The love-hate relationship with temperature reaches peak levels in our mouths. A few degrees can turn a sophisticated drink into a water ring or take a hot coffee from cozy to let’s just be friends. With so much taste at stake, tech-infused ways to keep liquids at just the right temperature are cleaning up on Kickstarter.
Naturally the most funded campaign of all time to date has to do with liquids. The Coolest Cooler blew past its original $50K funding goal with supporters pledging more than $13 million last summer. This cooler from Portland inventor Ryan Grepper doesn’t just keep beverages cold – it’s also got party features like an LED lid light, a USB charger, a cutting board and even a battery-powered blender.
Other liquid-centric innovations have beat expectations on the crowd-funding site. The Koolernaut gives the classic Koozie™ concept a twist. San Diego-based beer can holster-maker Dave Brecht quickly points out that Koozie is trademarked so that’s not what he’s making exactly, although the ubiquitous word coozie isn’t. The Koolernaut has a built-in digital thermometer that activates when you put a cold can inside.
Brecht shows his prototype working against a non-insulated can, cooling things down in minutes. A special ice puck that fits inside the sleeve quickly brought a can warmed in a toaster down 8 degrees. Brecht initially set out to raise $3,000 and ended up more than doubling that in 45 days.
Coffee Joulies caught the temperature control wave early on Kickstarter. These sizable stainless steel beans contain phase-change material the cofounders say will cool your coffee to a drinkable temperature and then keep the liquid hot longer. In 2011, coffee drinkers converged around the beans to raise more than $300,000 in 35 days. Soon Joulies were in production.
But how hot are these rocks? Programmer Marco Arment tested out Joulies from the first batch of shipments. His at-home experiments in side-by-side ceramic mugs showed that Joulies kind of worked although the effect wasn’t very strong. “I really wanted their product to be great, but I can’t recommend it,” he wrote. Arment suggested a good travel mug instead. Cooks Illustrated later came to a similar conclusion.
Even so, steel has become a prevalent drink accessory. In spring 2013, father and son team Dave and Calvin Laituri debuted Pucs on Kickstarter. “Ice can handle the chilling job,” they explained on their funding page, “but can leave behind unwanted chemicals, unplanned-for flavors, plus a lot of extra water.”
Pucs are made entirely from the 304 grade solid stainless steel commonly used in making medical devices because it resists corrosion so well. The puck-shaped steel gets cold in the freezer without absorbing smells, and can go in the dishwasher. Although their initial funding goal on the “rechargeable ice” was $2,500, the Laituri duo ended up raising more than $80,000.
The shiny drink additions from Spirit Steels fall somewhere between Joulies and Pucs. Sold as a “baller” spherical shape for pint glasses or a flatter puck-shaped “shorty” for spirits, these steel shapes contain a phase-change material intended to cool drinks effectively. Last fall the total Kickstarter funding hit nearly $170,000.
Spirit Steels founder and Reno-based engineer Chris Reed has his sights on soapstone. Sure, there’s ongoing debate about soapstone versus ice cubes in the cocktail community, but Reed posted a graph showing Spirit Steels out-performing different sized soapstone cubes. For those inclined to try out his metal, Reed offers assurance that the balls are actually pretty lightweight and shouldn’t crack any teeth.
Even the lightest beverage sip can be a risk when the liquid is hot enough. Your average vacuum-insulated travel mug can work too a little well. Getting a burned tongue drove North Carolina inventor Dean Verhoeven to begin developing prototypes for a better mug to transport coffee or tea. Collaborating with chemical engineer Logan Maxwell, Verhoeven wanted to make a high-tech travel mug that would serve up hot beverages just right and then keep them that way for hours.
After months of experimentation, the two came up with a 16-ounce travel tumbler called the Temperfect Mug. They told Smithsonian Magazine that a phase change material layer inside the mug pulls the temperature down slightly at first and then vacuum insulation preserves the heat. In January they raised nearly $270,000 on Kickstarter. Their mugs have brushed stainless steel exteriors, silicone sleeves and ceramic-like rims for “a pleasant lip feel.” For a first sip, that sounds promising.
Alyssa Danigelis is a professional journalist covering technology, science and design who also loves experimenting with new flavors. Follow her on Twitter @adanigelis.