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This Coffee Company Wants to Roast Beans in Space

Food & Wine logo Food & Wine 1/29/2019 Mike Pomranz
a close up of a bowl © Cavan Images/Getty Images

Roasting is a surprisingly overlooked step in the coffee process. Recently, more focus seems to be placed on where the beans are from, and of course, drinkers have always known about the difference between light roasts and dark roasts, but even amazing beans can be ruined if they’re not handled by a good roaster regardless of where they’re intended to land on the roasting spectrum. And roasting itself is an intricate process where small tweaks can make a big difference in the final result. Or, hey, you can just shoot a bunch of beans into outer space and let the atmosphere roast them for you!

That’s the real plan — far more technical, of course — from a company called Space Roasters. The site Ars Technica recently profiled the brand, and as high tech as the whole thing sounds, a number of basic questions are apparently left unanswered.

According to an interview posted on Space Roasters own website, co-founder Anders Cavallini and Hatem Alkhafaji explain how it would work and the advantages of their process. “There is one thing that cannot be avoided when it comes to roasting coffee beans — gravity,” they stated. “The beans tumble around, break apart and contact hot surfaces all due to gravity. But if gravity is removed, the beans would seemingly float around in a heated oven, giving them 360 degrees of evenly distributed heat and roasting to near perfection. Such heat could be generated by the atmosphere during the re-entry stage of a space capsule.”

Honestly, the science behind the project sounds pretty cool, and the co-founders go on to delve into plenty of additional specifics detailing the how the capsule would operate and the multiple options for launching such a device. I’m not here to say the concept isn’t plausible; however, as a coffee lover, one glaring thing stands out: Both founders seem to have some serious design, engineering, and space credentials, but only Cavallini’s bio talks about coffee. Even then, it only vaguely states, “He has over five years of experience roasting, brewing, and tasting coffee from around the world.” Roasting itself is an art just as much as it is a science, meaning it’s not necessarily a process that can be improved with science alone. Another factor: Coffee beans taste their best when they’ve been roasted recently, whereas space launches aren’t necessarily a regular event.

And speaking of the launches, Ars Technica speculated on just how much all of this would cost. “For the sake of argument, let's assume the company can launch a 500kg capsule into a 180-km suborbital trajectory,” the site begins. “Assuming all 300kg of beans are roasted optimally, this comes to $20,000 per kg of roasted beans. There are between 10 and 15 grams of coffee beans in a cup of coffee, so even on the lower end, just for the rocket cost, that is $200 per cup of coffee. Adding in design and development cost of the capsule (which may or may not be reusable), marketing, retrieval, processing, mark-up, and other expenses, space coffee is likely to cost $500 a cup.”

For now, that’s just speculation though: Space Roasters seems to promise more info when they launch a pre-sale campaign slated for just over four weeks from now. “Help us raising the capital we need to develop the Space Roasting Technology, so we can bring you an out-of-this-world experience all the way from space,” the site states.

And to be fair, the founders did explain that the whole project is more about wanting “to connect people to space, to be inspired and motivate by experiencing a product produced by science first-hand.” Well, they’ve definitely gotten us talking about space, that’s for sure.

Related video: Why Instant Coffee Tastes Like Instant Coffee

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