The Acaia is an unhip coffee Kickstarter, and that may be a problem

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on November 29, 2013

From The News Desk

The world of Kickstarter and coffee quite often collide. It makes sense, really, because the coffee world is always looking for new ways to iterate on how to make the best cup of joe, and Kickstarter is a perfect place to pitch small, niche ideas to passionate communities. And, let me tell you, the coffee community is passionate.

I've been an avid coffee drinker for as long as I can remember and even used to work as a barista, so I have a soft spot in my heart for new and interesting ways to make concentrated bean juice. (Related: if you're someone with a new take on something coffee-centric, please let me know!)

This is how I came upon a newly-launched coffee Kickstarter project called Acaia. It has a nicely curated Kickstarter page, with a cute film movie exhibiting its newfangled coffee scale. The scale is small and sleek, with an embedded display. This, I gather, will make it easier to weigh coffee. It also has a connected iPhone app, which can double as the the display. It also lets users record the ratio of beans to water used, as well as the water temperature.

I called Acaia's founder Aaron Takao Fujiki because these kinds of projects always fascinate me. He's a very excitable nerdy sort of guy who has a background in finance and lives in Silicon Valley. This is all to say that he is anything but the usual hip coffee entrepreneur that I usually come across. It was somewhat refreshing talking to someone who loves coffee but doesn't use it as a way to flaunt his social status -- if you don't understand what this means, I recommend hanging out in Brooklyn or Portland for more than two hours. Actually, I don't.

According to Fujiki, he and his partner always wanted to make their own business. His partner is a software engineer, so a joint mobile device only seemed natural for the two to spearhead. They then got to thinking about coffee; they both love it, as well as experienced some trials and tribulations in the brewing process. Especially with scales.

"Scales are ugly and hard to use," Fujiki said. They've looked the same for awhile, with very little innovation. It dawned on him: it was time to update the scale.

But, here lies the problem: scales actually have been updated. While there still are those ugly grey-ish digital scales that are small, weird, and remind you of your mother weighing cereal in the early '90s, there now are new scales that resemble tablets and are equipped interesting embedded displays. These are widely used by the coffee community; simple market research would have shown this.

Okay, so the scale doesn't necessarily need an update… but there is the iPhone app. I will say that the app is somewhat useful for the nerd who wants to truly perfect what he or she is making. For those that aren't obsessed with coffee, in order to make the best cup, you must play around with how many coffee grounds used vs. how much water added. It's a process that is both fun and annoying, because after a while you get to thinking "wait, does this actually taste better?"

And it's true: ratios are hard to remember, especially with the thousands of coffee beans and blends out there, so a centralized repository to store this information would be helpful.

But how many people are actually storing this kind of information? Sometimes I try to, but I usually forget or think "why the bother." And, for the most part, people who deem themselves coffee nerds, are more into the device that makes the drink, and not necessarily all of the other annoying contingencies. I asked Fujiki about this, and he said the Acaia is "basically for someone like me -- a coffee geek."

So I'm a bit skeptical about what kind of splash the Acaia could make in the coffee community. Fujiki's enthusiasm about the product is quite palpable, but so is his naivety about the market. In my opinion, if you want to pique people's attention with coffee, figure out a way to iterate on the process of making it that makes a better cup and is simpler. Here are a few of my more favorite campaigns that have been launched. (And here is the silliest one.)

Thus far, the Acaia has raised $13,000 of its $30,000 goal. It has 21 more days, so maybe it will get there. I'm hopeful because I like the guy, and his design is quite sleek. At the same time, I don't really see myself using the app. And I really like coffee.

Fujiki has now taken to twitter to contact numerous specialty coffeeshops to gauge their interest in the Acaia. Ironically, he contacted the hip West Village shop I used to work at. Knowing them as I do, my guess is that they didn't reply.

[Image via Acaia]