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🤖 The Super Automation Issue

Robots, Skynet, and the end of the Barista profession?

Barista Hustle

April 4 · Issue #61 · View online
Views and news about the brews. Unique and relevant information for coffee professionals and enthusiasts.

Robots, Skynet, and the end of the Barista profession?

Last year, I spoke at La Marzocco’s Out of the Box event about the inevitability of automation and how it will affect the role of the Barista (video here).
As the weeks go by, automation is continuing to replace, and better, the incumbent coffee professionals (that’s us). This week’s newsletter is an update on the technologies driving these changes, from roasting through to drinking.
My stance is that automation won’t kill the Barista profession. Instead I believe it will augment the role, allowing humans to do what they do best: interacting with humans (something machines are nowhere near grasping, and unfortunately something that specialty coffee professionals aren’t especially good at either).
I know this is a somewhat morbid conversation for a Barista newsletter, but it’s a topic we really should be thinking and talking about sooner rather than later.
For more discussion on this topic, I posted a thought-provoking poll in the Barista Hustle Facebook Group (now ~3,500 members).
🔥 Stronghold, a South Korean startup have been manufacturing small sub-kilo electric roasters for a few years. Their software is fairly advanced, but not yet as good as an experienced human. The Aillio Bullet is a similar story. As is the Ikawa sample roaster. These roasters are great, but like all that have come before, the software lets them down.
In recent news, neural networks and deep-learning software have become extremely good at recognising images and even beating a world champion at the game Go. This kind of software requires immense amounts of data to “teach” the computer; orders of magnitude more than a human requires. 
Here’s two excellent summaries by the Economist and the AlphaGo team at Google.
🔮 PID’s and simple algorithms are not going to solve the roasting problem. Instead, I’m hoping someone will use machine learning. Think of how many roast curves a company like Cropster have on file. All of them with gas changes and multiple temperature probes and sometimes even sensory data. Just imagine if they applied some machine learning to it; a roasting AI that has learnt from millions of batches on thousands of machines.
Grinding & Tamping
⚖ Baratza and acaia recently teamed up to launch a grind-by-weight unit, the Sette 270W. It learns from the previous dose and adjusts on the fly. 
An oldie but a goodie, the La Marzocco Swift. Grinds, doses and tamps all in one. How has no one bested this yet?
🔨 The PuqPress is shipping. Simple linear actuation attached to a tamper. Who’d of thought of that? Extreme benefits for RSI, speed and inter-barista consistency.

PS The LynWeber EG-1 is finally up for pre-sales here. A USD$1,200 deposit seals one of the first 100 units, and shaves $500 off the normal list price. Bargain.
🤖 This robot making a pour over at Hotelex almost definitely popped up on your instagram feed. It’s pretty cute, and got a lot of people talking because it so closely emulates how a human makes coffee. If you think a little longer, you might realise that it’s no different than a super-automatic espresso machine or a brewer like the Poursteady - machines that turn the simple xyz movements of humans into a cup of coffee. Manual brewing was supposed to be a rebellion against the machines, but it turns out engineers can automate any movement. 
🇮🇹 We’ve seen the Linea PB w Scales, and the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle with scales. Espresso brewing is still rather archaic but there’s certainly less input by humans once you have load cells under cups. 
🇨🇭 I played with an Eversys super-automatic espresso machine last year. At the end of my hour, I felt that ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ it wasn’t that bad. The espresso tasted ok. The milk was steamed better than I could do it. The result was more than ok, and better than some Baristas. The only real problem was the sloppy control loop between dose, beverage yield, and shot time that created some inconsistency and inaccuracy.
🤑 Frank Green, an Australian keep-your-cup manufacturer has a trick up its sleeve called Cafe Pay. Customers ‘tap’ their cup somewhere at the register and their order is made and paid for. Does this mean less opportunity for service and communication, or more free time to make their day?
📬 You may have also seen the Briggo robotic coffee kiosk. It’s essentially a Starbucks in a box. Customers order via an app remotely and when they arrive, their cup is presented out front for collection.
Sorry if you're a bit sad after all that...
🍷 An analogy I like to use in these moments: Sommeliers. 
One of the most trusted and revered hospitality professionals. They don’t make the wine, they don’t grow the grapes. Their only physical duties are to pop a cork, make sure it’s not tainted, and pour it in a glass.

The real value in a sommelier is the incredible knowledge, product, and service they provide. Aim to provide that value to your customers as a Barista and I promise your job is far from gone.
Eggspresso Addendum
🐣 Last week I added a photo at the bottom of some eggs being espresso’d. Turns out it’s actually a thing; from Karvan Coffee in Western Australia. They’ve also posted a guide on what it’s about and how to do it.
See You Next Week!
I feel a certain grinding paper is being published in a journal sometime soon…
To the boundaries of coffee,
Matt Perger
Barista Hustle
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