Dunn Brothers Coffee Lab debuts the latest coffee geek gadget

About a year ago, Dunn Bros. owners took over a former franchise at University Ave and 280 and turned it into an experimental shop--or coffee lab. No more coffee as commodity: the focus is now on tailored brewing and made-to-order cups.

As of last month, the lab retired its automatic brewers and, instead, offers three types of coffee: ready-to-pour, French press-ed coffee for those in a rush, the increasingly trendy, single cup, pour-over method, and the latest-and-greatest coffee-geek gadget, the new Trifecta machine. The Trifecta, which was introduced at the last Specialty Coffee Conference, is basically the Bunn coffee machine company's response to the Clover. The tabletop machine brews the coffee in three fun-to-watch stages, "preinfusion, turbulence and press-out," and has a cool little clear cylinder in front so customers can see the grounds slosh around, like a mini-blender. So far as The Hot Dish knows, the Dunn Bros Lab is the only spot in town that has one.

The Hot Dish stopped in the shop to try a Tanzania peaberry on the Trifecta and then called up Dunn Bros. CEO Chris Eiler for a few more details.

What do you like about the Trifecta? With the Trifecta, we can develop a brewing profile for each of the coffees we roast and really hone in on the nuances in the way you can't with the other two methods (French press and pour over)...it's like a fancy French press that agitates based on what you tell it to do. With less agitation, you're going to extract less out of the coffee; the more you agitate, the more you're able to pull out of the coffee. Let's say it's a Sumatra--you don't want the earthiness to come on too strong so with the agitation you can control that and bring other parts of that great coffee out. We program a setting for each new coffee we bring in. Right now, we feature one coffee for each brewing technique but our long term goal is for customers to come in, chose any coffee we're currently roasting, and have it for them.

Why did you open the lab? Some shops in town are offering a higher-end experience and what we're testing at the lab is the acceptability [of that experience] to a more mainstream coffee connoisseur who's looking for something above what they might get at Starbucks or Caribou or McCafe. When we opened up in 1990s, our coffee experience was different--we roasted beans in the store, we made lattes--but now those things are ubiquitous. We asked ourselves, 'how can we redefine what the experience is and make it exciting again?

Where does Dunn Bros fit in the local coffee market--and how is that changing? The early adopters are looking for new experience...but if you make it too high end or geeky it's not approachable for enough people. We want to find a balance between that experience and the more mainstream shop. If we want to compete, we can't do it against Starbucks and Caribou--the experience has to be different. And what we're able to do in one market might be different than others. It's not a one-size-fits-all like it used to be. What else is unique about the lab? We're decommodifying the experience by pricing each coffee differently, based on what we paid for it, like wine or micro-brewed beer. There's a no refill policy at the lab--when you go to a bar you don't ask for a free refill of wine.

Does that pricing structure allow you to serve more high-end beans? This time of year we roast Kona in the stores because people like to give it as a gift. Seldom would we roast it [for in-store brewing] because it's expensive and there's not enough profit in it. Now we can let people chose if they want to try a more expensive by the cup they can.

What have you learned so far at the lab? We've lost customers who are only as loyal as the price point--they want to spend $1.95 not $2.50. But we don't want to be perceived as the ubiquitous coffee chain that's all about promoting value based on price point--we'd rather promote value based on the overall experience. We're selling more of pour over and trifeca than French press, but it's it's too early to tell. When might some of these changes be rolled out in other stores? We were brewing coffee in the morning up until about a month ago so we need a few more months under our belt. Probably a few stores will add pour over as an addition, but the jury is still out.

Dunn Bros. Coffee Lab 2650 University Ave W. St. Paul, MN 55114 Phone: 651-645-3343

Watch a Brit demo the Bunn Trifecta in this video:

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