In this interview, we talk with Dan Shusett, who invented the Tricolate brewer in 2018. Tricolate is an Australian owned company, founded by Dan in South Australia. All of the Tricolate’s parts and packaging are injection moulded in Adelaide from a BPA-free plastic called Tritan. Tricolates unique 80-mm diameter cylindrical shape has garnered considerable attention from the specialty coffee world, having been featured by Scott Rao in this video. The shape of the brewer mitigates most of the inefficiencies of brewing with a V-shaped cone in that it is impossible for any water to bypass the coffee. What this means is that extraction yields in this brewer are consistently >10% higher than a typical pour-over.
Here Dan tells us the story of how the company began. We learn about the benefits of Tritan plastic and the complexities of injection moulding. And he lays out some important ground rules for perfecting your brewing techniques with this ingeniously simple brewer.
Jem Challender – Before we get into the important stuff, I’ve heard Tricolate pronounced Trick-let and Tri-coal-ate. How do you folks pronounce it?
Dan Shusett – TRICOLATE was intended to be pronounced Trick-o-late.
JC – The name of the device seems to evoke the type of plastic it’s made from — Tritan. From our testing, the performance of the plastic seems excellent. It’s food grade, odourless, super tough and we’ve had no problems in the dishwasher. Can you tell us a bit about why you selected this plastic and how you have achieved such pure moulding. To the best of our knowledge, precision moulding is not something Australia has ever been considered a world leader in, but what really stands out is how flawlessly smooth and seamless the Tricolate is.
DS – The name of the plastic and device are coincidental. There is no relation. We had to use this plastic, we wanted the best, both for durability and heat retention. Tritan is one of, if not the safest food grade plastic around. It can also be moulded with amazing clarity. Our tool maker / manufacturer had quite the learning curve as it is NOT an easy material to work with. Luckily they have heaps of experience in the field of tool making and injection moulding so we got there relatively quickly. It is a passion of ours to really push manufacturing in this country and when you look around there is the remanence of it everywhere, albeit from a long time ago. Lastly, having the factory so close is really handy, we will often share 3d printed parts and get to be involved with the tool development really closely, we aim to get better and better the more our relationship grows with the team there.
JC – Can you tell us a bit about the history of the Tricolate company? Who were the key players involved in the brewer becoming a reality?
DS – The history of the company starts about 2015. There was an initial conversation between my business partner and myself, the conversation was more of a rant about the lack of evolution in the filter brewing apparatus at the time. I mean yes there are always new brewers and devices hitting the market but most of the time all we see are variations of the same idea originally created by Melitta in the early 1900’s. That’s not to say there hasn’t been innovation because we have had some major changes to the space, Aeropress being the best example. What I had in mind was different though, it was to remove variables not add them, to try and stabilise the brewing process by removing the non-repeatable steps out of the process, as much as is possible of course. It also had to have zero bypass and no pressure apart from gravity itself. This is mainly because I really wasn’t a fan of the flavour of this, a clean but full bodied cup is a preference.
So from an obsession with filter coffee, we started the long journey of creating Tricolate. There were a couple of years of drawings, 3D printing, CnC prototypes, playing with lab equipment such as Buchner funnels and so on.
It was about 2017 when I gave up all hope and then my sister handed me an antique 100 year old coffee maker she had picked up from a salvage store, as soon as I saw it I pictured exactly how the brewer should look, we started prototyping straight away and within a year had something that worked.
‘The Tricolator’ coffee maker for Wood & Sons Coffee Company, circa ~1920. The company ceased trading in the 1950s. This device found at a salvage store helped inspire Dan Schusett’s first prototypes and he named his company in its honour.
Some of Dan Schusett’s early prototypes for the Tricolate
JC – When you were developing the product, how did you decide to go with the 80-mm diameter of the cylinder? Would the company consider doing a wider diameter brewer for a multi-cuper in the future?
DS – In short, 80mm is a sweet spot. We really wanted to make coffee with 10 grams, there is something amazing about producing so much flavour with so little coffee, you really feel like you have extracted everything. We never say never but a larger one is not in the works, we brew 400ml of coffee all the time and it is possible to brew 800ml at a time. For us, and I know it’s a luxury but any more than this we would be looking at 2 or 3 brewers, not many pour over devices can brew large batches very well anyway, so we believe we are ahead.
JC – You mentioned further iterations are due around July this year? Are you able to share any specifications about the new iteration?
DS – We are currently working on a New Generation. For the most part this is about really fine tuning the device, we are squeezing marginal gains to make them bigger gains and also improving manufacturing techniques and overall look. There is also something new which I can’t discuss at this moment but you’ll find out soon enough.
JC – On the subject of durability, we’ve found that many acrylic plastic pour over cones can start to crack and craze, especially if they go in and out of the dishwasher a lot, or if they are dropped when they are hot. How resistant to crazing is the tritan plastic the Tricolate is made from?
DS – Tritan shouldn’t crack. It is about moulding it using correct temperatures but also ensuring the thickness of the material is kept in check, mould too thick and it will crack internally, I have seen it in other applications.
JC – Do you have any advice for commercial applications? Can the plastic withstand being repeatedly knocked out like a portafilter? Can it tolerate being immersed in coffee cleaning chemicals?
DS – Yes bash away and yes cleaning it with espresso machine cleaner is really fine.
JC – Can you tell us a bit about the filter papers? What is their particle size retention? Have you considered offering customers a range of filter options, (e.g. fast flow/ slow flow) or is there something about this kind of filter that makes it integral to the good performance of the brewer?
DS – A good brewer has a lot to do with the paper filter. Most manufacturers overlook the importance of papers. There is more information out there now thanks to Johnathan Gagne and Scott Rao, and you tend to see more third party paper companies which is great. Again this was something that we obsessed over for some time. There are only two or three places in the world where papers are manufactured to the lab grades spec we were after. Again we wanted the best so really we had to go to the experts in laboratory equipment and tell them what we wanted to achieve. We went through samples and found big differences in extraction numbers. We then went back to our coffee world filter leaders and there was no comparison. These papers have it all: Good thickness, fast filtration, creped surface for more area and a retention of 14–20microns. They are manufactured with high quality cellulose from a German company that is the leader in the field and they really produce the best cup.
JC – (This question needs a bit of background explanation, please excuse the long lead in :D.)
We’ve found that the brewer doesn’t respond well to manual agitation during blooming (i.e. stirring up the coffee bed). And a gooseneck pouring kettle without the Tricolate’s dispersion screen in place is a definite no no. The 20-gram brews I’ve made in this way on a relatively coarse grind setting (with a peak of around 500um) have taken well over 15 minutes to draw down. We don’t regard this as a drawback and we’ve noticed on your website that you currently advise baristas to use a simple swirl after around 2 and a half minutes, rather than any actual stirring directly into the coffee bed. However, we’ve been getting a few blowouts every now and then (see video link below). When this happens, soon after blooming, large parts of the coffee bed suddenly erupt out of the coffee bed and are pushed up to the surface. Using a much finer grind certainly reduces the likelihood of this happening, but not entirely.
Here’s a phone video I took in my kitchen. The main issue for us with this is that it doesn’t always happen. If I had an issue like this with an Aeropress, I’m pretty sure my approach would be to thoroughly stir the brew during blooming to disperse those air bubbles. But with the Tricolate, maintaining the integrity of the coffee bed feels very important. So do you have any advice for us on how to deal with blowouts (and/or voids created by air bubbles coalescing) knowing that stirring up the coffee bed is not really viable?
DC – Ok, there are a few points here. Very broadly the Tricolate will hi-light bad points in your coffee / prep / grind quality especially if you are using the high extraction ratios. For example you will notice roast or green defects pretty easily, you will also see channelling happen if you don’t prep the coffee bed well and lastly if your grinder doesn’t produce a consistent particle size you may see clogging especially when going coarser.
Minimal agitation is key for sure – the shower head is key and should stay on for sure. I always agitate mostly on the bloom. Using [a brew ratio of] 1:2.5 and spinning quite firmly, once you have poured the rest only a very, very slight rock is needed and no more! The heavy bloom agitation should see an end to the blow-outs that you are getting.
A word on grind size and I am sure Matt is on the same page here, this gets most people.
In a no bypass brewer courser does not equal faster, generally speaking most grinders have a far better / tighter particle distribution at a finer setting. You see boulders are the problem, not only do they drag down the overall average extraction but they also allow for excessive fines migration.
If you grind finer you tend to trap those fines and lock them in better thus getting a better flow. Nine times out of ten, I tell people to grind finer and their brews get back to 6 mins instead of 10–15 mins. On a well aligned EK43 (which is what we use daily) most of our coffees are set at about 350 microns for 15–20-g dose. You will also struggle to get good TDS strength on the 1:22 ratios with bad alignment / particle distribution, often I have to go down to 1:20 even 1:19 to get the same strength if I’m using say a hand grinder..
The last rule is the bigger the dose, the less the agitation. We use 45g to 800ml pretty successfully but the key is to use a Weiss Distribution Technique (WDT) on bloom and then no agitation whatsoever through the rest of the brew ( 800microns for grind ) — we have a youtube video on this here.
JC – The WDT into the bloom is very innovative. I’ve literally never seen that before. Do you mind elaborating on that slightly? I’m guessing the filter paper could easily slip out of place if you went too deep. I have heard of a few baristas placing a dispersion place or gauze over the filter paper. Do you have any views on that practice and can you let us know exactly how you recommend performing the WDT?
DS – Yes so the WDT on such a large dose allows you to open up channels for water to seep through the bed more efficiently and more evenly. On smaller doses you can let capillary action take place filling the channels and wetting the coffee bed, on large doses this simply takes too long so the WDT expedites it nicely. Only a gentle stir is needed and going deep is fine, just don’t hit the paper haha.
JC – What are the minimum and maximum bed depth/dosage levels you would encourage a user to try with the Tricolate?
DS – We can brew 10g ( 220ml ) all the way up to 45g ( 800ml )