Spinn's journey started in 2016 with a crowdfunding campaign. It's come a long way since that time, raising $40 million in freshly brewed venture capital about a year ago, and more recently announced that its machine received a software update that enables it to make cold brew. As a heat wave nestles in across the Bay Area, I figured that was worth a closer look.
The machine itself has been on the market for a hot minute, but it recently launched its cold brew mode, and I figured that was a good enough reason to take a closer look at the machine. Spinn sent me one of the machines to try out. After a particularly delightful unboxing experience (the cardboard unfolds like origami, and I was half surprised there wasn't a little speaker playing a fanfare) and an easy, app-driven setup and installation process, I was ready to brew myself some cold brew.
"We created Spinn to reimagine coffee for the connected age," said Roderick de Rode, founder and CEO of Spinn in an announcement. "Our new revolutionary cold brew feature allows Spinn users to craft delicious, frothy cold brew in a smarter, more convenient, and more sustainable way. People no longer need to wait at least 12 hours to enjoy a cold brew at home. Now, they only need 60 seconds or less."
If you cannot be bothered to learn how to pull a proper shot of espresso, and if money is no object, the Spinn coffee machine is a great choice.
The only problem with that is that... you literally cannot make cold brew in 60 seconds. Pulling an espresso and dumping it over ice isn't a cold brew; it's called iced coffee. The coffee nerds at Coffee Affection know, describing the process as "the cold brew method relies on a long and drawn-out extraction period, [and] it’s able to access the most stubborn of flavor compounds inside coffee beans. These are – of course – the smooth, sweet chocolatey notes." Even the mainstream coffee world has cottoned on to the subtle magic of cold brew.
I was willing to give Spinn the benefit of the doubt and used some of my favorite dark-roasted beans to make a batch of cold brew according to Coffee Sock's how-to guide, trying it out alongside Spinn's ice-coffee-cum-cold-brew. The difference was stark. Don't get me wrong; both coffees were tasty and refreshing in the summer heat, but they are two completely distinct brews. The cold brew has a subtlety that Spinn's version can't replicate.
Screenshot of the Spinn website. Image Credits: Spinn (opens in a new window)
Wikipedia puts it best; "Because the ground coffee beans in cold-brewed coffee never come into contact with heated water, the process of leaching flavor from the beans produces a chemical profile different from conventional brewing methods". I spoke to a handful of baristas in a slew of coffee shops across the East Bay over the last few days, and the reaction to the question "can you make cold brew with hot water" was universally one of contempt. Some looked at me as if I was legitimately insane, which probably says more about the coffee shops I frequent than about the question.
Sure, it's beautiful. But cold brew, it ain't. Also, any excuse for a good time-lapse. GIF Credit: Haje Kamps / TechCrunch
There's a second challenge, too -- cold brew is best made with dark roasts, which typically get a little oilier than lighter roasts. The company specifically warned against dark roasts before it sent me the machine for review and repeats the warning on its website: "Darker roasts which have been processed for longer periods of time will secret [sic] oils due to a chemical reaction that the beans have when exposed for prolonged periods to the heat. This oily coating can cause several issues in your Spinn Coffee Maker: the beans will not slide as easily towards the grinder (...) and unwanted residue will build up over time in your grinder and in the centrifugal brewer, which may lead to your machine needing maintenance more frequently."
So that's two strikes; the coffee maker can't use the beans that are widely recommended for cold brew, and doesn't do a cold-brew extraction either.
It's not all bad -- iced coffee is lovely, of course, but from a coffee brand that claims it "elevates in-home coffee to new heights," calling iced coffee a cold brew is a disservice to its customers and an insult to coffee-lovers. I challenged the company, asking, "All I can find in the app is an iced coffee mode. As far as I am aware, a cold brew is a slow-extraction with cold or room temperature water... Can the machine do that, too? If so, how do I enable that?"
The company replied:
"This first-of-its-kind feature enables coffee lovers to create cold brew in under 60 seconds (traditional cold brewing can take between 8 and 24 hours)," a spokesperson for the company replied. "Spinn does this by utilizing its revolutionary multi-patented centrifugal brewing technology, precision grinding, and roast recognition."
I know I'm harping on about the cold brew mode; that's because, as I mentioned, that was the "new" thing that made me choose to review the Spinn coffee maker. Let me take a closer look at the rest of the machine too, because as a piece of engineering and ease of use, it's an impressive piece of machinery.
As a coffee machine, it makes extraordinary coffees surprisingly quietly. Its app-enabled coffee making with many different recipes and ways is a blessing for those who like to get up to a hot cup of espresso-esque drink. Espresso-esque, because while the cylinder inside the machine spins at 5,000 rpm to create force, it is substantially different from using high pressure to push water through the coffee grounds.
I love how the machine uses beans rather than pods and is energy efficient. I like that it has a built-in water filter. The grinder is extraordinary, consistently making beans with granular consistency on par with some of the best professional grinders I've used.
The centrifugal extraction method also means that the spent beans come out powdered and almost dry at the end of a brewing cycle, which means that it's unlikely that the grounds get moldy in the machine, too -- another great design choice. At $1,000, it's an expensive machine indeed, and with that kind of price, it puts itself into a category of some truly incredible espresso machines, including the iconic, commercial-grade Gaggia espresso puller. You'd even have enough money left over to buy all the accessories your little heart can imagine.
Spinn's user interface is easy to use, the buttons are pre-programmable and there's an app that makes it even easier to get fine-tune control over your coffee making process. The error lights are intuitive as well; from left to right: spent grounds container is full, water is empty, beans are gone (why are the beans always gone!) and the drip tray needs emptying. Image Credits: Haje Kamps (opens in a new window) / TechCrunch
What I'm saying is that you'd have to be a particularly lazy (and wealthy) coffee lover for this machine to make sense for you -- but if you cannot be bothered to learn how to pull a proper shot of espresso, and if money is no object, the Spinn coffee machine is a great choice.
And, come to think of it, if the company's target audience is "coffee lovers who don't know a lot about coffee and have more money than sense," perhaps they can get away with calling iced coffee "cold brew". Just don't expect anything but extreme eye-rolls from coffee nerds.