Two local brothers are looking to shake up the craft beverage market. Lou and Dean Vastardis have co-founded BKON (pronounced beacon), a company looking to utilize negative pressure to infuse teas, coffee and made-to-order, infused cocktails.
When I met up with Lou Vastardis upstairs from Ultimo Coffee in Philadelphia’s Counter Culture Coffee Training Center, he had samples of tea leaves, coffee, dried fruit, herbs, spices and chilies lined up on a workbench. Also present, the Vastardis’s BKON Craft Brewer, a touchscreen controlled brewing apparatus that promises an easier way to make tea, more flavorful coffee and unique cocktail combinations. The Craft Brewer controls the extraction of flavor using temperature, pressure and time to create a replicable drink quickly. The device, which was awarded the “Best New Product” at the World Tea Expo in 2013 can in 60-seconds pull the flavor out of a loose-leaf tea that might ordinarily take multiple brews and ten-plus minute wait times, not to mention the possibility of human error.
The Craft Brewer is also being used to brew coffee. In fact, BKON and Counter Culture have recently entered a strategic partnership to become the first company to develop a brew coffee program based on the BKON’s patented RAIN (Reverse Atmospheric Infusion) process. In the coming months the two companies will be hosting events to showcase the Craft Brewer’s capabilities to chefs, mixologists and baristas. Over and over, Lou stressed that like sous vide cooking, the true power of the brewer would be when creative people started using with the device. The sous vide comparison makes a lot of sense, as it was the inspiration for the RAIN process. Back in 2007, Dean was inspired by chefs use of sous vide and he started playing around with coffee, hot water and vacuum extraction. Those early experiments created an over-extracted coffee but set Dean, a Temple University graduate and coffee industry pro, towards what is BKON today.
At Counter Culture’s Philadelphia training center, Lou put the Craft Brewer through its paces, brewing teas with deep and layered flavors, unlike any I had tasted before. He also recreated the flavor of sangria by infusing a bottle of red wine with dried fruit, spices and cinnamon. Sure, there were no booze soaked fruit at the bottom, but the flavors were all right there. The spirit infusions also showed a lot of promise. Instead of barrel-aging a cocktail for weeks, the Craft Brewer infused tequila with coconut, black tea, cinnamon and smoked vanilla beans. 60 seconds later, we had a bottle of infused tequila to sip and consider how to turn it into a dozen different cocktails. I shared a bottle of chillies infused tequila with several self-professed tequila haters, they all quickly downed their drinks.
Next up for BKON is showing off the flavor extraction capabilities of the BKON Craft Brewer. The brothers have brought on “Top Chef” judge Hugh Acheson as Strategic Culinary Advisor. Acheson will be showing off the device to chefs and mixologists during the NYC Food and Wine Festival in October and the chef also has a Craft Brewer at his Empire State South restaurant in Atlanta.
As for when you might taste something locally. The upcoming location of Capital Teas at 1804 Chestnut Street will have a brewer in its storefront. Beyond that, mum’s the word.