Barry Goffe marketed business software at Microsoft for more than a decade, fueled by enough coffee to fill a hot tub. Java flowed so deeply through Goffe’s veins that he and his team of database marketers had specialty mugs made with Oracle-baiting slogans, which they gleefully handed out at the Comdex trade show in 2000.
Today, Goffe is hawking coffee supplies full-time as the chief executive officer at Vaporpath. The Seattle startup created a new kind of disposable lid that aims to replicate the taste and aromas of drinking from a mug, designed for coffee snobs on the move.
Instead of the standard plateau design with a small opening on the top to prevent spillage, the Viora Lid looks more like a valley. A large hole cut into the lid's inner wall minimizes spills by letting liquid pool in the crevice and drain back into the cup. The increased size of the opening gives drinkers access to more of the smell and flavor profile from pricey coffee beans, says Goffe.
The Viora Lid is being received more like a new smartphone than a redesigned Dixie cup. The product, made from odorless plastic, has gotten fawning write-ups from Gizmodo and Wired. Coffee's third-wave movement is making a quality cup of joe a sign of good taste, and that's conferring a sense of cool that the beverage didn't have in the Starbucks — or, heaven forbid, Folgers — era. The potential market, especially among trendy business professionals, is huge because unlike craft beer or small-batch bourbon, drinking Blue Bottle Coffee will make you sharper and more focused at work.
The tech industry is eagerly embracing artisanal coffee. At hackathons around the world, many coders are trading in their Red Bull for bottles of Portland's Stumptown iced coffee. Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters serves Philz Coffee, a cup of jet fuel that’s popular in San Francisco. Zynga offers free Blue Bottle. Even Goffe’s former employer now dispenses brews from Seattle’s Caffe Vita, one of the granddaddies in the third-wave movement, at the Microsoft offices in Redmond, Washington.
Kickstarter is awash with technologists trying to raise money to pursue their artisanal coffee ventures. Berlin-based Bonaverde Coffee Changers raised $681,000 last year to build an all-in-one roaster, grinder and brewing machine; Hey Joe, a high-tech mug made in Atlanta, completed a $109,000 crowdfunding round last week; and Invergo, an automated pour-over coffee system designed in New York, just popped up on Kickstarter.
Third-wave cafes are cashing in on tech’s infatuation. Philz, which has 14 stores in the Bay Area, is funded by Summit Partners, which also backed Uber. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey put some cash into San Francisco's Sightglass Coffee. Blue Bottle, purveyor of specialty beans sold no more than 48 hours out of the roaster, has drawn investments from Google Ventures, Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake and Twitter’s other two founders, Evan Williams and Biz Stone.
Goffe has also managed to attract some tech money to his Viora Lid. Vaporpath is backed by Geoff Entress, who has funded tech companies such as social-media dashboard HootSuite, and Rick Hennessey, CEO of a Seattle health software and device company.
"The tech world is kind of fueled by coffee," says Goffe. “A lot of people in the industry have made money and become more discerning consumers. People in the tech industry see opportunity in coffee because it's something they're really passionate about. It's the same as Wall Street financiers investing in vineyards 20 years ago.”
The Viora Lid was invented by Doug Fleming, a Seattle lawyer who owes his love of coffee to a small cafe near Pomona College in Claremont, California. He says it was one of the few places in the 1980s that served brews made from Sumatra Mandheling and Guatemala Antigua beans. Fleming embarked on a 20-year project in the garage of his Bainbridge Island, Washington, home to design a reusable travel cup or single-use lid worthy of high-end beans. Fleming eventually brought on Goffe, a college friend, to figure out how to market the product, which simulates the kind of sip you’d take from a mug.
"It's a very natural thing," says Fleming, who spends his days as a product lawyer at Riddell Williams. "You've been doing it that way since you were throwing sippy cups at your parents. But it's very precise, and so your mouth is very tuned to it."
I’m trying the lid out at Caffe Umbria in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. I cover my 12-ounce latte with a Viora Lid and take a sip. The Viora gives the beverage a stronger taste, and I can sense the specific flavors of Umbria’s Italianate espresso. I take another swig through a conventional top. It dulls the smell, and tastes like I’m drinking through a straw.
That would be fine for a Dunkin’ Donuts brew, but artisanal shops are looking to optimize every step of coffee consumption. Street 14 Coffee in Astoria, Oregon, and a cafe in Joshua Tree, California, serve to-go cups equipped with the Viora Lid. The third wave is also starting to make its way across oceans. Goffe says shops as far away as Latvia and Mauritius have requested samples of the Viora, and are thinking about converting.