The Road to a Perfect Cup of Coffee Needs a Little Tech Behind It

Growing up with a Greek grandfather means two things – never complaining about being hungry when you have an entire Mediterranean spread to eat, and obsessively drinking coffee with almost every meal. At least, that was the case with Zach Halvorson. 

Flashback to his high school days, and he was supplementing pre-workout with extra strength Greek coffee. Now Halvorson is stirring up the coffee industry with his newest approach to roasting a cup of joe. 

What’s now the latest innovation making coffee started off as a simple leisure project, or “just for fun,” as Halvorson says. 

You can say that Spark! was quintessential in taking the project from pure entertainment to a business. It’s almost as if Halvorson has cleared every corner of Spark!, starting off as an intern in Fall of 2018 for WinWin, Continuing Fellows in Spring of 2019 for WinWin, and eventually fine-tuning his own endeavor.

Espresso Vision, the original project of Espresso Vision Inc., came to life in Fall 2019 as a computer vision tool that converted the analog pressure gauge of an espresso machine through the use of a simple picture or video on a phone. In layman’s terms, it told users the pressure of their coffee grounds to track how to have a more delicious cup of espresso.

With all the changes that came with 2020, Halvorson wasn’t immune to changing direction. Inspired by another aspect of coffee making, his latest project is a roast sensor, affectionately called Roast Vision. Roast Vision is more of a hardware product that caters to the same demographics of coffee enthusiasts, home roasters, and small professional operations. 

In a nutshell, it’s a custom-designed handheld sensor that determines the exact roast level of your coffee. It takes the guesswork out of figuring out what your roast level is – Is it light? Medium? Medium-dark? No more subjective guesses, just cold, hard numbers and readings. 

Not only is the coffee industry in need of projects like Halvorson’s, but he’s also bringing affordability to an exceptionally expensive sector. Roast Vision is on the market for $299, while the next cheapest competitor is about $750. Shockingly, other roast sensors average at $1,000 to $2,000. 

Approaching a five-semester journey with Spark! inevitably means there was some knowledge picked up along the way. 

“The engineering curriculum at BU is really, really, strong, but until you’re a junior or even a senior, you’re not really doing any product design work. And even that, there wasn’t a whole lot of user-centered design,” he said. 

“Whereas with Spark!, the whole first month of the Innovation Fellowship Internship, you’re interviewing potential users, doing real thorough background research, trying to understand what they actually need, plus learning agile methodology, and working in the Build Lab … a lot of skills I learned that have helped me with the stuff I continue to do.” 

The future may be uncertain, but one thing is for sure – you’ll be seeing Halvorson’s name floating around the coffee industry, where there’s a plethora of engineering, design, and development work to do. 

Additionally, if all goes all planned, the Espresso Vision computer vision tool may be revived and appear in the App Store sometime next year. Way off into the future, you might also witness a third product: the release of a safety sensor that detects dangerous chemicals that are the result of roasting in a poorly ventilated space. 

Halvorson’s Spark! roots run deep, as he’s currently a Teaching Fellow this semester while still managing to balance launching a product. Coffee enthusiast or just curious about his journey, you can connect with him and pick his brain when you connect with during his office hours, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-5 p.m.