The Sonn Beverage System: Ultrasonic brewing/extracting- Prototype testing

Coffee preparation techniques besides espresso like pourover.
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TomC
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Postby TomC » Oct 27, 2015, 8:50 pm

I've been fortunate to get to play around and experiment with a very interesting device that will hopefully come to the market and offer another method of creating beverages, not only coffee, but wine and spirits as well. This countertop unit here is just a rough prototype, so please forgive the lack of a bunch of photos. This is a fully functional unit, but in rough cut, mainly for testing. It's a lightweight, quiet and easy to use device, but the final version will likely have even more counter appeal than this version does.

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The following is text heavy, my apologies. It's mostly early impressions, rather than a bunch of photos.

It's going to be interesting to see where it fits into the brewing/home beverage preparation world. It seems early on to have a lot of promise, and is fortunately, going to be quite affordable (estimates around $200). The inventor, Glen Poss, holds several patents on the device, as well as many that he's created for other coffee related gear, a small countertop coffee roaster/brewer (more on that later).

The use of ultrasonic energy in the beverage world is a bit unknown to most of us, but there's been a bit of chatter lately with many people exploring what it can do in terms of extraction and altering the flavor or sensory experience of various beverages, our interest being coffee. This unit does some fantastic things to a multitude of beverages, wine and spirits foremost in my mind, and coffee has some interesting challenges and likely beneficial attributes that I'll need to test out further as I get more familiar with the device.

The effects of cavitation has been studied, I'll share a few things that are easily found online. It's effects on a beverage, either in effort to extract a substance or alter the structure of another, are somewhat new territory, so I won't make any solid claims as far as anything scientific, just some general observations.

http://web.mit.edu/hml/ncfmf/16CAV.pdf

http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/cavitation-d_407.html

Finding a home for users should be relatively easy with something like this, even just based on what it does with spirits and red wine. It seems to have a beneficial effect on tannins in young wine. So far, I've done some simple A/B testing (important to note it's not been blinded) comparing the "sonicated" beverage versus a standard sample. I need to buy more red wine, but so far, there is a very clear beneficial effect of running the unit for about 15-30 seconds on a serving of a young cabernet sauvignon. The bracing, moderately harshness of a young wine's tannin structure seems a great deal smoother and well rounded, simply by blasting it with this ultrasonic transducer. I don't pretend to be any authority on wine, but I'm early on, quite convinced of the benefits this seems to produce. It seems like one could take a cheap bottle of "two-buck Chuck" and quickly obtain something that has the more mellow, rounded and pleasing characteristics of a properly cellared wine.

I've toyed around with what it can do with spirits too, namely vodka and rum, in simple cocktails. First off, I made the most incredible Irish coffee, simply by dosing my ground coffee into the carafe, hitting it with a shot of my own home- barrel aged rum, ( I didn't have any Irish whiskey on hand and wasn't yet willing to commit to the top shelf American Bourbon I have on hand). I then simply topped up the carafe with near boiling water from my kettle and ran it thru it's preset program for coffee. It "sonicates" the slurry for 30 seconds, and the timer continues to count down another 2 minutes, 30 seconds afterwards. The lid has a fine mess filter built into it, so I simply poured the results out into a glass and tucked in to a wonderful beverage. Playing around with it mixing in a few drizzles of maple syrup and a dot of cream really took it to another level.

Another test was to see it's effect on a simple spirit like vodka. I have a few different types on hand, the top shelf, Hangar One and a bit lower down the line, Smirnoff, and next I'll be testing out good old Stolichnaya. The Sonn comes with a few accessories that are used for different beverage preparation, a simple copper conditioning wand that rests in the bottom of the carafe, claims that it binds sulfates and delivers a less harsh beverage, and also, some thick stainless steel cubes that function basically like ice cubes, that keep the beverage temperature from changing much as it's being hit with this big wallop of high frequency energy. Since heat can affect the taste and mouthfeel etc, of a beverage, this seems to be able to prevent that, so a tester can assess what effects plus or minus it has on the brewing process. The Sonn made a martini with the Hangar One taste like a smooth whisper, better than the same drink prepared the same way without it. The viscosity of the Smirnoff straight out of the freezer was almost warm honey-like, and I'll admit failure with the two attempts so far ( I can only handle 2 cocktails on a work night, so this great labor is being stretch out) :) I think maybe I was up against a thicker viscosity that didn't translate into the same softer result that I was getting using room temperature alcohol, I'll play with that some more as it I learn more about the unit. Regardless of beverage, I'm seeing an enhanced aroma of whatever I happen to be playing with, for what it's worth.

So far, the Sonn has made wine a great deal better, it has made cheap well spirits less harsh. I turned to coffee (sans alcohol) to see what it can produce as well. That will require a lot more time and playing around, since it seems to open a whole new frontier in what it can produce, beverage wise. I took a sample of Cat & Cloud coffee, a juicy, sweet washed Ethiopian Limu that has clear notes of chewy dates, figs etc as well as some soft vanilla and passionfruit at higher temperatures, and put it thru the Sonn to see what it produced. Hitting the coffee with only 30 seconds seems to alter it's acidity quite a bit, toning it down and mellowing out any light roasted (sour) notes and leaving a smoother, buttery, softer mouthfeel. The exact same preparation, brew ratio etc without the sonication yielded a cup with more peaks and valleys, roasty notes, sourness.

I'm going to work on various approaches to how I can use it for coffee, in order to see how I can end up with the clarity of a paper filtered brew, but processed using this method of extraction enhancement. I don't particularly go for french press type coffee brewing, preferring the clarity of paper filtered brews, so coming up with a simple to use method will be my next task. I'm thinking maybe just pressing the results thru an Aeropress filter, since most of my other brewing attempts to clarify an immersion brew thru a typical cone filter (Kalita Wave, Chemex etc) seems to result most often in stuck drawdowns and room temperature brews by the time it's all done.

I apologize for this wall of text, so I'll try to summarize some early impressions. It seems to have a lot of promise for various brew methods, not just coffee. It seems to clearly excel in things alcohol based and would probably easily find a home just in that market. Glen has a few patents on other devices he's built, he owns something like 4 patents on microwave energy, induction roasting and CPU based coffee roasting devices. He developed the early prototypes of the NuRoast home roaster. The Indigogo campaign failed to launch, but the ideas behind it are fascinating. I think the fact that they were aiming for a home market outside of the Home-Barista do-it-yourself crowd was part of that reason it didn't find a home initially. Folks balked at the idea of being locked in to a pre-selected choice of green coffee, but the vastly larger audience of your typical home coffee consumer would likely include those folks who just want simplicity and ease of use. Anyways, his newest device seems to have a lot more promise for coming up with some tasty recipes. More to come as I play with it!

Here's another photo of a different prototype. There's a few in use in some high end bars, to examine it's effects on other alcohol/cocktail recipes. He has a few others already mocked up that utilize even more features, but I'm not at liberty to discuss those just yet.

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aecletec
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Postby aecletec » Oct 27, 2015, 9:11 pm

No apologies necessary - that was quite an interesting read!
From the DIY perspective, the reduction in harshness is often done with pouring aerators, blenders or whisks in the wine world, but this "works via oxidation" and doesn't actually change the texture much if at all. The change in texture seems to be an interesting drawcard, plus differences in cleaning, perhaps?

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Postby TomC » Oct 27, 2015, 9:16 pm

aecletec wrote:No apologies necessary - that was quite an interesting read!
From the DIY perspective, the reduction in harshness is often done with pouring aerators, blenders or whisks in the wine world, but this "works via oxidation" and doesn't actually change the texture much if at all. The change in texture seems to be an interesting drawcard, plus differences in cleaning, perhaps?



I like it purely off the "wine aerator" angle, enough to want to buy one and then play with more down the line. I've owned and used a simple decanter for a long time, but this seems a great deal easier to use, much quicker and far easier to clean. The main difference being that I appreciate the effect far more with the Sonn, and that there's also an objective difference, with a decanter, you can "aerate" a whole bottle usually, whereas with this, it's a glass at a time. But all I do after hitting the button for a quick 20 second pulse is just rinse the carafe under the sink and it's ready to go again.

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aecletec
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Postby aecletec » Oct 27, 2015, 9:26 pm

That does sound pretty handy, I assume through the "ultrasonic cleaning" aspect? The area is relatively unknown to me.
Did you notice much of the emulsification aspect that has been talked about on the forums? Is it hand-in-hand with ultrasound or only at different doses/frequencies, perhaps?

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Postby TomC » Oct 27, 2015, 9:39 pm

I want to test it more on post-brew types of coffee, maybe some very high brew ratio type drinks? It certainly is capable of creating an interesting, thick emulsion if the raw ingredients are present. I can only speculate, and I'm completely uncertain as to the intensity of the ultrasonic energy/frequency being applied to what's in the carafe, but the agitation is clearly evident, you don't even need the lid on while running it to watch what's happening. I just now put about 5 ounces of whole milk in and ran it for up to 90 seconds, tasting it every 30, and it didn't whip it into foam, but it certainly made it ultra creamy and even smoother, like buttery.

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aecletec
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Postby aecletec » Oct 27, 2015, 10:02 pm

It sounds like ultrasounding milk is going to be popular!
I'm looking forward to reading/seeing your further experimentation, thanks for sharing!

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doublehelix
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Postby doublehelix » Oct 28, 2015, 10:52 am

This system seems really useful and will be popular if it does come to market at ~$200.
Wondering, if an inexpensive sonicator from Amazon would accomplish the similar results with a little bit of testing?
It certainly would not be as convenient, or as pretty.....

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Postby aecletec » Oct 28, 2015, 9:00 pm

If you can avoid patenty stuff, I'd also love to hear how it goes... yay for inexpensive ideas!

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TomC
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Postby TomC » Oct 28, 2015, 9:01 pm

doublehelix wrote:This system seems really useful and will be popular if it does come to market at ~$200.
Wondering, if an inexpensive sonicator from Amazon would accomplish the similar results with a little bit of testing?
It certainly would not be as convenient, or as pretty.....



It's the first thing I thought folks would ask, so thanks for asking :) Apparently the Sonn runs ten times the energy into the liquid than a standard ultrasonic unit would, so it wouldn't even be a fair comparison.

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doublehelix
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Postby doublehelix » Oct 28, 2015, 11:43 pm

Fantastic! Does the Sonn use a probe?
The high powered sonicators can really alter matter. Germans started using them to drive chemical reactions in the 1930's. Amazing capabilities for $200.

 
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