Leave it to a mechanical engineer to design a coffee-making hydraulic press. 

While caffeine addicts are likely familiar with a French press or AeroPress, soon they may be buzzing about Pascal Press, an innovative all-in-one pressure coffee brewer and travel mug designed by Western student, Alan Kalbfleisch.

The current thermofluids master's student recently won Propel's annual start-up pitch competition, and now he's teaming up with the campus business incubator to launch a Kickstarter campaign for his design later this month. 

Q&A with Alan Kalbfleisch

Why “Pascal” Press?

Pascal was a mathematician and physicist from France in the 17th century. Some of his earliest work was in hydrostatics, so looking at what is pressure and how does it interact with fluids? … Through that work, he developed things like the hydraulic press and the syringe. As for the Pascal Press, you can look at it like an inverted syringe or a coffee-making hydraulic press. His name is now used as the unit of measurement for pressure, so the Pascal Press is really just a pressure press.

What inspired Pascal Press?

I started developing Pascal Press while I was working on my master's in thermofluids engineering. Coffee was really the one thermofluid system I would use every day, so I started experimenting with coffee the same way I would experiment with any thermofluid system, looking at how I could optimize coffee's flavour extraction and really figure out what variables make a good cup of coffee. That's where Pascal Press came from.

What sets Pascal Press apart from travel French presses or an AeroPress?

Compared to an AeroPress, the brewing is pretty much identical. I took the AeroPress brewing and made it into a more convenient package. I was already using my AeroPress in the lab, and one day when I was using it, I asked myself, 'why can't I just drink out of this?' The big thing that sets it apart from the AeroPress is that it's all in one, so you don't need to bring another travel mug. As for travel French presses, it's a bit of an oxymoron. A travel French press is really not designed for travel [because] the filter doesn't stop the coffee from repeatedly coming into contact with the grounds and over brewing after about ten minutes. With a Pascal Press, the grounds are completely separated. After you've pressed it down, the coffee that you brewed is going to be the coffee you taste throughout the entire day.

What's your connection to Propel?

Propel was introduced to me by professor Darren Meister from Ivey. I took a course called business acumen last summer that was intended for PhD engineering students, and as a master’s student, I talked my way in. It was a week-long crash course in business, and one of the things that I started talking to Professor Meister about is what do I do with all of these ideas? I have books full of drawings of different inventions and I just didn't know what to do with them. What he recommended was I start off with a $20 prototype, so my first prototype for Pascal Press was actually $20 worth of plumbing material just to prove that the flow and everything worked. Once he saw that, he thought it was pretty great and introduced me to Propel and I got in there. I met with Ian [Haase], the head of Propel, and Jaclyn [Longo], one of its business analysts, and we started talking about how to focus in and develop into the prototype into something that could actually be sold. 

What are your immediate plans for Pascal Press?

A Kickstarter is the immediate goal. Our Kickstarter will be launching June 21, and we’re hoping to raise the money needed to actually start manufacturing. Right now, I'm tunnel visioned to that first day of the Kickstarter, and after that, it's just tunnel vision right to manufacturing to make sure I can take my prototype and actually turn it into a mass produced product that still has the same quality.

How much will it cost?

Our Kickstarter will be raising about $50,000 and then we might need some other investments from there. That's added to the funding I've got from Propel for its summer incubator program as well as the Seed Your Startup pitch competition that I won. As for the product, it’s looking at about $40 right now. There's still some finalized pricing that we need to go through, but we're hoping to keep it down around there.

What kind of feedback has the Pascal Press received so far?

Some of the best feedback I've received I've actually through posting on Reddit. I posted my second prototype — one that could actually brew coffee and wasn't made out of plumbing material — to Reddit right after I filed my patent and that kind of blew up. That's now the sixth most popular post of all time on the coffee forum of Reddit. … Then I've brought it around to some other coffee shops, so I've been working closely with Fire Roasted Coffee ... and then just bringing it around to friends. Luckily, one of the machinists at the university machine shop is kind of a coffee connoisseur; he used to roast his own coffee at home, so he was a huge help giving me feedback on the variables that make the best cup of coffee.

Lastly, how do you take your coffee?

With Pascal Press, it's just black. It brews very smooth, so you really don't need any milk or sugar.

The Pascal Press has now launched on Kickstarter and within three hours of being online has already accumulated over $11,000 in investments.  

Amy is a fourth year Media, Information & Technoculture student in Western's faculty of Information and Media Studies. This is her third year working as a news editor at the Gazette. Want to give her a story tip or feedback? Email amy@westerngazette.ca

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