Technology and the changing the role of the barista is a topic that has generated a lot of interest recently. From our recent sold out Generation Automation event, to this week’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald and talkback radio – Adam Carr from our Coffee Science & Research Centre (CSEC) has been flat out keeping up with it.
It’s a discussion that comes at a time where many industries have been ‘disrupted’ by technology – Uber, AirBnB & Amazon come to mind – is the same thing about to happen to the local barista?
As Adam explains in the Sydney Morning Herald “I believe a day is coming when hardcore baristas will spend more time talking about coffee beans than dialling in the perfect espresso shot. Technology in cafes has come a long way and it’s only getting better.”
The technology certainly has come a long way. The CSEC team reviewed equipment that is capable of things that we’re laughable only a few years ago. “Recently, we tested a fully automated coffee machine that was capable of producing a beautifully balanced espresso. It precisely dosed and ground the beans. It pre-compressed the coffee into a barista-tight puck. It extracted the coffee and measured the extraction parameters against a predetermined recipe. If an error was found, it started over again by changing the grind size, just like a barista would. The result was delicious, and it got me thinking: will we see a day when the skill of a barista will be superseded by the repetitive accuracy of machines? If you like a quick coffee “fix”, the answer is yes” says Adam
Visual sketch of changes to café technology over time
Is the barista an endangered species?
We believe the answer is No. While a machine may replace the repetitive, manual tasks – the most vital part of a barista’s job is not something that can be replaced: interacting with humans.
As Adam explains “If you look at cafes that have all the latest automatic and semi-automatic coffee technologies, you’ll find that baristas have more hands-free time. Often, hands-free time translates to “brain-free” time and facilitates customer engagement. As most baristas start talking, their passion for coffee is revealed, leading to conversations about roasting, flavour profiles and all kinds of wonderful things. Customers also have the opportunity to develop a better relationship with their barista, and perhaps learn a little more about their coffee along the way.”
So, in that way, perhaps technology can help make the experience even better. That’s certainly something we’re looking forward to seeing, and something we’ve been testing in our own espresso window. “We’re better understanding the taste preferences of our customers. We can recommend specialty coffee based on what we know individual customers enjoy. The barista of the future will operate more like a sommelier. A ‘coffelier’, if you will” says Adam.
Here’s a simple demonstration of how that might look in real life:
Same barista, same coffee order. On the left is using manual processes, the right is semi-automated using the Puqpress, La Marzocco ABR (gravimetric) & Ubermilk. Note the differences in eye contact and conversation.
Adam sums it up like this “So, while it may seem like automation reduces barista craft, it in fact helps promote it at a much deeper level. I firmly believe that automation is something to be embraced rather than shunned.”