The Orea dripper has taken coffee social media by storm. I’m not surprised. It has all the ingredients of a viral coffee tool. Anyone who’s anyone is posting about it. It’s beautiful. And it’s showing up in competitions.
I decided to find out who’s behind the Orea. And the story convinced me the Orea is more than just a viral sensation. It’s the future of coffee.
Tell me more about yourself
My name is Horia – an entrepreneur based in London. Originally from the Transylvanian region of Romania and via USA/Holland/Norway.
I used to have a hard time defining what I do – and now I just stick to “entrepreneur”.
I started my first company at the age of 16, accidentally. It was an online community for designers and themed around football/soccer. This set me on a long career in tech/software, including launching a venture-backed tech startup which brought me to the UK.
On the side, I always had the itch to work with physical products and one outlet for that ended up being desks. I launched two different types of standing desks – one very opinionated but not too user-friendly, and another more aimed at being sustainable, natural, beautiful and very user-friendly. The focus was quite B2B, mainly working with offices.
At this time, I also started to play with coffee dripper design, re-investing most of what I earned from selling/making desks into what would become Orea. All of this was happening on the side of working full-time in tech, in various product/growth and leadership roles.
What inspired you to develop the Orea?
I’d love to say that I had a brilliant idea, analysed the market, saw a gap, made a business plan, raised capital and went to execute and take over the world. It’s more romantic than that – this is really a passion project. I followed my gut and people’s feedback, and I kept playing around. And I think that as long as I keep doing that, I’ll do well in the space.
I was initially working on a foldable travel brewer that was compatible with conical filters. The idea came to be when I ripped open a V60 filter. I played with this for some time. I made the first version from a plastic binder and a piece of cardboard and I travelled back home to Romania with it. My family there was proper making fun of me for making coffee with this weird taped thing instead of trying their nice home espresso machine coffee.
This all came at a weird time in life – one business ended quite abruptly and negatively and I was sort of without a stable place to live, without a job, and without a concrete idea of where I’ll be. So I wanted to have flexible things, not too many things, and easy to pack things in case I need to head on the road.
I showed this dripper to a lot of folks, including professionals in places like Square Mile here in London. They liked it – it was interesting. It looked cool, it packed super thin, but it was something most people didn’t want to own. The consistent feedback was that it’s something that is hard to own, because having a “travel only” dripper is not big on their list, they rather would own a dripper that just also can travel well, like the Aeropress.
During this process though, I got to learn a lot about drippers, how geometry impacts brew dynamics, how different materials impact brew dynamics, and how much of a difference tweaking some basic factors can make. I was using polypropylene sheets to make these brewers, so it was really cheap and easy to change geometry, flow, thickness, etc. It helped me accelerate learning on a super thin budget.
I learned from this that I prefer to start with faster flow – with more aggressive angles and geometry, because results are brighter, you have more flexibility, and brewing times are lower.
The summer of 2020 was a pivotal moment for me as I started to look more closely at flat-bed drippers and had the inspiration to make a very compact dripper that can work well day-to-day but also travel super well.
The idea came when I was backpacking with friends and wanted to pack a brewer into a camping pot. The first project name for Orea was actually the “canister brewer” as it was meant to pack into my camping canister.
I really liked the possible form-factor of flat bed drippers, but didn’t really like the coffee they made generally. I decided to not just have a unique form-factor, but also to propose a different idea for brew dynamics in a flat-bed, going for a design that was very fast but still balanced, delivering more brightness in the cup, wrapped in a tiny, flexible, easy-to-travel-with package.
Tell us more about the journey you went on to develop the dripper
I’m sure this can have a lot of different stories and paths. Probably there’s not one way to go about it. Just making a dripper is easy – you can go down the ceramic route, work with a ceramicist to hand-make a few and then you have something to launch. This is definitely one option. Because I wanted something for outdoors and indoors – I couldn’t go with ceramic. I wanted something indestructible.
My approach was quite quick, all things considered. I tested various designs as 3D prints, using a high temperature-resistant resin material. Within a few weeks, I tested 4-6 of the leading designs, from tiny holes, to bigger holes, to bumps in the middle, to what became the more iconic Orea drainage ring.
I had very low budgets (and still do) so I had to find ways to bring this to more people without high upfront costs. This led me to CNC as a technology, since it’s low volume and requires no tooling. It also meant I can use metals and I can update the design from batch to batch, if user feedback is consistent. It was a way to get this out quickly, get it into people’s hands, learn, iterate, improve. Within a few months, I had the first 20 units – in a beautiful black anodised aluminium. I sent these to people I admired around the world without any big expectations. I was expecting people to think it’s cute but not so great.
The response floored me – people were so nice. They seemed to really like how it brews and feedback was very consistent throughout. I really was happy to see people keep using it too, not just test and forget, which happens sometimes. I used all this feedback to make the Orea V2 MK1, the first version of Orea to retail. Within 1.5 months, they were released, in a very limited quantity of 500 units.
I updated the design once more in the mean time, due to more user feedback and manufacturing feedback, to make the brewer even more consistent, more flexible, and open for more fun. Those elements are extremely important to me.
Products and brands can be stale, boring. They pretend they have the ultimate answer and there is nothing that can be better. I think this is ultimately super fun – we are not making medicine, we are making coffee brewing tools. Let’s explore, enjoy it, be flexible and make better things that are consistently better.
My journey with this device was totally unplanned – I didn’t expect the response I got, I didn’t expect to sell as many as I did, I was developing this in the open and without a lot of investment, and I’ve tried really hard to be completely open-minded to what customers tell me and to what people are playing with in the coffee community. I’m motivated to make the best and most flexible brewer possible and it’s been extremely fun to get to enjoy the exploration of coffee and how to brew it. I’ll continue to listen and react and to find ways to keep this explorative, open, and hopefully, better.
Orea is only 9 months old at the time of me writing this, but it’s been chosen as a tool of choice at the World Brewer’s Cup, with retailers and customers around the world, and with an expanding product line. This is with a team of 1, only full time for a few months. It’s still tiny and nimble, and I think this is a key to how I want to do business.
What I’ve learned from professional previous failures is that money is not everything, investment is temporary, customers and the connection you make are the most important part. If this one doesn’t work out – it’s at least a business built entirely by me with my own philosophy and with my own approach.
I would also like to say that building the coffee dripper itself is a small part of the challenge. Building the “brand” is the other, perhaps even more crucial part. I’ve actually really enjoyed that part a lot too – but that’s perhaps for another coffee chat.
What have you been most happy about in terms of the coffee world’s reaction?
Everything really. I’m a complete outsider to this world and it’s been amazing to get to know more industry professionals – who have helped me a lot. These are people who’s coffee I used to buy, cafe’s I used to visit, and youtube videos I used to watch. I think people tend to be quite open-minded and in general very nice. I’m really happy that people embraced my approach, my weird little dripper, and hopefully they will continue to embrace what I do next.
What’s next for Orea?
I was a bit quiet during the period between July and October. A lot of interesting things happened in this time – and I actually have a lot planned for the new year. I’ve been experimenting a lot, and re-investing what I’ve earned into new products. I’ve been following what customers tell me, and I will definitely do some unexpected things, in unexpected ways.
I just launched a new sensory cup, designed to heighten to experience of drinking specialty coffee, a collaboration with a talented young designer called Lautaro Lucero. This cup helps close the loop in the Orea experience – from brewing to enjoying the coffee – and there are a lot of steps in-between to keep exploring too.
There are a few open-source products that I am releasing too. The first was a tool to mould filters for flat-bottom drippers, as an alternative to the wave shaped-filters. This is totally open and downloadable on Thingiverse, for anyone to 3D print and try. There will be 1-2 more of these tiny ideas that others will get open access to. I like this a lot, because the idea gets to spread quicker and you can learn quickly if this is interesting or not.
I’m also exploring filters, and a new version of the Orea Brewer. This new version will explore the world of thermoplastics, but it won’t be as most people would expect. I’m really excited to start to dive into this topic soon.
Also, in general, I’m exploring. Sometimes I don’t know what is next for Orea and I won’t until the idea randomly comes to me. I like to take things apart, to break my own product, to try weird things out. Maybe because I’m so new to this industry, I have more curiosity, but in general it’s my approach.
So who knows what I will play with and discover in the next year – but I can promise to have fun with it and to involve others too as I go.