Where art, science and mathematical algorithms meet. This would be one way of describing a new way of craft-brewing coffee, but the same process, called Reverse Atmospheric Infusion (RAIN), can be applied to fruits and botanicals with water too. It also works with other media—for example, distilled grain spirits or vodka—to create new and exciting organic and natural beverages or extracts to use in new products.
The RAIN process was developed by Dean Vastardis and belongs to the company he created with his brother Lou about seven years ago, called BKON (pronounced “Beacon”), which is located in New Jersey, just across the river from Philadelphia. All in all, this process and its equipment have been awarded 26 patents.
What’s fascinating about this invention is that the RAIN process is scalable with brewing equipment—from a machine producing a freshly brewed 12-oz. mug of coffee to a lab-sized model producing five gallons to the STORM industrial equipment producing hundreds to thousands of gallons, says Dean Vastardis, whom Lou credits with the engineering behind the system. The batch software behind the process actually drives the equipment—no matter the size of the batch, says Dean, who together with the BKON team has fine-tuned recipes for those who have purchased the system.
Lou and Dean are no strangers to the coffee industry as they come from a fourth-generation roasting family, and the brothers have been close to the coffee industry and its evolution. Dean says the idea for using vacuum comes from the speed-marinating process that typically occurs before the sous-vide cooking method used typically for proteins.
BKON has its sights set on large beverage facilities, although an affordable home-brew system isn’t out of the question. I asked the brothers for a few details.
FE: How and when did BKON start?
Dean: Like many entrepreneurial stories, BKON was born in a basement back in 2008. I was inspired by how chefs speed-marinate proteins and started building an at-home prototype, which eventually became BKON’s RAIN technology.
FE: Can you describe quickly how the RAIN process works with coffee?
Dean: RAIN is a simple but powerful invention. A vacuum removes the air from the ground coffee. The vacuum releases and liquid infuses into the cells. The coffee’s flavor compounds then extract into the liquid. The use of multiple vacuum cycles allows the extraction to occur at the deepest layers of the coffee.
FE: So RAIN is the process, and STORM refers to industrial equipment, right? Is STORM also an acronym?
Lou: STORM is BKON’s industrial brewer that is enabled with our RAIN technology. STORM is not an acronym, but given its potential to significantly impact beverage creation, we thought it was a natural name for the system, and it pairs well with RAIN.
FE: What are the advantages of RAIN compared to existing cold-brew extraction methods?
Lou: RAIN is transforming the cold-brew production process and creating the most flavor-rich cold brews out there. Brewing with STORM takes under an hour versus the 18 hours of brewing used in standard immersion methods. Our process requires less coffee, which creates cost savings for our customers. The flavor is unmatched and it lasts, consistently maintaining full flavor and aroma longer than other cold brews.
FE: Do you have a third-party machine builder provide the equipment for an industrial-sized application?
Dean: We had a strong design spec in place at the onset and worked with a local company to build our first few STORM systems. As BKON grows, we are seeing a need for global support and manufacturing and have teamed up with a global equipment manufacturing company to produce our equipment in multiple sizes and formats for different segments of the industry.
FE: Did you write your own batch software? Is it extensible like the equipment and process are scalable? How so?
Dean: The current software is on a PLC platform. BKON is the central depository for all recipes that are coded on each machine. The core functionality is always the same, but often new equipment has a custom version of the software, as most units are built to order and have slightly different functionality.
FE: What are other potential beverage/extract applications? What have you tried so far?
Dean: RAIN creates natural beverages using any fruit or botanical with any liquid at any temperature, to produce unmatched beverage creations. RAIN powers our platforms and systems like the single-cup Craft and industrial STORM brewers. Tea, waters, coffee and infused alcohol are today made on our single-cup brewers located around the world. Our industrial STORM brewer is making cold-brew coffee currently. Teas, water and alcohol infusion are a big part of our industrial brewing future. The potential for those applications is significant with RAIN technology eliminating the need for lab-engineered flavors.
FE: Do you work together with clients to set up unique batch programs? How do you deal with who owns the intellectual property for the new batch?
Lou: The beverage is unique to each customer based on their proprietary ingredients (i.e., bean origin, blend and roast). The RAIN brewing process is applied to create a specific flavor outcome with use of the customers’ ingredients, but the brewing parameters always remain the ownership of BKON.
FE: What food/beverage companies have used your technology so far? Are others in the works?
Lou: We have many current customers and others in the works that span from third wave coffee leaders to new beverage companies to large beverage brands. While we can’t name some of the larger companies publicly, other partners include highly respected brands such as Ceremony Coffee Roasters, Counter Culture Coffee, Dillanos Coffee Roasters and One Village Coffee.
FE: What is your model of doing business with a new beverage company?
Lou: Customers currently work with us in a few capacities. We offer brewing services for customers from our New Jersey location. Using RAIN coded recipes, products can be replicated on STORM brewers across the country, so as our network grows, product incubation will occur in New Jersey and brewing will take place at network partner facilities. We license our technology to co-manufacturers and beverage brands directly, where the advantages of RAIN are realized in the industrial brewing setting. Our global strategic partnerships will create an accessible network of co-production facilities to support customer growth.
For more information, visit www.bkonbrew.com.