The peak of perfection
Coffee shops work hard to correct water alkalinity for the best flavours. Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood talks about his journey to develop a product to enable people to get those flavours at home
There’s no doubt within the coffee industry that water hardness has a huge impact on how a coffee tastes;
it’s the reason why most specialty coffee shops have an under-counter water filtration system. However, there’s no easy, affordable solution for home brewers living in hard water areas – until now. Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood of Colonna Coffee fame has created Peak Water, a home water filtration device set to transform your morning coffee.
Back in 2013, Maxwell began researching water for his book, Water for Coffee. “The book was a real success, and it taught me so much about the importance of water,” says Maxwell. “Me and Chris Hendon, a researcher, realised that the coffee industry only has two water solutions: a Reverse Osmosis system and a cartridge. Neither give baristas total control over water because they both depend on the source water going in.”
From writing his book and running Colonna, Maxwell spotted a gap in the consumer market. “We tell customers to use ‘good’ water when they buy coffee beans. But there isn’t really a hardness solution for the home coffee maker that lets them mimic the good, natural waters used in specialty shops,” he says.
“I thought it’d be cool to get the end consumer on to the same playing field as the cafes by giving them the same filtered water. So, we’ve taken a format that is prevalent all around the world – the home water filter jug – and transformed it into Peak Water, an adjustable water jug that utilises cafe filtration technology. Thanks to the high-quality resins we are putting in it and the bypass system that stops water being overfiltered, it’s performing better than most of the commercial systems and winning taste tests against them.”
Peak Water works by adjusting alkalinity. The higher the bicarbonate content in water, the higher the alkalinity. Bicarbonate wipes out the acidity in coffee, making it taste dull and earthy, so the filtration system strips bicarbonate away. Peak Water customers use a strip to test their water’s alkalinity then set the jug’s filtration to suit. “Of course, you can play around with this level of filtering, but we give a recommendation,” says Maxwell. “I’ve realised that there really isn’t one perfect water, because different coffees suit different water hardnesses.”
Stepping into the world of product development certainly wasn’t easy for Maxwell, who hadn’t created a new product from scratch before. “I had the idea for Peak Water. Because I work in the coffee industry I had a great network to call on for help, and I had enough of an understanding of supply chains and product development after making the Colonna capsules, so I was confident.”
The main difficulty was that none of the jug’s components were already in existence, so all parts are bespoke. The research and development (R&D) stage took more than three years, and there are still small tweaks being made.
“If you’ve never done R&D, you just don’t understand why it takes so long or why it gets delayed repeatedly,” shares Maxwell. “There will be problems along the way you can’t predict, so you have to watch for them and adapt to them.”
Money was a constant concern, too. “You need a big budget to develop a product quickly, which we didn’t have, so I chose a small team – a friend in biotech, Chris the chemist and an industrial design company.”
In April 2018, Maxwell launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for Peak Water. It’d been through two costly prototyping stages and the idea was fully fleshed out, so Maxwell gave customers the chance to pre-order.
“Kickstarter was a real proof of concept. It was worthwhile but difficult; manufacturing always ends up costing more than you first thought, so when you’re selling close to cost price you aren’t left with much money to fulfil orders,” says Maxwell. “We planned to ship the product by September 2018, but multiple design fixes have pushed the timeline and added costs, so we sought a grant earlier this year from Innovate UK and raised loans for £350k. If it’s possible to buy in ready-made components, it’s easier, cheaper and faster to get your idea off the ground!”
With the product set to launch in October 2019, Maxwell is turning his focus to sales. As well as home brewers, he’s had lots of interest from coffee companies that want to retail Peak Water: “In my other businesses, I’m competing against coffee businesses, but because this jug makes everyone’s coffee taste better, I’m working with lots of roasteries who want to sell it to their customers. After launch, my aim is to keep up with demand, keep developing the idea – maybe creating a portable Peak or adding artworks – and nurture the brand with my team.