When Mark Hellweg first set out to create the perfect cup of coffee he wanted to balance three important elements: beauty, quality and flavour.
Founding Clive Coffee in 2008, a specialist coffee and espresso equipment company, Hellweg stocked up on customer feedback and inspiration from nature. Paired with thoughtful engineering and simplicity of design, Hellweg created the Ratio Eight; a coffee maker that is both elegant and functional.
DEPARTURES talked to Mark Hellweg about design inspiration, the right timing for the right coffee, and brewing to perfection.
DEPARTURES: How did you find an interest in making the perfect cup of coffee?
Mark Hellweg: When I started out I could only find two brands of coffee makers that brewed great tasting coffee that weren’t basically disposable appliances. I’ve talked to hundreds of people about what they love about the daily coffee routine, what do they hate about it.
Two years ago, September 2012, I sat down with a talented Portland-based Industrial Designer and started sketching out ideas for this machine. It became the Ratio Eight, which is the first product that we’re bringing to market as a company that is entirely devoted to beautiful, simple, elegant machines.
What influenced the design of your products?
M.H.: Our mood boards early on were not filled with other coffee making equipment, but rather beautiful bonsai shears, the gull-wing Mercedes 300SL, Stephen Kenn leather and steel couches, Scandinavian sewing machines, Zaha Hadid’s concrete diving boards, and so on. We were after beauty, harmony, and structure in these form factors. I’m always interested in juxtaposition - machined metal contrasted with the warmth of Oregon black walnut wood. It’s trendy these days, I suppose: urban lumberjacks and butchers and candlestick makers. Building something right the first time is not a trend. Is it possible to actually love a coffee-making appliance? I hope so.
How is coffee part of your morning ritual?
M.H.: I start my day with some meditation & the WSJ over coffee. Sometimes you want a machine to make you coffee, but still want the ritual of opening up a bag of freshly roasted beans and grinding it up. The Ratio Eight is just enough automation for me - I don’t have to stand there for four minutes with a kettle, scale, and timer. Manual pour over is a beautiful thing, but sometimes you need simple, make-coffee-for-me moments.
How is the Ratio Eight superior in terms of quality and flavour?
M.H.: The Ratio Eight detects how much water you add to the tank, then adjusts the brewing time automatically to ensure that a smaller batch tastes as good as a full batch. We also added a “bloom” cycle that pre-wets the coffee. If it’s freshly roasted coffee, it will bubble up when the hot water hits it, and giving it some time to calm down before continuing the brew helps to ensure an even extraction. The assembly is made of thick aluminium with a nickel finish, and all the glass parts are hand-blown. The wood is made from Oregon black walnut, and the cork parts are custom made for us in Portugal.
What’s a good cup of coffee to you?
M.H.: As with wine, I enjoy many different types and styles of coffee. Mornings are always drip coffee for me. Since college I’ve read the paper with coffee and cream, so I usually start with a Guatemalan coffee (Stumptown or Clive) and add a little cream. After the paper is read I’m 100% black coffee the rest of the day. After lunch is espresso, either straight or as a macchiato with about 30ml of steamed milk. I typically look for coffees that either have innate sweetness and some depth to them (but not roasty), or that are light and floral, such as Heart roasters here in Portland. It’s been said many times, and it’s true - coffee is inherently complex and interesting. I’ll never stop learning about it.
Currently the Ratio Eight is handcrafted in limited editions in Portland, Oregon.