What happens when you mix engineering and coffee? You get Nick Terzulli, a mechanical engineer turned barista. The coffee world is filled with multi-skilled professionals, many of whom are leading innovation in their fields, but there’s something special about a coffee-engineer. From espresso grinders to automatic vacuum pots, engineers run the show when it comes to applying difficult science to practical equipment.
Kicking It Off with Kickstarter
Nick’s first tool, the Portakey, combines style and effectiveness to shift the way baristas maintain and clean their espresso machines. Though the design is simple, it is ripe with functionality. I believe the harmony of these two characteristics will set Nick and his business, Science Coffee, apart from other equipment creators in the near future.
While any wrench or screwdriver will enable routine cleaning of the espresso machine, they have their drawbacks. Screwdrivers often position your hand directly below the grouphead, nearly guaranteeing droplets of boiling hot water will find their way to your precious skin; and wrenches are bulky and inefficient for dismantling steam wants. The Portakey solves these problems with its minimal design that puts your hand out of the danger zone and gets the job done with a single, simple tool.
Nick reached out to me about his Kickstarter campaign last week. After some emails back and forth, I decided to send over some interview questions so we could get a better look into his hopes and dreams for Science Coffee. His responses made me even more excited about the cross between engineering and coffee.
Meet Nick Terzulli.
Tell us about your approach to developing products for baristas. How is it different?
Everything I’m doing with Science Coffee is something that I was looking for and couldn’t find. I think one of the major differences between Science Coffee and other companies is that I am both a barista AND an engineer. I’m not a barista telling an engineer to design something, and I’m not an engineer guessing as to what a barista might want. I get a full 360 degree view of the products as the designer, as a manufacturer, and as an end-user. Every single thing I’m trying to do solves some type of problem I’ve found during one of my shifts actually preparing and serving coffee.
What’s your ultimate goal with the Portakey? What makes it different from other similar tools?
I want people to make and drink better coffee, and I really believe that the Portakey will help people do that. Any shop owner can go out and buy a screwdriver and a wrench, but most of the time they get thrown in a drawer somewhere or get lost. The Portakey is more than a tool. It’s something that baristas can wear and use every single day. Fashion meets function. It’s no longer something that gets tossed aside; it’s something that looks slick hanging off of your belt loop that gives you the utility you need when it’s time to clean your machine.
In addition to that, I really just got tired of burning my hands every time I removed a shower screen with a traditional screwdriver. I knew there had to be a better way, so I just decided to design the solution myself.
Can you give away any secrets about upcoming products?
I’m currently working on a really interesting precision tamper. Some baristas are inseparable from their tampers, and I had more than one come to me and say, “I just spent almost $200 on this piece of equipment, someone accidentally mishandled it, and now it’s dinged and dented.” So I said, “I can fix that”.
I’m combining a lot of knowledge I’ve gained in the biomedical industry to develop the world’s most precise, durable tamper. They’re currently being used by some baristas I trust, and feedback so far has been great. If you live in San Francisco there’s a chance you’ve already had espresso made with my prototype design. I hope to launch full production on them within the next few months. I really think that this product will put me on the map.
I noticed you’re also doing some product development consulting. How’s that going?
It’s going great! I really love to stay busy, and I’m working day and night, 7 days a week to make my dreams come true. Right now I have a full-time job as a mechanical engineer in Silicon Valley, I’m running and designing for Science Coffee, I’m working as a barista, and I’m also helping other companies get off the ground by turning their design ideas into real life items. A lot of people have a cool idea but no way to turn it from a thought into something you can hold. I love helping make that happen. There’s something so gratifying about showing a client that their napkin sketch can become a real product.
What’s the future of Science Coffee?
Ideally, people will catch on to the products I am creating, and I can grow the business enough so I can reinvest in the company and tackle bigger problems. There are a few things on my list that I’ll need to hire a team for, and I know if I keep working my hardest I’ll be able to make them happen. At the end of the day, all I want to do is help people make and drink better coffee. Long term, I’d love to open my own multi-roaster cafe, showcasing incredible coffees that most people don’t get to experience very often. I’m on a mission to elevate the coffee drinking experience in whatever way possible.