By Matthew Kang
Photography by Becky Reams
Tony started in coffee years ago at Victrola Coffee Roasters before joining the Intelligentsia team that opened their landmark Silver Lake coffee bar. Intelligentsia has set the bar high, nationwide, and is one of the most successful cafés associated with the newest movement in coffee, This movement, which adheres more to a culinary approach, highlights the origin and unique expression of coffee in a way that previous roasters were unable to do.
The Starbucks era of coffee brought an elevated sense of coffee roasting and consumption to the general public, a big upgrade from the Folgers era of the midcentury. Since then, quality has grown exponentially around the world, at the farm, and at the processing mill level, much like how the wine industry has gone from one that simply shows “Zinfandel” on the bottle to one that features specific estates and vintages. This development makes coffee more of a culinary product than ever. The main problem with this improvement of coffee has been the elevation of the barista and barista culture.
We’ve made coffee into something only a professional can produce for us. We’ve gone from Maxwell House to complicated and expensive espresso machines.
Konecny long saw this problem, even when he was developing the immensely successful coffee bar at Intelligentsia Silver Lake. The modern, clean layout allowed for a steady flow for baristas as well as impressive volumes unseen in specialty coffee. But it only worked to fetishize the influence of the barista, leading to a backlash against “snobby” baristas. Konecny saw a solution: Take coffee back into the kitchen.
While there’s been a staggering growth in the number of companies that offer this origin-centric, specialty-roasted coffee, there hasn’t been a more intuitive way for consumers to amplify a rich end-user experience. This is where Konecny saw coffee consumption as more of an engineering challenge, much like Steve Jobs’ major problem with the personal computer and cell phone industries before developing the Macintosh and the iPhone.
Konecny saw that people were baffled with how to best brew a cup of coffee at home, a seemingly daunting task that isn’t made easier with a Google-search of common homebrewing methods. His solution: Tonx.
Second, he worked to empower consumers by providing intuitive, whimsically designed illustrations that showed the step-by-step instructions on how to brew coffee with a variety of methods. And finally, subscribers were encouraged to contact the small company via email or even telephone to ask their questions. It turns out that the most common questions from home-brewers have to do with the grind size of coffee beans and the dose. “People need to understand the concept of coffee-to-water ratio,” says Konecny. “Once you understand that, then it’s as simple as having a gram scale. And then once you know the ballpark, it’s about tweaking. Brewing is about empowering people, and then giving people a chance to explore.”
Great coffee at home has been the “last mile problem” for home consumers that no one was trying to meet inside of the coffee industry. Approaching that problem has been the focus of Tonx. Consumers have embraced the concept of elevated quality in other culinary products, such as craft beer, to a point that it’s acceptable to have a casual connoisseurship. People grasp the concept itself, but for some reason, it hasn’t yet translated to coffee. Tony and his team are hoping that a better coffee experience at home is just a few clicks away.
Learn more and subscribe at tonx.org.