People of Specialty Coffee: An Interview With Brant Curtis

Brant Curtis is the Director of Communication and Innovation at Curtis.

IMG_1141_2How long has Curtis been manufacturing coffee brewing equipment? How did the company get started?

We’re so stoked, because this year Curtis is celebrating it’s 75th anniversary, making it the nation’s oldest manufacturer of commercial coffee brewers. In 1941, my Great Grandfather (Wilbur Curtis) left his job at Silex Glass Company, selling coffee pots and siphon brewers, to start his own company, the Wilbur Curtis Company. A few years later, he invented the first disposable coffee decanter—brewers followed shortly after. In the early 60’s, my great grandmother, Margaret Curtis, began her reign of running the company for close to three decades. It was not just uncommon for women to be CEO’s during that time, there were simply too few to count. My grandfather, Bob Curtis, took the helm of the company in the early 90’s and subsequently passed the title of CEO to my Uncle, Kevin Curtis, in 2015. Currently there are 7 family members working in the company, including my father, Michael Curtis, EVP. I am one of two 4th generation Curtis’ working for the company. Needless to say, we’re proud to be a thriving family company.

As a brewer manufacturer, Curtis supplies many different kinds of establishments. How did you get involved in the specialty coffee realm?

When I started at Curtis, around seven yeas ago, one of my first projects was to design and implement our Generation Four (G4) control technology. At the time, there weren’t any touchscreens being utilized in coffee brewers, and only in a few high-end espresso machines. After designing the UI and functionality of the unit, I unveiled it at the Roasters Guild Retreat in 2011. It was at this event that I realized that the specialty coffee segment was the one to focus on. Not only was it the most fun segment, it was also the most cutting edge. That being said, while specialty coffee is growing faster than you can say, “buy out” in German, it is still a relatively small market.

How has this impacted the direction of new product development or approach to brewing technology within the company?

Even though the specialty coffee segment is still a small one, it is the driving force behind innovation in much of the coffee world. After that Retreat in Roanoke, West Virginia, I decided that we needed to be tied closely together with the specialty coffee industry to challenge ourselves to make better brewers. We’ve always prided ourselves on the quality of our equipment, particularly our craftsmanship. However I wanted to focus on how our equipment, particularly the technology and aesthetics, could improve. In the years since debuting the Gold Cup brewer at Roasters Guild Retreat, the leadership at Curtis has really caught the vision of not just building better brewers, but brewing better coffee.

What developments in brewing technology over the past few years do you consider to have been game changers for our industry?

I think that under counter equipment and more accessible technology have been the biggest game changers. When ModBar unveiled their equipment at the SCAA Expo, there was a noticeable buzz. We are all starting to take a look at how our equipment impacts customer service and our customer’s experience. Being able to move big bulky equipment out of sight typically allows for more interaction between baristas and patrons.

Technology has played a huge role in making coffee brewing equipment more accessible for retailers. In 2011, we introduced our touchscreen controls into brewing equipment. From day one, I said that the touchscreen was a gimmick. The real advance is inside the touchscreen. Simply put, our equipment isn’t doing anything new now that we’ve added touchscreens. However, we now have the ability to open up the system and allow baristas and roasters the means to make adjustments to how their equipment brews at a micro-level.

Where would you like to see the industry go in the future with regards to coffee brewing?

Great coffee, consistently. I don’t want people to think that I’m dogmatic about my love of batch brewing. I’ve had amazing cups of manually brewed coffee. I’ve also had more than my fair share of terrible batch brewed coffee. However, in terms of getting great coffee, consistently, I think there’s only one logical route. Batch brewing. Dogmatic, I’m not. Biased? One thousand percent.

What is your favorite thing about working in the specialty coffee industry?

For the most part, the specialty coffee industry is one big family. Now of course there are squabbles about the right temperature, TDS of the water, and the best brew ratios, but at the end of the day we are all working towards the same goal. Serving the best cup of coffee we can.