Building a Better Pour-over: a Conversation with Poursteady CEO Stephan von Muehlen

I have to admit, the first time I heard about Poursteady, I hated the idea. As a barista trainer, I was skeptical a machine could do a better job of making a pour-over than a well-trained barista. But then I had a chance to see it in action at World of Coffee in Milan.

As I watched Poursteady CEO Stephan von Muehlen create a recipe from scratch for my Etkin Dripper with the company’s interactive app, I realized that automation doesn’t take control away from the barista. It actually helps a barista execute their ideal recipe. I was so impressed by the machine, I reached out to Stephan after the conference and he was kind enough to answer my questions. 

How did you first realize that robotics could help baristas make a better pour-over?

Two of my co-founders, Mark Sibenac and Stuart Heys, are robotics engineers who worked together on projects for years. It was probably 2011 or 2012 when they walked into a Blue Bottle in the Bay Area to witness a barista making three pour-overs at once while the line was growing and everyone involved was getting a little stressed. They had the idea then, but it was not until the NYC Maker Faire in 2013 that they made the first prototype. I helped them serve coffee that weekend, and we witnessed the machine making over 800 cups that weekend and getting a lot of attention. It was at that point we realized there was a real opportunity to make it a product and not just a project.
It is also worth mentioning that there is always room for a barista to make a perfect pour-over. We are not pretending that the coffee from our machines is any better–it is simply a tool that makes serving pour-over work as well as espresso in a busy coffee shop. We designed it in a way that everyone benefits–including customers, baristas, and shop owners.

You mentioned at World of Coffee that some markets have been quicker to embrace Poursteady than others. Why do you think automating a pour-over meets resistance in some circles?

We have a network of distributors all over the world, but we definitely have seen quicker adoption in some markets over others. Notably South Korea, the west coast of the US, and more recently in the Middle East have all been great for Poursteady. These are very different markets, but they share an appreciation for brewed coffee (in addition to espresso), understand specialty coffee, and are open to new technology. The bottom line is always the bottom line, and if a shop anywhere is having a hard time communicating the value of their coffee to their customers or staffing and training for pour-overs, they should take a good look at our products.

What does your morning routine look like?

I usually bring home coffee from work–where we always have great coffee either from a subscription service like Trade or from one of our customers–and make a pot on a Chemex for my wife and me. By the time I make it to the office, I am always ready for another, so I will try something different on the Poursteady there. We have a couple former baristas on our team who dial-in profiles for new coffees or drippers as well. Lots of variety!

What coffee are you brewing in the office these days?

We have a really lovely Peruvian single-origin from Kaldi’s Coffee in St. Louis right now. We also recently finished off a five-pound bag of the amazing 10th Anniversary Blend from French Truck Coffee, one of our favorite customers out of New Orleans.

Anything exciting coming down the pipeline?

Nothing we can share yet, but I can say that I am excited about the future!

4 thoughts on “Building a Better Pour-over: a Conversation with Poursteady CEO Stephan von Muehlen

  1. I love it! My go to place near me in Travelers Rest, SC has had a 5 cup Poursteady for years – maybe even since opening, can’t recall. It’s Tandem Creperie & Coffeehouse – their crepes are great, but their coffee is the most consistent in the Upstate, even if Methodical Coffee roasts better coffees on the regular. (Tandem’s a Counter Culture shop.) It’s two things: 1) dialing in the Poursteady with pre-portioned coffee so any barista can prep any coffee with little fuss – and do multiple different coffees at a time! and 2) their insane water filtration and remineralization system that leveled up their coffee overnight. Literally, I went in one week, had a good coffee, went in the next, and immediately noticed the change – had to pull Brad aside to ask what it was, and it’s all about that filtration. Crazy stuff – worth a visit if you’re ever down here. Ask to sit at the coffee bar! : )

    1. I’ve been to Tandem one time (almost 5 years ago now) and had a great visit! I would love to go back.

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