The makers of a new kind of plastic lid are hoping to ride coffee's growing "Third Wave" movement by appealing to consumers who would appreciate a better smell—and hence better taste—from their daily to-go cuppa joe.
The Viora Lid—the product of a 20-year-long coffee obsession by its inventor Doug Fleming—is designed with a three-times-bigger-than-average mouth hole and an enlarged center steam hole. The goal is to give coffee and tea drinkers much more aroma from their beverage of choice by better exposing the liquid below to their nostrils.
"The overwhelming science is that what you characterize as flavor or taste is predominantly contributed by odor," said Fleming, a lawyer by trade whose company Vaporpath introduced the Viora Lid this week at the Specialty Coffee Association of America trade show in Seattle, where his company is also based.
"Our lid is designed to essentially that target, the opening, right below your nose," said Fleming, 49, whose lid also has a "well" around the top of the mouth hole, which pools liquid as the cup is tipped, further enhancing the aroma effect.
The Viora Lid, which is protected by several patents both issued and pending, is landing in a huge, established market, where billions of plastic lids for paper coffee cups are sold each year by companies such as Dart, and where java giants such as Starbucks, McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts pay wholesalers just several cents per lid, at most.
So to get a foothold in that vast space, Vaporpath at first is marketing the Viora Lid to smaller fry—the relatively tiny specialty coffee chains or one- or two-shop operations, who would be willing to spend 6 cents per lid because their customers are much more discriminating about the taste of the coffee that they're consuming from their to-go cup.
Vaporpath's president, Barry Goffe, a Microsoft veteran and Fleming's college classmate, said that at those specialty java joints, "People realize this piece of plastic that sits between you and your precious cup of coffee has a huge impact on how you experience this custom of coffee."
But, noted the 47-year-old Goffe, "There's so many of these 'Third Wave' shops that put all this time and effort brewing this cup of coffee, and then they put this 30-year-old product on top of it and push the customer out the door and hope for the best."
"Third Wave" is the coffee world's term for the burgeoning trend treating coffee as a high-quality drink. Third Wave shops are focused—often obsessively—on the sourcing and roasting of their beans as well as the painstaking way they brew espresso-based drinks: without push-button espresso machines, or pods of preground beans.
Third Wave stores also are largely responsible for the rediscovery of the joys of so-called pour-over coffee: java made one cup at a time, with specialized cone-shaped drippers and filters.