Equator Coffee Launches 'Ground Control' Brewing At New Fort Mason Café

Equator Coffee Launches 'Ground Control' Brewing At New Fort Mason CaféThe new brewing process uses a vacuum to dry grounds mid-brew. | Photos: R.A. Schuetz
R. A. Schuetz
Published on July 19, 2017

Equator Coffees & Teas is literally putting a new twist on brewing at its new location opening Thursday at the gatehouse in Fort Mason.

Yesterday, baristas were receiving training on the apparatus. One peered up at its towers and said, “It looks like the coffee of the future. That’s the stuff astronauts are going to be drinking.”

Equator Coffee opens in the gatehouse at Ft. Mason tomorrow.

The patent-pending technology is called Ground Control, and according to one of its creators, Eli Salomon, it's the newest innovation in batch-brewing coffee since the drip coffee maker was introduced in the ‘50s.

The company that makes it, Voga Coffee, is Mission-based; Equator's Fort Mason outpost will be the first café in San Francisco to use the brewer.

What sets apart the machine’s method is its use of a powerful vacuum to brew coffee multiple times. Ted Stachura, who tastes and buys coffees for Equator, said the amount of time water is in contact with grounds has a significant impact on its taste.

If the water is in contact with the grounds for too long, it becomes bitter; not long enough, and it will taste watery.

However, Ground Control's vacuum system also dries the grounds mid-brew, allowing a fresh cycle of water to continue extracting flavors without becoming bitter. “It resets the clock,” Stachura said.

The brewed grounds show cracks after being vacuum-dried.

Salomon fell in love with coffee in high school, when his dad began a daily ritual of going to a nearby coffeeshop every evening. He said it transformed his academic life—he started actually finding the energy to do his homework at home—and when he reached law school, he started a short-lived coffee website, then went on to work with a single-cup coffee brewer called Steampunk.

Inspired by a complex 1830s invention that brewed coffee by creating a vacuum, Salomon first had the idea to use a vacuum to brew coffee on a large scale in June of 2013. He called over Josh Avins, his freshman roommate who was working on his post doc in chemistry, for help.

“Sure, we can do that over a weekend,” Avins responded. Avins also had the idea for using the vacuum to brew the coffee multiple times, a process he used in the lab for solid-liquid extractions.

And sure enough, with an air mattress pump for the vacuum, a frying pan splatter screen for the filter and some Silly Putty for a seal, they rigged up a working contraption in Salomon’s Mission apartment.

It took a year to figure out how to use those principles to brew one liter of coffee at a time, but Salomon still remembers the day they succeeded.

“We took a cup of the coffee that we brewed, and we took it down to a local café to try the same coffee brewed on their drip brewer side by side. And we thought ours tasted a lot better, even though we hadn’t dialed in our process. That’s when we realized we had something special.”

Eli Salomon stands in in front of his coffee machine, Ground Control.

In addition to giving local inventors a place to show their wares, the new Equator is hoped to be a liaison between the greater community and the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture. The gate house is located right on the Bay Trail, which attracts pedestrians and cyclists alike.

Fort Mason Center spokesperson Nick Kinsey said the center started looking for a café to move into the gate house, which had previously been used for meetings and storage, two years ago. The center settled on Equator because of its involvement with the community in its other locations.

"We didn't want a café to only sell coffee, but really to be a part of our artistic community," he said.

There are plans being discussed for Equator to work with events and other companies located at Fort Mason in order to help draw people in. "We think there are a lot of people who will start to stop at Fort Mason because of Equator," said Kinsey.