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Coffee City

Melissa Allison follows the world's biggest coffee-shop chain and other Seattle caffeine purveyors.

June 15, 2009 at 4:23 PM

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Bellevue company makes "most expensive espresso machine in the world"

Posted by Melissa Allison



MELISSA ALLISON/THE SEATTLE TIMES

CEO David Isett bought Concordia five years ago with a group of investors.

"The worst thing anyone can say to me is that this is good for a machine," David Isett, CEO of Concordia Coffee Systems in Bellevue, says of the drinks that flow from the company's superautomatic espresso machines.


At about $10,000 to $40,000 apiece, the machines grind and brew coffee, steam milk and add flavored syrups for customers including Seattle's Best Coffee, United Airlines, Harvard University and the Mayo Clinic.

The idea is to replace other machines, not baristas, Isett said. "We don't draw a leaf in the foam and dust it with chocolate."

His pitch is that a Concordia machine is smaller and more efficient for fast-casual restaurants and convenience stores than having separate coffee brewers, hot chocolate, hot water and milk dispensers and syrups. And they can make espresso drinks and chai lattes, not just the drip coffee that used to come from self-serve coffee machines.



MELISSA ALLISON/THE SEATTLE TIMES

Concordia's "self-serve espresso bar" costs almost $40,000.

He and a group of investors bought and renamed the company -- formerly Acorto -- about five years ago in hopes of building a "self-serve espresso bar."


The new machine debuted more than a year ago, and "we're proud to say it's the most expensive espresso machine in the world," Isett said. They've sold about 1,000 worldwide, including about 100 to Seattle's Best.

The self-serve bar is to a coffeehouse what ATMs are to banks, Isett said. It makes 165 different drinks, accepts cash and debit cards and comes with a "bat phone" for customers who need help. Isett, who ran the company for four years before buying it, is thinking big: "Think every fifth gate at the airport," he said.



MELISSA ALLISON/THE SEATTLE TIMES

Concordia's factory in Bellevue.

Concordia's 27,000-square-foot office and factory in Bellevue includes research-and-development engineers, espresso machines that run almost constantly to test their durability and a customer-service staff that trouble-shoots when machines in the field malfunction.


With about 40 employees, Concordia didn't really have a shot at supplying McDonald's with the espresso machines for its McCafe rollout, Isett said. That business went to the much bigger Franke Coffee Systems North America, which is moving its base from Seattle to near Nashville.

Isett tries not to worry about that too much. "McDonald's is selling dessert," he says of the burger chain's new espresso drinks. How does he figure that? "They have whipped cream on them."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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