sign on in the near future, and already, hundreds of coffee shops and chains have expressed interest.
The machine, which will start shipping in September, is $999 with a service fee (for pods, a subscription to the library, maintenance, etc.) of $75 a month.
“Latte art is one the most shared images on social media. We’re taking latte art to a whole new level,” said Meshulam. “When you put something beautiful in someone’s hands, they want to share it. That’s how we’re making a ripple on the world.”