A matter of taste: Breville coffee expert talks design and development

By Claire Reilly

As Breville gears up for a busy Christmas selling appliances and coffee machines – including its well-received Dual Boiler and Infuser models – Current.com.au caught up with the brand’s local coffee expert to talk about what goes into making the perfect cup and the perfect machine.

According to Phil McKnight, it’s all about having a deep personal knowledge of coffee and having the right palate to judge the flavours that come out of each pour.

“In my role here I need to be continually assessing quality, and you can generally only assess quality by flavour, by taste,” he said. “So you just need to keep your palate in tune as much as possible.”

For McKnight, that finetuning comes in a range of different forms, including training courses and “sensory evaluation testing” from groups such as the Specialty Coffee Association of America. For this kind of accreditation, coffee experts from all walks of life are tested on their ability to blind-taste cups of coffee in terms of the strength of salty, sour and sweet flavours, and to grade them in order of intensity.

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But this kind of activity isn’t just for personal interest – it also helps McKnight assess the quality of the coffee being made by Breville’s machines, so he can help designers and engineers make the right adjustments to the appliances when they’re being developed.

“Right through the development, I’ll be testing the flavour outcomes of everything we do,” said McKnight. "Because that’s Breville’s mantra – the food thinking culture here – if it doesn’t provide a benefit on the plate or in the cup, then why are we doing it?

“We think about the food and the way food needs to be treated. So with coffee, if you’re making espresso, then you need to have really precise control over the water temperature and water pressure because they’re the things that govern cup quality.

“And when you’re talking about food, it’s about how the food is heated or blended or juiced or treated so that you get the best outcomes in whatever someone is making. So then you develop an appliance that will treat food in the right manner.

“Quite often I start my presentations to retailers like that. Instead of saying, ‘This is our Dual Boiler machine, this is what’s different about this machine,’ I start the presentation along the lines of ‘Breville’s got a food-thinking culture so we take it from that aspect – this is the way you need to treat the food to get the best outcome, and we develop these appliances around that thinking.

“It’s ultimately so consumers can get what they experience when they’re out – whether that be at a cafe or a restaurant – and create that experience with an appliance at home.”

Phil McKnight with Breville's Dual Boiler coffee machine.

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