In his makeshift workshop located in the back room of Iconik Coffee Roasters (1600 Lena St., 428-0996), Jakub Svec pulls two generations of automated coffee machines from his bag. One is a prototype. "I tinker with this one every once in awhile," he says with a laugh, gesturing toward a piece of equipment he partially fabricated and 3D-printed at local workshop space MAKE Santa Fe some months ago. "I like to say this is that one that actually works," he says.
The other machine is what the entrepreneur hopes will be reproduced en mass.
Svec's invention is called PERK. Its standout feature is a custom-designed filter created to help automate the process and taste of pourover coffee. The mechanism now stands like a miniature tower, jutting out of the top of the machine. "It's patent-pending," he says, "and I call it a 'bottom-up infusion chamber' or 'mechanical suspension infusion chamber.'" Unlike other coffee filters, Svec's design forces the water up into the chamber to create a more robust coffee that tastes like it was made by an actual human barista.
PERK's fantastic coffee also circumvents a need for cream or sugar. "The thing with a cup of coffee," Svec says, "is that without cream and all the sugar, it should be about three or four calories. But people put this stuff in there to offset that sort of bitter taste."
Svec, a 2005 graduate of Monte del Sol Charter School, does not have an official academic degree. But with what he calls a "Google degree," he transitioned from work as a commercial pilot (where he says he grew more interested in the engineering than the flying) to research and development with Santa Fe-based nanotechnology company Norsam Technologies. Before long, he would transition to working with coffee.
He won $10,000 from 2016's local startup competition, bizMIX, for his idea, which is currently the beneficiary of a Kickstarter campaign through which he hopes to raise an additional $100,000 to finish development and mass-produce the equipment through Chinese channels.
"I think it appealed to us because it was a business that he wanted to base in Santa Fe that clearly had a global reach," bizMIX/MAKE Santa Fe's Zane Fischer tells SFR. "We don't have any equity or investment. The compulsion behind bizMIX is to support and develop businesses that really want to be in Santa Fe—we're not trying to make a buck, we're trying to make a better community. The bulk [of the money for bizMIX] is put in by other small existing businesses who want to see their peers rise."
PERK is the sort of idea that seems simple enough, but fills a niche that wasn't obvious. "I was going into Iconik a lot and wondering why the heck they were doing pourover coffee, and I kept thinking there must be a machine that did the same thing," Svec says. "It turned out they were, but I wondered why they cost $10-, $15-, $16,000, and how I could find tricks and shortcuts to get close enough."
In the beginning, Svec set about modifying existing equipment, but the labor and ultimate price point made them inaccessible on a consumer level. The more he learned about coffee and its specific machinery, however, the smaller he was able to visualize his own invention. Iconik was glad to help, and owner Sean Ham allowed Svec the space to learn as he experimented.
"He approached us first just interested in coffee and how we were brewing it, roasting it, sourcing it," Ham explains. "Any kind of improvement, whether it's in a process we make at Iconik or through some way of mechanizing it, I prefer to think of it as freeing up time and labor to go tackle other obstacles."
Ham says he isn't concerned about human workers being replaced by a machine like PERK, and that he looks forward to Svec's completed product. "In the future, if he comes out with a commercial version after his initial release, we might be open to switching to it then," he says.
The newer generation of PERK is an attractive, post-modern cube that stands just over 13 inches and could fit easily on any counter. It brews one cup at a time and, unlike a Keurig machine, does not create waste. Svec hopes PERK can bring third-wave coffee—think fancy/not-Starbucks—into homes sometime soon.
PERK also does tea and, according to Svec, should replicate the taste and quality nicer coffee shops' brews or, at the very least, come close enough. "The more I was researching coffee, the more I respected it," Svec tells SFR. "I had no idea how many variables there were or how hard it could be."