For those of us tied to a desk for hours each day, the bitter charms of lukewarm coffee are an unpleasant reality of the job. But a new startup called Joeveo says, “No more!” The hot-beverage-loving founders developed a mug that uses phase-change materials to keep drinks—coffee, tea, hot chocolate or even mulled wine—at a scrumptious 140-145 degrees Fahrenheit for up to three hours after it’s been poured.
“Your coffee only has a drinkable window of 10 to 20 minutes—maybe 30 at most,” says Logan Maxwell, vice president of Joeveo. “That’s really not much time to enjoy your beverage right where you want it: not too hot but not too lukewarm.”
Maxwell, a tea drinker, first realized the need for such a product while pursuing a chemical engineering degree at North Carolina State University. In his rush to consume freshly brewed tea before it settled into lukewarm mediocrity, he’d inevitably burn his mouth. “I have really sensitive lips,” he says.
Place problem in science, let steep
Engineering and materials science could solve this problem, he realized. He teamed up with fellow students and began tinkering with ideas for a temperature-stabilizing cup for their senior project. At first, they tried to create a ceramic mug with a hollow space for inserting a hot water jacket, but this didn’t solve the too-hot-to-drink part of the problem.
As a solution, they turned to materials that shift from a solid to a liquid—a process known as phase change—at the target temperature. The material—which Maxwell refuses to name but claims is non-toxic and “could be eaten if you wanted to”—has a wax-like consistency at room temperature. After a hot beverage is poured into the mug, however, the material begins absorbing that energy and melting into a liquid. When it reaches the perfect beverage temperature—an inherent quality of the material the team selected—its atoms begin to slow down, resolidify and release energy back into the beverage as heat. A vacuum insulation layer around the outside of the mug prevents heat from escaping or entering.
The team modified their formula many times over until they had a workable product to present to their classmates and professors. Others approached them after they presented the idea and urged them to pursue it professionally. Only Maxwell followed that advice. “The rest of my team was like, ‘Meh,’ and then went their separate ways,” Maxwell says. He decided to spend the summer seeing where the idea would take him.
Not the first on the block
As it turned out, he was not the first to think of such an invention. Entrepreneurs dating back to the 1960s have attempted to solve the problem, but their efforts usually stalled during design or production. Coincidentally, Maxwell discovered that one fellow innovator who had not given up on the idea, Dean Verhoeven, lived a mere 20 minutes away, in north Raleigh, N.C. Maxwell introduced himself, and Verhoeven, who had been tinkering with the concept for years, invited Maxwell to join his one-man team. “He had solved problems already that I would have run into trying to get this thing designed and manufactured,” Maxwell says. Verhoeven had also developed a slightly better formula for the phase-change insulation layer.
A couple other beverage-warming products are already on the market, including Joulies, a product whose bean-like beads coffee drinkers can throw into their cup, and PureTemp, a mug that uses phase-change materials embedded in a contraption built into the lid. The Temperfect mug, Maxwell says, is cheaper ($40, including shipping) and has a practical, conventional mug design, so he thinks it will have a leg-up on the competition.
Betting that the Temperfect mug could find success, Maxwell decided to defer enrolling in a doctoral program he gained admittance to for a year to see where things go with the company. Maxwell and Verhoeven have completed a prototype of the stainless steel, 16-ounce mugs embedded with their mystery material, and the design patent is pending.
Maxwell says they’re ready to begin manufacturing at a North Carolina facility they’ve picked out, which they will support with a Kickstarter campaign. “Dean’s been working on this for over a decade, so I was like, ‘Ok, Dean, it’s time to launch,’” Maxwell says.
Caffeine addicts have responded enthusiastically to the project; the campaign has surpassed its $23,500 goal and has quickly reached six figures. He says the pre-sold mugs should ship out by June 2014 at the latest.
Top Image: Joeveo’s Dean Verhoeven (left) and Logan Maxwell (right). Courtesy Logan Maxwell.