Khristian Bombeck is a longtime coffee pro and snowboarding junkie who ran a coffee roastery and café with wife Heather for over a decade in Bozeman, Montana. They relocated to Salt Lake City to launch Alpha Dominche, a company that aims to produce cutting-edge coffee brewing equipment. So far, so good. His invention, the sleek, multi-chambered Steampunk, earned 2012 SCAA Best New Product honors in Portland, and after approximately a year of fine-tuning, the machines hit select specialty coffee bars across the U.S., including LAMILL Coffee Boutique in Los Angeles, Portola Coffee Lab in Costa Mesa, and La Colombe Torrefaction in Philadelphia. On May 17, I stopped by Alpha Dominche headquarters to see the machine in action and to learn more from Bombeck and his team.
Why Salt Lake?
We moved to Salt Lake because they have really high tech manufacturing here. That, and they have awesome skiing.
Do you feel like Steampunk produces an improved cup?
I feel like it doesn’t sacrifice quality, which is what has happened in the past with these sort of automated brewers. They weren’t able to produce a consistent cup of coffee. This machine has no issue doing that.
Just because you worked in coffee for 10 years doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an inventor. How were you able to bridge that gap?
I worked in coffee. I owned a scooter shop. I love mechanical things. In coffee, I’d always take my own equipment apart and work on it. When I saw the single serve niche in coffee develop, and there was a market for it – ever since I started in coffee, I always thought that the way coffee was brewed, in a vat or a regular drip coffeemaker – seemed so archaic relative to everything else going into coffee preparation. You have the espresso machine. That’s a very nice piece of equipment that has a lot of thought and technology behind it. 99% of coffee in America is getting poured over with a drip machine. I had my eye on making a better cup of coffee. When the market opened to it, it looked like there was potential. At that point, I was really interested in siphon brewing. I wanted to see if I could brew siphon coffee for my customers in a timeframe that I knew they would work with. My customers wouldn’t be willing to wait five to ten minutes for a cup of coffee. I wanted to see if I could bring them that quality of coffee in a timeframe they were accustomed to. That’s how I came up with this.
So you did consider other careers before getting into coffee?
I went to school for economics. I love econ and I love snowboarding and I love coffee. Only one of those pays the bills for me. That’s coffee.
Can you imagine opening another café?
My wife, I imagine she’ll open one in the next couple years. I work 80 hours a week here, to keep us on track and to hit goals and that sort of thing. I love cafes. I love interacting with people and working with coffee. When she does that, to the extent that she’ll accept my help, I’ll be involved.
What about the name Alpha Dominche? How did you decide on that?
It roughly translates to “first of its kind.” In terms of brewing equipment, I thought that’s what we’re doing.
What does one of these machines sell for?
$15,000. We have a two-crucible one, it’s $9,995. We also have a couple different variations.
Are you targeting specific cafes and coffee roasting companies, or are they approaching you?
Both. Luckily most everyone has come to us so far, which has been very nice. Realistically, we need to reach out to people as well. At this point in time, we’ve been to two SCAA shows, which are the Specialty Coffee Association of America trade shows. The first time we went was about a year ago, and we won Best New Product. Since then we’ve had a ton of demand and interest, but we had quite a bit of work to do on the equipment to get it to the point where we wanted it to be, to actually release. We spent the last year doing that, and just in the last month, we started getting it out to the market. We were at SCAA again this year. Every time we go we meet with a lot of people in the industry, which leads to sales.
What were the biggest challenges in producing the equipment?