This company wants to use reentry heating to roast coffee beans

By Eric Berger

Could Rocket Lab help make perfectly roasted coffee beans?
Enlarge / Could Rocket Lab help make perfectly roasted coffee beans?

A company called Space Roasters says it plans to use the considerable heat of reentry from space through Earth's atmosphere to roast coffee beans. It will then sell them for the perfect cup of joe.

In an interview with Room magazine, the founders of the company, Hatem Alkhafaji and Anders Cavallini, say space is the place to look for a next-level brew. "Coffee has been roasted the same way for centuries now, and as space science has improved many technologies, we believe it is time to revolutionize coffee roasting using space technology," the pair told the magazine.

How does it work? The company says it has patented a "space roasting capsule" in which heat from re-entry will be distributed around four cylinders each containing 75kg of coffee beans. Floating in microgravity, the beans will be evenly heated and roasted during the process. The capsule will then be recovered after landing with parachutes. "The entire process will last only 20 minutes but will end with a marvelous aroma as the hatch is opened," the founders told the magazine.

Although the company says it will offer a "pre-sale" about a month from now, it has not set a price for these coffee beans.

However, given existing launch prices, we might take a guess. The founders mention that they are investigating several launch vehicles, including Rocket Lab's Electron booster and Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle. The latter hasn't posted prices for a suborbital launch, but Rocket Lab has—$6 million per launch.

How to roast beans in space.
Enlarge / How to roast beans in space.

Space Roasters says its capsule, with coffee beans, would weigh 500kg. The founders envision a 180-km high suborbital trajectory. This seems feasible for the Electron vehicle, although it does not put suborbital information in its Payload User's Guide online.

For the sake of argument, let's assume the company can launch a 500kg capsule into a 180-km suborbital trajectory. Assuming all 300kg of beans are roasted optimally, this comes to $20,000 per kg of roasted beans. There are between 10 and 15 grams of coffee beans in a cup of coffee, so even on the lower end, just for the rocket cost, that is $200 per cup of coffee. Adding in design and development cost of the capsule (which may or may not be reusable), marketing, retrieval, processing, mark-up, and other expenses, space coffee is likely to cost $500 a cup.

That is slightly more than a hill of beans.