The group is getting a few modifications. The original design comprised two castings: the main body and a short sleeve, that were thermally shrink-fit together and machined after assembly.
We have replaced the second casting with an AISI 316 sleeve that lines the entire bore of the body. As well as being easier to manufacture and thermally indistinguishable from the all-bronze version, the sleeve has benefits for water distribution. First, it is compatible with E61 slip-on shower screens; we now use a 35µm mesh screen which we found gives the best results after considerable testing. Second, a radial channel around the outside of the sleeve distributes incoming brew water and injects it into the brew chamber via 8 ports instead of the single port in the original design.
These two changes improve the symmetry of the water flow into the chamber and result in a reduction in turbulence above the puck. We have also moved away from bronze to stainless for the cam for strength and longevity and to reduce our use of chrome – which we do wherever possible for environmental reasons.
The other changes, with a few exceptions, are incremental improvements that either simplify or improve the stuff under the hood. This is done not just to streamline the manufacturing and assembly process, but to build a more robust machine – in short: the simpler it is, the less there is to go wrong. Changes like this include a redesigned boiler that makes welding (slightly) easier, a new, stiffer, laser-cut 3D jigsaw puzzle frame, a reworked hydraulic system to reduce component count and to make assembly and maintenance easier, some streamlining of the wiring harness and the elimination of a couple of internal plastic parts.
I mentioned that there were a few exceptions to the incremental-type improvements. The first, which is still in development but will should make it into this edition, is a new interface for the electronics. The interface in the first two editions – a very small screen with three control buttons – was located under the cup warmer to protect it from water. A new (slightly larger) screen and capacitive touch interface are being integrated into the splash-proof main electronics housing under the drip tray.
A new PID algorithm, developed and optimized specifically for the DS by an expert in renewable energy systems with a PhD in electrical engineering, brings an entire order of magnitude improvement in boiler temperature stability. What difference does this make to the expresso? None that I can tell as the thermal stability of the massive bronze group casting smoothed out what little variation there was due to the previous algorithm. But ten times better performance is still ten times better – how can you say no? Oh, and I nearly forgot that we now also have a formed drip tray insert that radically diminishes standing water – no more puddles.
And there are also the coffee tools of course, DS owners get an automatic 15% reduction on all the Lapera tools and we will powder-coat them to match any custom colors.
“We stood with our eyes fixed upon those heights crowned with the memories of four centuries of glory, pleasure, love, conspiracy and bloodshed – the throne, the citadel, the tomb of the great Ottoman Empire – and no one spoke or moved.”
Constantinople, Edmondo di Amicis, 1877
Orders for the Lapera DS3, the Constantinople Edition, are now open. The base price for the machine is 9717.17 USD plus shipping. This is a lot by any measure, but not, we feel, and if you understand the process, by any means excessive. You can reserve here. That’s the short of it. For the long of it – read on.
I was fortunate enough to spend several glorious months in Istanbul as a student, studying the architecture and culture and drinking Turkish coffee – my very own diminutive and suitably accompanied Grand Tour1 of the sites of antiquity. One afternoon, as I wandered the back alleys of Eminönü, I stumbled across the unmistakable and, to me, irresistible chewy-toffee smell of roasting coffee. Drawn through an archway into a small courtyard, I discovered the source: a gigantic gas-fired 19th century Italian roasting machine. Aslan, the affable, slightly portly and sixty-something master roaster, beckoned me into the ramshackle space piled to the ancient beams with sack upon sack of green coffee. He opened the hatch on the side of the beast to reveal rows of foot-long thunderous jets of blue flame, fangs in the maw of a dragon. He showed me the process, judging by ear and by eye and by taste, piling little mounds of beans collected with the sampling spoon in a row on a small wooden table next to where he sat. His vast experience gained no doubt as an apprentice to his predecessor, and his predecessor’s predecessor, and his before him. Coffee has been roasted on this spot for over a hundred and fifty years. As the rake turned over the cooling beans he ground a handful of them into a little cone he made from a page of his newspaper, twisted the top closed and sent me back down the alley to have the fine powder twice-boiled in a cezve by the vendor on the corner and served to me, sekerli (with sugar), in a tiny demitasse. Aslan was both affable and devout, he timed his roasts to end just before the muezzin’s call, shutting down the machine and walking through the bustling crowds, past the nut sellers and the spice shops to disappear through an innocuous brick archway between a butcher’s shop and a haberdashery, away from mammon and into the calm coolness of the sahn, the forecourt of a 16th century mosque, where I left him to his prayers.
To a young student from the West, the teeming life and pageant of Istanbul was completely compelling and exotic – alive with the romance and allure of the orient. The city a palimpsest of the architecture, cultures and belief systems of its successive Eastern and Western masters; traces of the past shimmering just below the surface like coins in a fountain. Looking back, my exposure to the architecture, history and culture of Turkey was a critical part of my education in design. Experiencing its venerable coffee tradition was equally transformative: coffee suddenly became a rich and complex thing, volatile and of varying quality, something to seek, something to pursue. It was only much later that I realized just how venerable that tradition is, that in addition to algebra, trigonometry, and the underpinnings of scientific objectivity, the Golden Age of Islam also gave us coffee. As Paul Christopher Johnson writes in his remarkable essay on coffee:
“…from [coffee’s] emergence in Ethiopia to its systematic plantation in Yemen to its global transport via the expansion of Islam and then the Ottoman Empire, to the arrival in Europe via Turkey in the hands of Venetian traders, to the first coffeehouses of Europe by the mid-1600s.”
In the piece Johnson explores the idea of the godshot, I say idea because he defines it not as a specific recipe or format of coffee, but rather as an ideal: the perfect but ultimately unobtainable shot of espresso, tantalizingly close, perhaps just one bean or tweak or piece of equipment away, but always, finally, just beyond our reach because perfection is the purview of the gods and we who seek it mortal. It is the everlasting quest for the godshot, the naïve belief that the next coffee I make will be the perfect one, that distinguishes the obsessive from the merely enthusiastic coffee drinker.
“Anselm, [Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109], defined God as a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. This is never the case for the ultimate demitasse of espresso, known as the godshot. Occasionally a godshot is reported, a triumph of technique, technology, and nature. But mostly godshot suggests deferral, a perfection yet to come.”
In the end it is the process of this constant search for perfection – the playful tinkering and adjustment followed by the test, the comparison to that ideal perfect cup we hold in our mind – that becomes the end rather than the means. The goal becomes not the perfect cup, but one that is better than the one before, inching ever closer to the asymptote of perfection. The cyclical negotiation between practice and performance is something we recognize in sports and music, but it also exists in disciplines that define themselves as practices like architecture, law and medicine. I would argue that it also extends to making things. Those who are the best at it are the ones who continually strive to deepen their understanding of their process, always reaching for the thing that is just beyond their grasp.
But back to where we left Aslan, washing at the fountain of the mosque before going to pray. In contrast to Western religious art, the Islamic design tradition is aniconic or non-figural, employing instead geometric or vegetal patterning and calligraphic ornamentation as its predominant means of artistic expression. Geometry and geometric patterns are considered sacred – a mirror of the infinite nature of Allah – each individual element part of a boundless whole. The design of mosques themselves might be vulgarized as the translation of these two-dimensional divine geometries into three-dimensional earthly form. And the architects of mosques would, I was told2, introduce a deliberate flaw into the “perfect” geometry of their plan, so as to appear humble before God. I don’t know if this is actually true, but I fervently hope so. In Greek tragedy, hubris is the crime of “excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods…”3 and it would seem that the avoidance of this crime was uppermost in the minds of the architects of Istanbul’s Ottoman masterpieces. At least it was important enough to them to risk offending their great and all-powerful patron:
A heavy iron chain hangs in the upper part of the court entrance on the western side of the Mosque. Only the sultan was allowed to enter the court of the Blue Mosque on horseback. The chain was put there, so that the sultan had to lower his head every time he entered the court in order not to get hit. It was done as a symbolic gesture, to ensure the humility of the ruler in the face of the divine.4
The path of the perfectionist is fraught with danger.
Which brings me to the end of this meandering digression through the streets of Istanbul and its imperious architecture and to a significantly smaller, far more prosaic totem of delayed perfection: the launch of the third “Constantinople” Edition5 of Lapera’s signature lever machine, the DS3. This release of 25 serial numbers, with a subtly re-engineered group and a myriad of other incremental improvements, is already in production and should ship, as always with the caveat of all being well, this winter. A number are already spoken for. The base price for the edition is $9717.17 USD plus actual shipping – roughly $650 to the US. You can reserve your serial number here. Once we receive confirmation from you we will be in touch to sort out the details, customization and to welcome you to Lapera.
Thanks for reading.
1 – the 19th century sort, not the Stigless one you have to go on after you punch your producer.
2 – Or at least so I was told by a luminary Virgil from the beneficent Purgatory that was my post-secondary education.
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” 2
Well, here it is: the missive I’ve been promising for quite a few years now – the one in which I announce the price and the pre-sale. This is it; the moment has finally come. Sort of.
Very short summary if you aren’t interested in / don’t have time for the medium-long read:
1st thing: This is new. There may be problems. Or there may not. 2nd thing: I’m giving them away (ish). 3rd thing: The pre-production Founders’ Circle Edition Lapera DS machines will cost $8888.88 CAD plus shipping. 4th thing: The next ones will be more expensive.
Before we unpack all of that, please indulge me in a minor digression.
Not too long after graduating from architecture school I put a perfectly good career designing bridges and office buildings on hold and maxed out my credit cards to go on tour with the band. The band in this case being the first work that I had created with another artist: the Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers3, a half-hour long orchestral performance for obsolete office equipment. Fast forward twenty years, after many art projects that investigated questions of technology and obsolescence, and an awful lot of time spent looking for good coffee while on tour, it occurred to me that coffee is one of the very few areas of everyday life where steam engines, i.e. technology from the 18th century, are still considered cutting edge. And so began my third career.
Actions, or so the aphorism goes, speak louder than words. Whatever you may think of his actions, you must allow that Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush (remember him?), has a way with words. His quote about the “unknown unknowns”, possibly a bit long to be an aphorism but getting there, neatly encapsulates and conveniently compartmentalizes all knowledge and identifies a distinct category of events which are, by definition, unforeseeable. The lesson being that you must plan for every eventuality knowing that you cannot know all the eventualities. Given who he is and how that all went, the irony of the implicit caution against hubris is, to me at least, rich.
The new Lapera machines have been tested, very thoroughly and rather strenuously, in the controlled conditions of our atelier. I have tried to anticipate all of the problems, from bad water to cosmic rays, before they arise. But what will happen when they venture out on their own into the wide and wonderful and dangerous world? What will happen when they are left alone with your ten year old nephew (no, don’t do that, bad idea – “oooh, a catapult!”). What will happen when someone leaves a pound of butter to soften for baking on the cup warmer and then gets distracted by an Oprah re-run? It is possible, as with all designs entering this Rumsfeldian world, that something not immediately apparent may present itself at some point in the future. Or it won’t. Who knows? At this point there is only one way to find out.
At the beginning of 2016, sitting by a pool in California, I drew the design for the main casting of the Lapera group in my sketchbook. Because, well, that’s what you do when you sit by the pool right? I started with the group casting because it is the most difficult component to make. If I could make that, the rest, I thought at the time, was eminently doable. I also thought that it would take about eighteen months or two years to complete the project. Since then, other than some short breaks teaching architecture and showing at art exhibitions, I have done nothing but work on realizing the DS. Five years is a long time: more than 10,000 hours working a regular nine to five – which of course this job is not. Five years of running costs of my studio. Five years of investment in the materials and labor necessary to iterate the design. And what is that all worth, what did it cost? Suffice it to say that even if I were to charge ten times the amount that I am asking for this first edition, I won’t come any near to recouping my costs. But that is not really why I am doing this. This is not a sensible project. Nor am I, it would seem, a sensible person. Who quotes Donald Rumsfeld in a product launch and suggests that early adopters are potential canon fodder? What you are buying is not so much a coffee machine as it is a love letter to a way of making things that is exceedingly rare today. A work of art. A piece of me.
So this release, the Founders’ Circle Edition of nine single digit serial numbers, fully functional prototypes if you like, is for the risk takers, the early adopters, the beta testers, the kind of people who are willing to put their faith in me. And it is priced accordingly. Of the nine single digit machines, two, I am very proud to say, have been sold into some of the most important private collections of coffee machines in the world. The remaining seven pre-production DS models are available for purchase at the initial price of $8,888.88 CAD (that would be Canadian dollars, U.S. Dollar’s baby brother).
I obviously work very slowly and it is not my intention to scale up the production to the point where I have to forego the level of quality I need in order to get out of bed in the morning. It is unlikely that production volume will exceed the dozens for the next year or two. This means that this price is not sustainable over the long term. Consequentially, the price of the next edition will start with a one and may or may not have any eights in it at all.
If, after doing and saying all of this, I am fortunate enough to have more than seven people still interested, the criteria for deciding who gets one will be thoroughly unscientific: first dibs will be given to the insiders who have been following the project since its beginnings as a series of posts on a coffee forum, the people who have lent a hand and offered encouragement along the way, and the people who I think will take good care.
So who wants one? Just say so and, this time at least, words will have the upper hand.
(1) Dream Boat, Monastir, Tunisia, 2018. Available as an NFT for $69,346,251 (2) Donald Rumsfeld (3) You can look it up. It won a bunch of awards.