by Joseph Molloy December 10, 2021 5 min read
Automation doesn’t have to mean robot arms making coffee and machines replacing people. We think that if it’s done smartly, automation will not see the rise of the robot barista, but machines used to enhance the running of our cafes and baristas being more efficient (and better paid).
Customers are looking for delicious coffee served by friendly, smiling staff. They don’t want to spend their morning break in a long wait line, and there is a growing range of innovative technology we can use to ensure consistent quality at a fast pace.
With staffing being tricky, many coffee shops struggle to fill shifts and replace staff when they leave. Automation can help by making your business more efficient and the staff more effective.
We might not think about ordering with automated technology, but it’s one of the easiest places to start.
The customer interaction starts with ordering and if there is one thing the pandemic taught us, it is contactless ordering. We use a service called Skip where the customer places the order through their phone. It pops up on an iPad on the counter and we prepare the order. Payment is through the app and you can have all your menu items available.
There is of course a fee, Skip takes 10% of all orders going through their service. But when you factor in the time saved processing coffee orders, it’s well worth it.
The customer still gets to chat with their favourite barista when they pick up the order, but it’s a smooth and streamlined process
With the actual coffee-making process, we recommend you start here. The Puqpress (or a similar product like the Slingshot) tamps flatter than a human barista and does it exactly the same each time.
Training baristas on how to tamp used to take ages. While they still need the skill, there’s no point in developing RSI from tamping 500 shots a day.
In the scheme of things, they are cheap at $1400 and will both save the arms of your baristas and ensure that they tamp your coffee consistently.
Every cafe should have a Puqpress.
Grinders don’t spring to mind when we think of automation, but they are getting technical. This week we have a Mahlkönig E65 Grind-by-Weight on the bench at our espresso bar. It knows how much each of our portafilters weighs, adjusts accordingly and grinds out the 22g we use for our espresso blend recipe every time.
It might not seem you waste much time weighing portafilters on your Ohaus scales, but it adds up over the day.
But we need to spend the extra time well. We aren’t building assembly line style robots but freeing up baristas to chat and yarn with their customers. The coffee industry should focus on coffee and the people who produce it. Automation can help us achieve that goal.
They are now common in most cafes, but we still remember the dark days before they existed. Having separate jugs for each milk and marking your jugs with tape or bands used to be common. Now, we rinse after each jug and keep a clean bench.
If you haven’t already, find room on your bench for a jug rinser. If you can’t plumb underneath the bar, then there above bench options that do a fine job.
At our cafe in Ballarat, Cobb’s Coffee, we have a milk tap installed by Inglenook Dairy. They deliver our milk in large bladders that sit in our fridge underneath, and we fill our jugs right from the tap. It saves time on opening milk bottles and is a massive reduction in how much plastic waste we produce.
There are other options like the Juggler, which can include an entire fridge, multiple taps and jug rinsers.
The next step is to have a machine that steams the milk for you. La Marzocco launched their machine the Wally, in September and two of the other standouts are the Uber Milk and Perfect Moose. The Perfect Moose steams the jug with its own steam wand while the Uber Milk steams the milk internally before pouring it into the jug below. There are pros and cons to both.
They suit high volume shops where your baristas are working near capacity, where you can offset the high cost ($10-$12K) with savings on wages.
Automation is sneaking into coffee machines more each year. The La Marzocco Strada ABR (Auto Brew Ratio) has scales in the drip tray that adjust shot length based on brew weight.
We’ve had volumetric brewing for decades now and nobody thinks that we should go back to individually measuring every shot.
This is where it gets interesting. The high end fully automated coffee machines (like the Everysys Cameo) brew espresso that is as good as it gets. With the Cameo, you set your recipes and parameters for brewing your coffee.
For our taste test, it was our Haymaker blend. We filled it with coffee, punched in the recipe and sat back to watch. The Cameo brewed multiple shots while dialling in, just like a barista. After five minutes, it signalled it was ready for service.
The coffee was delicious.
As delicious as the Haymaker, we drank at the roastery that morning.
With excellent coffee going in, then you can get tasty coffee coming out.
The auto-clean function lets you set it to trigger at the same time each day.
Are we going to replace our Marzocco with one? No. But you’ll be seeing machines like the Cameo appear on benches around the world.
They are perfect for an office environment or non-cafe hospitality venues. If you own a pub, restaurant or events venue, then Eversys will solve many problems. You can get high-level specialty coffee with no highly trained staff.
The Cameo still looks like a traditional coffee machine, so you won’t alienate customers who want the human touch.
A robotic arm that makes coffee is not just a sci-fi dream but a reality. Companies like CafeX and Rozum Cafe sell fully robotic coffee points. Customers order and pay for their coffee and the robot brews it for them.
Will they take over the industry? It’s possible, but not our part of it.
High end, quality-driven, ‘specialty’ coffee needs to differentiate itself from cheap coffee and experiences. If we deliver a better customer experience, then we can charge more, pay more for great coffee and ensure a fair and ethical future for coffee.
Automation is not something to fear, but a chance to increase productivity and improve your business. By freeing up your staff, they have more time to talk to the customer and increase loyalty and sales through human interaction.
We imagine a future where we hire and train baristas for their coffee knowledge and ability to talk to customers more than their skill at mechanical tasks.
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