Your coffee could taste better by the push of a button.
It seems as if this is something that plagues the coffee industry like the grim reaper, but could this be a step forward? We were recently privileged with the opportunity of interviewing some noteworthy personalities in the coffee industry: Jared Truby, Joe Molloy and David Walstra.
Q: What does automation mean for competitions?
A: ‘’Automation will certainly drive consistency forward as that is the final battle, but like the motor industry moving towards autonomous cars the thrill of driving will always be there and I guess the same applies to a hand crafted, well-made shot of espresso or milk beverage, skill is the competition.’’ – David Walstra
Q: How would this influence roasting and its relationship with automation/technology?
A: ‘’The automation we’ve seen so far has only been positive for roasting. It wasn’t very long ago when all we had was one temperature reading and a timer. Now we follow graphs in real time and can recreate roasting profiles with a high degree of accuracy.’’ – Joe Molloy
This is exciting. I think it’s true about most industries. A better job is almost always done when more time is given. I look forward to what automation does for roasting coffee.
Q: Affordability: Introducing automation to the market can make a global standard harder to achieve. What are your thoughts?
A: ‘’The early adopters will pay a premium that lets companies continue to develop and eventually bring prices down. Developing countries have lower wage costs so can often afford to have more staff. In Australia it’s very different.’’ – Joe Molloy
This is outstanding: recent statistics posted on Indeed South Africa reported that the average barista earns roughly $400pm in an established emerging market, but a specialty espresso bar operating in the same market, charging roughly $3 per coffee, is expected to pay close to the same price for coffee as a bar operating in a developed market, charging $4.00 for a coffee.
Consider the study of relativism. Initial costs of equipment (purely automated) that ensure developing countries remain competitive and germane to the industry will be universal. $3 in a developing market, which yields much less, will be expected to cover the same costs as $4 in a developed market which yields almost 3 times as much – the scale is quite unbalanced.
Why is this such a problem? I believe that it will deter from a global standard and will make competitions a lot harder to standardize. This may seem foolish to say, especially with automation allowing for more standardisation, but the social impact outweighs the practical impact – how will nations troubled with poor socio-economic conditions afford to compete and remain relevant to progression in the industry?
Q: I like the idea that automation will force baristas to engage and will create a more specialized role – but what happens to those that don’t cut it?
A: ‘’These changes won’t happen overnight so it’s not like everyone gets sacked. It’ll be more that the people with the right attitude to developing new skills will stay in coffee. Those who aren’t suited to a more active and engaged role with the customer will move to other industries. Or become roasters, we don’t have to talk to customers much.’’ – Joe Molloy
So, what does this all mean?
Automation has a while to go. Dealing with customers personally has made me realise that it’s impractical in a high paced environment. People are too personal and complex. Machines simply aren’t able to meet those demands. For example: a customer orders a half strength decaf dirty chai, how will a machine respond to that? It isn’t lightyears away, but I think it has a couple kms to catch up on.
I think Jared Truby summarizes it quite well, he writes: ‘’I personally don’t like the idea of automation at all in the same way I wouldn’t love to go to a restaurant with a robot making coffee. There’s no soul to it at all. Baristas should be amazing at service, because they are in the service industry. We, might as well be eating Tasty Wheat if we believe wholeheartedly in Automation. My Matrix references probably don’t jive with millennials, still, the idea of everything being automated leaves me feeling like we will begin further separation of human connection. I actually think the companies with amazing service will continue to shine and grow, while all others will go out of business. Lets be honest, microwaves were the hottest thing ever until we realized the food isn’t as healthy out of them. It’s not apples to apples, but my feelings are the same.’’
Happy coffee drinking.
Jacques. @cfc_jacques on Instagram