His machines are clearly recognisable, and they sit iconically on some of the best coffee bars. We managed to steal a few moments of Kees' time to have a chat about coffee, machines and what is keeping him busy nowadays.
Darren: Ok so let’s set the record right. Half the coffee world have no idea how your name is pronounced. Is it “KEYS” or “KAYS”?
Kees: It's actually pronounced as case, as in beauty case.
Darren: How many years have you been in the business of espresso machines?
Kees: Well, I started in 1984 building my first two machines at school as a graduation project, during the fifth and final year. I studied Industrial Design.
Darren: You have famously said before that you started making espresso machine to show the Italians how to make a proper espresso machine. Now after 32 years, do you think you have achieved that?
Kees: Haha, well, as a young pigheaded student that was indeed what I was thinking. Well, they are catching up fast! Lol
Darren: Tell me more where you draw all your ideas and inspiration for your machines
Kees: It is a compilation of all shapes and forms that I experienced throughout life. But the ones I like mainly, are the more speedy, fast-looking shapes. I think that fits espresso machines. Espresso is after all a fast drink. Think aeroplanes, speedboats, race cars etc.
Darren: Very apt indeed! And how about the names for your machines? Any stories behind them?
Kees: Mistral is a French wind at the Mediterranean. Mirage is a French fighter plan. Speedster speaks for itself and Spirit connects to Speedster and the first airplane crossing the Atlantic! It is more the feeling of speed that these names evoke.
Darren: And what is going to be the 5th name for your next machine? ;)
Kees: That is still a secret!
Darren: So what is your view of the current world of espresso machines and where do you think it is heading towards in the future?
Kees: It is very very vibrant now. It is an exciting world with lots of development going on. In the 90's and early 2000's, things were rather stagnant but that has changed in a big way. About the future, I fear things will be much more automatic 10 years from now, which I personally don't really look forward to. We'll try to keep our machines old school, in the way that it is a magnificent tool for the barista.
Darren: Among all the recent developments in espresso machines, what excites you the most?
Kees: Well, anything that will improve consistency is important. So more very good cups! But my main interest is to make all those technical improvements look good, so that they are visually strong and appealing
Darren: Do you think the strive for consistency is also creating the need for automation?
Kees: Yes, that is what I am afraid of. Eventually, the fully automatics will be better and more consistent than a human barista can be.
Darren: I know the Idrocompresso was a machine you are very fond of. Tell me more about why you made the decision to stop its production and how you felt about it.
Kees: Well, sadly we never received more than 5-10 orders a year, so when the general production needed to be raised and streamlined, we looked at the Idro very carefully. Since the machine is so different it was a huge strain on our production, parts and educating. Especially the latter, which took huge amounts of energy and time after customers purchase.
Darren: Painful decision?
Kees: Yes, it sure is. I do hope the lever will return in the future.
Darren: Beyond espresso machines, for the coffee industry in general, what do you think will be the 4th wave?
Kees: I don't know! Maybe those fully automatics. Perhaps coffee growing within the cities in elevated gardens! With a coffee shop underneath, then you really would have control over the complete chain! ;)
Darren: Interesting thought!!
Darren: So how is the coffee scene in Netherlands now? Do we have more coffee shops that serves real coffee instead of brownies nowadays?
Kees: Yes, we definitely do! As in all European countries, we were quite slow to embrace the specialty. It is still very much a young peoples’ industry. There were espresso machines all over Europe, but these are the very old school and very different from specialty which cannot be expected to adapt to the third wave.
Darren: So what is brewing in your R&D department nowadays?
Kees: Many many projects! Lots of changes with the current machines, and we now started working on a fully new machine. As always, working day and most nights and weekends. You probably heard about the adjustable PPIC on the Spirit.
Darren: Yes I will ask you more about the PPIC later. But tell me more about the new machine. What got you started? What direction is it heading towards?
Kees: Well we were expecting the Mirage to drop when the Spirit came along. It surprisingly held up quite well. But we do think it will need replacement in the end. So the new machine will actually be a Mirage no. 2. Double boilers and very intelligent groups.
Darren: Have a scale for shots please!
Kees: We might in the future, but we are first focusing on improving the volumetric system a lot. That is because scales hinder the work flow too much in very busy espresso bars.
Darren: I wanted to ask you about the biggest problem you are trying to solve now with your machines. Will that be getting the volumetric system to be better?
Kees: There are not really any big problems, but just a lot of smaller ones or at least things that can be improved. But even with an old style lever you can make rather decent coffee. In that respect, the barista remains important.
Darren: So talking about lever machines. What are your thoughts about pressure profiling?
Kees: I don’t believe in it, unless it is the first approximate 1/3 or 1/2 of the extraction. The infusion. That is incredibly important. After reaching 9 bar there is not much to gain.
Darren: And no one really looks at the infusion in as much details as you do. So back to PPIC. What were some of the effects your team have observed from tweaking the pre-infusion? How does it affect cup quality?
Kees: With our adjustable system, you can actually tune the flavour. You can also adapt differently to lighter or darker coffee. It really offers lots of flavour possibilities. All roasters visiting us are enthusiastic.
Darren: And I cannot wait to get my Spirit retrofitted with the system.
Kees: When you have please let us know your feedback!
Darren: Anything more you want to add about the new machine (aka Mirage ver 2)? I am sure the industry will be very interested
Kees: Well, it will replace the Mirage. Both in costs and capability it needs to remain under the Spirit. So things will remain basic, well, lets call it high-level basic ;) Also, for sure lots of customisation possibilities. Even the legs can be changed!
Darren: You have always been open to customisations. Thank you for that! What was the weirdest customisation you ever received?
Kees: Building a huge machine in the shape of a medieval castle. This proved to be too expensive, so that is why it was never realised.
Darren: Your team have grown a fair bit over the years, and you are constantly handling new projects. What is your management style like?
Kees: I hate it and I can't be a manager. I like to think we are just working together with everybody bringing in his own ideas, thoughts and plans.
Darren: Thank you Kees for taking time to join me for this interview. You won’t believe how much joy your machines brought to baristas here in Singapore and Malaysia.
Kees: Thank you very much! That is feedback we appreciate of course.
Darren: And once again I have to invite you to come visit us when u have the time!
Kees: Thanks a lot, will let you know if we do!