I’m a sucker for any product that can successfully combine form + function. While I understand that looks aren’t everything, there is no question that as they say “we eat with our eyes” or in the case of the Ratio family of coffee brewers… we drink with our eyes!
It’s been almost a decade since the team at Ratio Coffee first debuted their Ratio Eight coffee maker. And since then they’ve followed it up with the Ratio Six which has arguably become one of the most sought-after products when it comes to brewing coffee automatically. Aesthetically the Eight and Six are both gorgeous, looking as much like high-end home decor while simultaneously brewing an incredible cup of coffee. One of these on your kitchen countertop will definitely get some friends asking questions.
I’ve had the pleasure of having the Ratio Six on my coffee bar for a number of months now, and I genuinely cannot imagine what life was like before it. The ability to brew pour-over quality coffee with the simple touch of a button is still mind-blowing. There is so much tech built into this machine but again its all hidden behind a gorgeous looking exterior.
There are a ton of great write-ups about the Ratio family of brewers already and I didn’t want to write one more that would feel just like another drop in the bucket. Instead, I really wanted to focus this chat on the person behind the products.
So being such a huge fan I sat down (albeit digitally) with Founder & CEO of Ratio Coffee–Mark Hellweg–to hear more about how this incredible company, and their incredible products came to be. I hope you enjoy our chat!
[CC] Well thanks Mark for taking the time to share the story of Ratio Coffee. For those who might not know who you are, tell us a bit more about yourself.
[MH] Thanks Tyler. I’m Mark Hellweg, and I am the Founder & CEO of Ratio Coffee. I was born and raised in the Bay Area of California. My parents moved to Portland when I was 10 years old and it’s been my home-base ever since. My dad being an Oregonian, wanted to bring the family to an area with easy nature access and a slower pace than the Bay Area so that’s how we ended up here.
My wife and I moved into inner SE Portland when we got married, and we’ve been east-siders ever since.
[CC] My wife and I visited Portland many years ago, and its a city I really hope to get the chance to visit again sometime soon (especially once borders re-open). It’s such an incredible city and as you know, has such an incredible coffee scene!
[CC] So what’s your backstory in the specialty coffee community?
[MH] Well I was working for my brother’s business, which did e-commerce for snowboarding and wakeboarding gear, when I went shopping for an espresso machine. Long story short, I fell in love with specialty coffee (and Italian espresso machines in particular) and opened up CliveCoffee.com in September 2008.
As many people might remember, in 2008 it was a terrible economy, but a lot of people were looking for a comforting daily routine and of course coffee is wonderful for that. After launching Clive, I ended up starting a brand specifically devoted to customizing Italian machines for the American market, which is called LUCCA. In 2012, I started working on the Ratio Eight concept. Shocking how fast 9 years can go by!
[CC] It’s crazy how so many of these names of companies or products that you had your fingerprints all over. I have followed the LUCCA story for quite some time seeing their products up here in Canada at Eight Ounce Coffee here in Calgary.
[CC] So Mark, when did Ratio Coffee (as a company) begin?
[MH] I love filter coffee, and in 2012 when I started working on the Ratio Eight design I was going to Coava Coffee a bunch to hang out with Keith Gerhke, Sam Purvis, and Devin Chapman. I loved that beautiful pour-over cup, but was frustrated in trying to replicate it on my own and to get a consistent result.
Granted, I’m on the lazier side, plus we have a bunch of young kids that wake up early. My wife and I need 40 ounces of great coffee to not be terrible parents on the dawn patrol. Most coffee makers are plasticky and pretty much disposable. I began to ask myself “why wasn’t there a drip coffee maker that had the beauty + longevity + materials like wood and metal like on espresso machines?” That was the Ratio push. Fast forward a number of years, and a number of products and Ratio is now a team of 13 employees here in Portland.
[CC] Where did the inspiration for the Ratio Eight come from? Because clearly this was a ground-breaking creation for those who wish to brew great coffee at home.
[MH] I’ve long been drawn to physical products that have a juxtaposition of materials and themes. The imperfection of wood butted up against a perfectly linear and smooth metal surface. Tiny bubbles caught in borosilicate glass matched up to the tech of blinking white LED lights. We also balanced rectilinear with curvy lines.
[CC] Now perhaps not many know that the Ratio Eight is actually designed & assembled in Portland!
[MH] It sure is. We set up a workshop to assemble the Ratio Eight by hand here in Portland, Oregon. I wouldn’t say it’s a terribly efficient way of producing coffee makers, but it’s really taught us to value the finer details that go into a built object that will be around for a long time. We don’t assemble the Ratio Six ourselves, but because we manufacture the Eight I think that we’re pretty savvy about producing a quality object and we’re able to make sure that all our products meet the Ratio brand promise.
[CC] There’s no question that the Ratio Eight was a game changer for at-home coffee brewing. So what led you to then seek to design and create the Ratio Six?
[MH] We got a lot of notes over the years saying “please make a smaller Ratio Eight!” or “please make a Ratio that’s about the same retail price as a Moccamaster” or “please produce a flat bottom filter brewer that mimics a Fetco/Curtis commercial coffee maker!”- so we did just that and mashed up all of those ideas and produced the sleek lines of the Ratio Six.
[CC] What are you most proud about the Ratio lineup of coffee brewers? (feel free to toot your own horn here!)
[MH] I like to believe that we’ve helped more people discover the beautiful beverage that coffee can be, and to develop a morning ritual of quiet contemplation that gets you ready for the rest of the day.
[CC] I think that is such a great response. I know that for myself this past year having a Ratio Six I have found it to be an integral part of just what you said. There is no question that it brews great coffee, but it does so much more than that. It truly has become an integral part of my morning routine & ritual. Not only that but it does save my time to spend with my family before we all go our separate ways during the day.
[CC] So speaking of coffee, what are you drinking/enjoying right now?
[MH] We’ve got an Ethiopia Abana Sulladjah from Heart Roasters from Portland brewing today that is really yummy!
[CC] Can you speak to how COVID-19 has impacted you as a business? What were some of the challenges you’ve faced, but also what are some of the success stores for Ratio during this time?
[MH] We were extremely fortunate to be among the categories of companies that saw a big increase in demand due to WFH/school-from-home etc. this past year. Getting enough inventory to meet the huge demand has been an ongoing challenge, plus finding enough people to join the team. Any qualified accountants looking for a job at a fast growing coffee equipment company should reach out! (seriously!)
We were able to implement a health plan for our entire team back in January, along with levelling up our compensation for our team. Would not want to repeat last year and we are so thankful to see the signs of recovery.
[CC] I know that you and the entire team at Ratio understand how fortunate you were to be one of the categories that did see such a huge uptick during the pandemic. It seemed like overnight there were Ratio brewers popping up all over my social feed and I know I had a number of conversations with people who were wanting to learn more about them from my own personal experience. Let me just say well-done in how you as a company have navigated this season. And I too am thankful that we are hopefully beginning to find ourselves near the end.
[CC] Is there anything you can share as it pertains to the future for Ratio Coffee? Anything that we can expect in the next while?
[MH] We are working on some new products that will hopefully be announced later this year. Can’t wait to share what we have in the works!
[CC] Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
[MH] Please continue to support your local roaster/cafe, and buy beans directly from them if you can! They need all the help they can get to continue recovering from a super challenging year. In particular, I recommend looking for coffees that have some transparency around the cost of production. We need a healthy ecosystem from the producer all the way to the end consumer to ensure we continue to enjoy this amazing drink!
I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to Mark for taking the time for this digital-sit-down and for answering my questions about the history of RATIO. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this, in as much as I love the products, I love getting to know the people behind them, and to get a glimpse into how this great coffee company came to be.
I hope that this write-up has been an opportunity for you to gain an appreciation as well for all that goes into creating the great products that we get the opportunity to use on a daily basis. And maybe you learned something new as well from all of this. The specialty coffee community is truly one of the most incredible communities I have ever found myself connected into.
If you’re curious to learn more about Ratio or to get your hands on their products I’ve gone and put all the links you could ever need below. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me.
If you want to quick overview of the Ratio Six Brewer here is a product demo I did with the team at Eight Ounce Coffee.
LOOKING TO GET YOUR HANDS ON RATIO GEAR?
1204 SE Water Ave, Suite 15
Portland, OR, 97214
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