Would you pay Dh1,500 for a cup of coffee roasted in space?

We learn about the science – and costs – behind a Dubai entrepreneur’s space-roasted brew

The Space Roasting Capsule will launch coffee beans into the cosmos and will use the heat of re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere to produce the perfect roast. Courtesy Space Roastery
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Coffee roasting is often described as an art, but rarely a science, let alone rocket science. That is something Dubai ­entrepreneur Hatem Alkhafaji and his ­business partner, ­Anders Cavallini, who lives in Los Angeles, have set out to change. 

The pair are working on the Space Roasting Capsule, an ambitious project that involves launching coffee beans into space, in a bid to produce the perfect roast

Having met while studying for a master's in space science at the ­International Space University in Strasbourg, the pair bonded over a mutual appreciation for all things out of this world, and more specifically, as a way of getting others excited about the cosmos.

And the duo have chosen one, ­perhaps slightly abstract, staple of everyday life to help further that ­mission: the humble cup of coffee. 

Cue, the Space Roasting Capsule – which is far from humble, actually. 

How it works

In short, a capsule will be shot into space and the heat of its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere will roast the beans as they float in a pressurised tank in a zero-gravity environment. That process will produce perfectly roasted beans, Alkhafaji and Cavallini say.  

However, there is one small point to note: when you can ­eventually get your hands on the cosmic brew, it will set you back up to Dh1,500 per cup. "It's going to cost around $200 (Dh735) to $400 (Dh1,470) per cup," Iraq-born and Sharjah-­raised ­Alkhafaji tells The ­National when we meet him over a cup of Dh28 coffee in a Dubai cafe.

The Space Roasting Capsule will soon launch coffee beans into space
The Space Roasting Capsule will soon launch coffee beans into space

He acknowledges that it is a high price point but, he asks, who wouldn't pay that to have one of the first cups of coffee made with beans roasted in space? "We know that's super high for the average person, but there are a lot of people who would pay that much – it is basically the price it costs to make, with the ­margin," he says. "Realistically, the early cost of it would be around $200. But then we still want to reduce that, our aim is to bring the cost down all the way to between $40 (Dh147) and $50 (Dh184)." 

According to the pair's website, the capsule is the first of its kind with the capability to roast coffee beans in zero gravity. They have patented the technology.

Why the price is worth it

So, does Alkhafaji believe Dubai residents will be willing to stump up for the intergalactic roast? Well, he’s confident that at least some people will. 

"You already have people paying Dh90 for a cup of coffee with a sprinkle of gold on top, right? I've tasted that coffee in the Burj Al Arab and I've tasted it in Emirates Palace, just to know what kind of competitors we have and … this tastes much better than that," he says, gesturing to the coffee in front of us.

I've tasted that coffee in the Burj Al Arab and I've tasted it in Emirates Palace, just to know what kind of competitors we have and … this tastes much better than that.

The leap from a high-end Dh90 coffee to his space-roasted brew is worth it, he assures me. "If you view this cup of coffee in terms of its taste and complexity, people will ­appreciate that. People already pay much more for the iPhone than what it's worth, but they're buying complex engineering and quality," Alkhafaji says.

"You're paying for people to spend a lot of time to think about every little detail. If you don't appreciate that, then you definitely wouldn't pay Dh1,000 now, or even Dh200 later on. But if you appreciate the complexity of it, the long process, the ­engineering points behind the whole thing, then really it's very cheap … other retailers would ­definitely ask for much more than this."  

Giving back to the UAE

It is clear this is a real passion project for Alkhafaji, one that he and Cavallini are funding from their own pockets.
"We've had a couple of offers for funding, one in ­particular from the Luxembourg Space ­Agency as part of the ESA ­[European Space Agency] ­funding, where they could fund a start-up. But we didn't feel that was the right opportunity," ­Alkhafaji says.

If all goes according to plan, UAE residents will be able to sip on space-roasted coffee at Space ­Station Cafe, a cafe/museum hybrid "hopefully in the Museum of the Future". ­Alkhafaji hopes to make it much more than just an atypical coffee shop; he wants it to be more of an inclusive and interactive place, where people can see space simulations, models and activations.

 Hatem Alkhafaji. Courtesy Space Roastery
 Hatem Alkhafaji. Courtesy Space Roastery

They intend to open Space ­Station Cafe by next year, in line with the launch of their coffee and, incidentally, a year ahead of the UAE's ­mission to reach Mars by 2021.

However, this is not yet a full-time job for Alkhafaji. As well as ­developing the Space ­Roasting ­Capsule, he is an architect at Killa ­Design and has worked on a number of high-profile projects, including the Burj Al Arab, Office of the Future, and Museum of the Future, throughout the course of his career. 

So why is he doing all of this?

"I want to give something back to the UAE," Alkhafaji says. "I would like to help to inspire people; to inspire the young people here. That's why we want to make this as feasible as possible, as cheap as possible, and as approachable as possible for ­everyone who lives here."