Days on the road inspire his fresh idea for coffee on the go

March 15, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd

MARVIN L. Haskins is a quiet man who loves his coffee and drinks so much of it they should erect a statue in his honor in every coffee field in Colombia.

In fact, he's so into coffee that he's invented a portable coffeemaker called Mornin' Brew designed especially for cars and trucks, including the 18-wheeler loaded with gas and heating oil that he drives for Amerado-Hess.

Many of the details of Mornin' Brew are hush-hush; plans for it have been submitted to Invent-Tech, a company in Coral Gables, Fla., that tries to link new inventions with interested manufacturers.

Haskins, 29, says Invent-Tech has asked him not to divulge the specifics of how the system works, although he's too polite to actually answer a question with: "If I tell you that, I'd have to kill you."

And sure enough, when you call Invent-Tech to inquire about Mornin' Brew, everybody sounds like they prepped at CIA headquarters.

A man who introduces himself as Bob Frick and who says he was Haskins' "project director" nervously directs all further questions to "client relations."

At "client relations," PR coordinator Adele Alamo says "I can't really discuss that" so many times I wonder if we're talking about a coffeemaker or the Stealth bomber.

Anyway, here's what Marvin Haskins can say about Mornin' Brew:

The idea came to him because he starts each workday - often at 2 a.m. - with a heaping 24-ounce travel mug of joe, and soon finds himself in need of another fix. And you can't exactly pull into the corner 7-Eleven in a big rig loaded with "haz-mats," or hazardous materials.

Mornin' Brew, he said, is designed to fit in a car's console, or, if the front passenger seat is unoccupied, it can be placed there. It sits in a nylon container and operates via the car's cigarette lighter.

You can put as much, or as little, coffee in Mornin' Brew as you like. "You won't ever have to drink stale coffee," Haskins promises. And it's fully portable - you could, say, take the thing out of your car and take it to the beach and plug it into any 12-volt power source.

As we sit in Haskins' quiet apartment in Essex and he tells me all this, I have a vision.

In this vision, I see a well-dressed businessman behind the wheel of a car, hurtling down an interstate at 70 mph while simultaneously attempting to operate the Mornin' Brew system.

Distracted for an instant, he fails to notice a deer that has bolted out of the nearby woods into the middle of the road.

When he finally sees it, he slams on the brakes and the coffee goes all over his $3,000 charcoal pin-striped suit, which causes him to lose control of the car and veer across three lanes of traffic and crash into a 200-foot-tall radio transmission tower, which topples across the highway and shears power lines and snarls traffic for 20 miles in either direction.

The deer, of course, is fine.

Look, I can't stand seeing people use cell phones behind the wheel, never mind pouring scalding-hot coffee.

When I describe this vision to Haskins, his eyes widen and he cries: "Oh, no, sir! That would never happen with my invention!"

His wife, Laura, who has been listening to the conversation, shakes her head vigorously, too.

"I was very concerned about the safety factor," Marvin Haskins says.

At the risk of breaching security, Laura Haskins hints that Mornin' Brew will be some sort of self-contained brewing and delivery system, so that the driver of the vehicle won't even have to pour the coffee into a mug or travel cup.

In other words, it won't be like having a Mr. Coffee sloshing around between the bucket seats of your Oldsmobile."[The driver's] biggest challenge will be getting [his] mouth to the cup," Laura Haskins says. "You'll press one button, and you'll get your coffee."

The cloak-and-dagger types at Invent-Tech say Mornin' Brew is still "in development," which apparently means they're still trying to find a company to manufacture the product.

When I ask Marvin Haskins what his dream is for Mornin' Brew, he's silent for a moment.

"The best thing for me," he says finally, "would be to walk into a store and see it on the shelves and say: `Man, that's something I came up with. That's one of my ideas.' "

If he could make some money off his invention, well, that would be great, too. This, after all, is a man with a wife and young daughter, a man who frequently rises at midnight and works 12-hour shifts driving a haz-mat rig.

"It's like I told my wife: I don't mind working, and I work hard," he says. "But one day I'm going to come up with something - some idea - to get me out of this rat race."

Then he tells a story he heard about a little girl who invented something called a "bacon rack." It's designed to cook bacon evenly in a microwave oven.

"She's a millionaire now!" he says, his voice filled with wonder.

If Mornin' Brew hits the big-time, I tell him, he may have to invent something called Mornin' Potty for all those people drinking all that coffee on the highways.

Marvin L. Haskins laughs. "One invention at a time," he says.

You wonder how Invent-Tech would handle that one.

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