Jim Mitchell, a food chemist, has been using PicoBrew’s machines to make coffee since the $2,000 Zymatic was its only product.
If you make your own pour-over coffee — or have watched a barista do it — you know there’s a lot of waiting. The U doesn’t eliminate that part, but it does automate the steps, so you can make your toast while the machine wets the grounds, lets them “bloom,” and then moves on to the next step.
By the time our tasting was over, there were about 10 different little cups clustered on the counter of the demo lab. We tried goji berry and acai kombucha, lemon cilantro soda, black rice horchata, golden milk, cold brew, and pour-over. Most of these showcased the U’s “infusion beverage” techniques. Jim Mitchell refers to it as a “liquid processing factory,” and Bill Mitchell says, “You can do a bunch of things that you can’t do with any other device.”
Geiger said he uses it to make “uber La Croix,” with homemade aromatic bitters. Using infusion packs, which are similar to the compostable hops packs the Picos use for making beer, the U can run liquid through the different compartments at specific times to make unique drinks.
For the golden milk — a spin on India’s traditional haldi doodh, which is turmeric and milk — Geiger poured milk into the brewer’s carafe, where it was steamed. A tube sucked it up and spit it into the infusion pack. For about twenty minutes, it recirculated between the pack and carafe, spending different amounts of time in the divided compartments of ingredients. The end result was warm, bright yellow, and delicious. You could make a version on your stove, but the point of the machine is that it’s heating to just the right temperature and infusing the milk with each ingredient for the proper amount of time. Temperature is important for the dry soda, too.
“In order to extract those flavors, you really need to go to 190, 195 degrees to get the lemon oil flowing,” Jim Mitchell said. And the machine can’t do everything in under half an hour. If you’re using the U for kombucha, it will still need to ferment for over a week. That’s what the keg is for.
“You can use your own coffee if you want, and we certainly endorse that,” Bill Mitchell said. “But if you want a mixed-infusion drink that’s going to taste like any of these recipes, then it’s going to come in a controlled package from a controlled source.”
If you wanted to make a chai in the Pico U, for example, you would go onto PicoBrew’s website and order the infusion pack. In the “freestyle” marketplace, you could add or subtract ingredients or dial up or decrease the amounts — like if you wanted a clove-ier taste.
Instead of using RFID as the other Picos do, users will scan the infusion pack’s barcode with the app, so the machine will know what it’s making. You can also use the interface on the brewer itself, but Bill Mitchell thinks this is a bit clunkier given the breadth of beverage options the U will offer.
The ever-shrinking Pico
Having reviewed a couple of PicoBrew’s machines, our complaints have always been the same: They are big, cleanup is still kind of a hassle, and they’re expensive. The U certainly takes care of the first. The founders say that between its steam-injection heating technology, dishwasher-safe accessories, and periodic rinses with detergent packs, this latest version is fairly easy to maintain, too.
As for price, the current Kickstarter deal is pretty impressive. If you don’t think you’ll use the U to brew beer, you can get the basic package for $169. The beer-brewing accessory is $20. Eventually, the basic version will retail for $249, with the beer kit costing an extra $50. PicoBrew expects to start shipping in early 2019. As with any crowdfunded campaign, it’s backer beware.