Engineering the Perfect Cup: Meet Chris

Chris McLean ESPRO's Engineer at Work

Learn About Why He Has Dedicated His Career to Improving Your Brew, and the Design Philosophies That Inspire His Patented Innovations.

Of all the ESPRO team members, Chris is one of the most unlikely combinations: part engineer and part philosopher. His approach to design is almost meditative. As one of the founding members of the brand, he’s been instrumental not only in creating our products, but in shaping our design methodology.

His push for excellence and drive to elevate the coffee experience has set the standard at ESPRO—but he was design-minded well before he sipped his first espresso. With a childhood full of Lego, Meccano and models, Chris knew his calling earlier than most. A self-described junior keener, he designed a self-raising arm with a mechanical joint, propelled by a rubber band—in grade four. And while most of us were still mastering the monkey bars, Chris was keenly interested in how things worked. His curiosity eventually led him to the University of British Columbia, where he earned a bachelor's and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering (and completed a stint on the varsity fencing team).

And while he’s always been a coffee enthusiast, it wasn’t until he met ESPRO co-founder Bruce Constantine that he dedicated his engineering skills to coffee full time. We sat down with Chris to hear his unique take on design, engineering and where the industry is headed next.

What Inspired You to Design the First ESPRO Product?

Bruce. Coffee was a hobby for both of us, but he was the one who approached it from an entrepreneurial perspective. He analyzed the espresso making process and realized tamping force was uncontrolled. He challenged me to design a tamper that clicked at 30 pounds of force. I said yes—and was glad I did. In our industry, many of the manual brew methods were designed by trial and error. It was interesting to bring a more structured and engineering-based approach to design.

What is Your Personal Design Philosophy?

There are a few parts to my design philosophy: Firstly, I take my time to understand the problem before I create solutions. This is the toughest part of the process. As designers, we tend to leap to solutions, and almost fixate on them. The discipline to understand the problem before leaping to a solution means you’re more likely to design something that people find delightful.

I also constantly remind myself that the designer is (probably) not the consumer. Understanding that you might not be the customer is tough, but if you design things for yourself, you might end up having only one customer. But at the same time, you want to keep your audience focused. If you try to please everyone, you will end up delighting no one.

When designing, I aim to create something different, but not too different, because I’ve learned that a customer will only leap so far.

Finally, I focus on integrating functional and aesthetic design. I think this is summed up best in Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Good Design. These are worth posting somewhere in your studio.

How Do You Apply These Principles to the Products You Design for ESPRO?

Before brainstorming, I make sure I know how the customer would describe a good solution. I spend a lot of time in the conceptual phase, breaking down the system into smaller sub-problems, that are easier to solve. Then I brainstorm as many solutions as possible—I don’t limit myself. The more ideas you have, the more likely you are to find the best one.

We used a methodical approach like this when designing the Tasting Cups. As we improve the quality of coffee and brewing, the flavors become clearer and more 2 understood. This opens the opportunity to optimize even the drinking vessel. This has happened with wine and beer, and it’s the right time for it to happen with coffee.

Why Coffee? What Motivates You to Dedicate Every Day to it?

Coffee is a big part of our culture. It’s the way we start our day, inspire our thoughts, and fuel our conversations. If we are mindful, it also connects us across countries. The coffee community is dedicated, and passionate—and I think that’s something worth elevating.

How Do You See the Coffee Industry Changing Over the Next Decade?

I think we will continue to balance hand brew methods with highly mechanized brew methods. Coffee is a craft, so the craftspeople will continue to drive forward and optimize all corners of the industry.

And with craftsmen like Chris at the helm, we’re sure we’ll continue to see innovation in our industry. Explore some of the products that he’s poured his heart and soul (and a few cups of coffee) into.