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January 30, 2017 /
The Death Of The Death Of The Barista

 

Super-automatic espresso machines are getting better. I think it’s safe to say that in the not-too-distant future, they’ll be able to make coffee as consistently as a well trained barista. The efficiencies they provide are such a strong argument that their uptake is guaranteed in a significantly large portion of the service industry—both specialty and otherwise.

So where does that leave the Barista?

At La Marzocco’s Out of the Box event in Milan, I presented my argument for why the proliferation of super-automatic machines could be a good thing for the barista profession.

There’s some good questions at the end from an audience that weren’t exactly stoked about my topic choice. I need to repeat my thanks to La Marzocco for letting me talk about this at their event. A lesser company would’ve had me talk about pressure profiling or tamping pressure instead.

For something similar, I highly recommend reading Colin Harmon’s post from 5 years ago (he’s so ahead of his time!!), about weighing shots and the role of the Barista of the future!

I understand that I’m inviting much criticism by posting this video, but please keep these things in mind before raining too much hate:

– This is a think piece. Not a damning of baristas or equipment manufacturers.
– If you don’t think I’m into quality coffee, please read this blog again.
– The machines I’m talking about here would merely replicate given recipes. They won’t be prescient or be able to taste (or maybe they would be?).
– Yes, latte art does matter. There’ll be even more time for that in this future (yay).
– I’m yet to see a super-automatic machine that can replicate the work of a highly skilled barista though I have seen some that come close!

 

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Gunde Tyler
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Gunde Tyler

Great Turtleneck. Where is it from? +1 for calling dosing and tamping analysis at barista competitions masturbation.

Andrew Bettis
Guest
Andrew Bettis

Hustle Super-automatic machines will provide us with consistency, no doubt, but there will still be the mind-numbing process of “dialing-in,” of finding that subjective balance of chemical compounds that is “perfect.” I don’t believe this perfect cup exists, or that there can be a way to quantify a “perfect extraction.” To begin with, it absolutely changes too much once it is prepared, and the complexity of flavor compounds is too intense to be measured. Also, there are too many factors and variables that affects the coffee before and during extraction. Coffee is so incredibly different from wine, cheese, beer, and… Read more »

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

It’s just a standard cashmere job from uniqlo 😉 and thanks – it is!

Andrew Bettis
Guest
Andrew Bettis

Super-automatic machines will provide us with consistency, no doubt, but there will still be the mind-numbing process of “dialing-in,” of finding that subjective balance of chemical compounds that is “perfect.” I don’t believe this perfect cup exists, or that there can be a way to quantify a “perfect extraction.” To begin with, it absolutely changes too much once it is prepared, and the complexity of flavor compounds is too intense to be measured. Also, there are too many factors and variables that affects the coffee before and during extraction. Coffee is so incredibly different from wine, cheese, beer, and any… Read more »

Anthony Morris
Guest
Anthony Morris

Matt, Really enjoyed your speech, very thought-provoking. As a full-time barista currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in engineering, this talk really offered a look into how these two worlds might become more closely related in the future (more so than they already are, at least). My question for you is this: what incentives are there for manufacturing companies to invest into the production of super automatic machines? I’m certainly going to begin work on a schematic for a technical-barista-friendly super automatic machine (with a Kickstater campaign coming to you in t-minus 10…9…), but as someone who just happened to fall… Read more »

Scott Martin
Guest
Scott Martin

Matt you hit the nail on the head in the first 5 min. One of the biggest companies in the world sells speciality ‘widgets’, Apple with their iPhones. They are mass produced in the same country as most mobiles yet demand a high price AU$800+ when out of the same factory a competitor sells something very similar for $100. Why are customers happy to pay a premium??? The presentation and the story behind the product. Owning a cafe there is a sense of romance with a few customers that know about coffee and what goes into the coffee. However it… Read more »

KenBurgin
Guest
KenBurgin

Great presentation, and great to have someone with your authority call it! A friend was in Switzerland recently (where they also have super-high wages) and was impressed with how many places have just one person with their money belt using a super-automatic machine, serving great coffee… and happy customers.

Andrew Bettis
Guest
Andrew Bettis

I’m referring to thinking on a molecular level of the balance of chemical compounds while being at a total lack of proficiency with my tools and knowledge of that measurement. I definitely think it is intriguing, though, or I would have given up long ago!

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

I would hesitate to call it mind numbing. For many, it’s the most intriguing and difficult part of coffee making. And with better equipment, one could become rather proficient at teasing out the best qualities.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Sign into the slack and DM me 😉

Anthony Morris
Guest
Anthony Morris

Yeah, I feel that the standard progression of tech development in the coffee industry follows as such: -Nerdy “technical barista” finds a contraption that outperforms the current one. -As a slave to quality, the tech barista relentlessly adapts this superior device to fit the needs of the existing prep/service routine even if the method is seemingly outrageous. I mean pre-weighing shots to use for the EK and using the Holdswirl for distribution is obviously not the ideal method of prep if you could choose a more efficient method with the same end result. As sexy as the Holdswirl is, it… Read more »

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

That, sir, is the question. There’s a number of companies trying to make their superautos better; though none of them are working with coffee professionals that can properly interface with engineers – I can think of only a handful of humans that would be appropriate for that job.

jason scheltus
Guest
jason scheltus

Hi Matt, From my perspective, there is still an argument for the theater of manual brewing to encourage customers to try it. I know it’s a little passé here in Melbs, but we’ve found that the more prominent a brew bar is, the more filter brewed drinks we sell (and our goal is to sell beans and filter brews). So while automation would save us staff cost and make drinks faster, it may also have the negative effect of reducing interest and sales. I agree with a lot of your talk though, and I think more automation for espresso coffee… Read more »

Rupert
Guest
Rupert

What is the Holdswirl may i ask ? Is it some new auto distribution weighing gizmo or is it your index finger performing one of the many distribution methods?

Alex Bitsios-Esposito
Guest
Alex Bitsios-Esposito

Good presentation Matt! I think this topic will always have a group of people that reject the idea or oppose it because it would mean the loss of their job or the death of something they really enjoy doing:- like tamping… who’d have thought the act of tamping was so dearly beloved? I think the one thing worth commenting on that I think doesn’t help the ‘speciality coffee’ definition debate is that ‘speciality’ is anything that will make a customer spend more money. If i ask a coffee drinker who isn’t au fait with the coffee industry, what speciality coffee… Read more »

Tony Chrampanis
Guest
Tony Chrampanis

First off kudos for having the chutzpah to present this at La Marzocco and second
congratulations for being able to perceive a concept that many in the business
would relegate to the subconscious.

Henry Wells
Guest
Henry Wells

Great talk. Technical interest and social interest don’t have to be separate though. Future barista’s will focus more on the flavour of the coffee being something that comes from the farm, and the preparation will be of less importance. As a barista I’ve been thinking this way more and more. The farmer made the coffee, I just put it in the cup.

I think focusing on service and simplifying the technical side is beneficial for staff and even more so the customer. And this is achievable with current technology.

Jackson Swaggert O'Brien
Guest
Jackson Swaggert O'Brien

I would counter that by saying that people don’t lack appreciation for things like beer and wine, even though these are things that don’t really need to be “made” in the same way. You open a bottle and you maybe put it in a drinking vessel. People still go gaga over them, even without that final stage of preparation.

Jackson Swaggert O'Brien
Guest
Jackson Swaggert O'Brien

So you mention this a little bit at the question at 32:30 or so in the video, but I have a slightly different but related question: If part of a coffee company’s brand and how they get folks into the shop is “hand crafted” coffee, how would this superauto revolution impact their brand? I understand if you haven’t advertised this way the vast majority of customers won’t care when you switch over to your theoretical superauto-that-actually-makes-really-good-coffee, but a lot of shops here in the states differentiated themselves from the corner Starbucks by saying “our coffee isn’t made by a robot,… Read more »

Jeremy Smith
Guest
Jeremy Smith

I think that the super automatic could garner a lack of appreciation for coffee.
Because of the amount of effort I go into making the coffee taste the way it does, I believe it becomes infectious – that love and care.

Im more concerned, and more interested in what is possible because of super automatics rather than what is efficient, could we, for instance have a new type of beverage? Are super autos so easily controllable that we could make some crazy new espresso shot?

PegeleusDukes
Guest
PegeleusDukes

One question I wish was asked, and it’s more of just a thought…If these machines really do come to fruition (and of course I believe it’s inevitable), then won’t Starbucks have them too? Of course they will. They’ll probably be using darker roasted, lower quality coffee, but is that enough to differentiate them. I’m not a standard consumer, but I go to shops based on their equipment sometimes (living in Portland means I have a lot of choice), and if Starbucks has the same incredibly capable superauto machine as my favorite local shop I just see it being a lot… Read more »

Sam Jones
Guest
Sam Jones

It’s last week’s barista hustle, a way of disributing coffee via a jam funnel that has been ground using an ek43.

Daniel Remer
Guest
Daniel Remer

Good talk. But you missed a great opportunity that full automation offers. If the bean path can be fully controlled that opens infinite opportunities to create blends that can’t practically be done with today’s equipment. Imagine a dozen coffees that can be blended on the fly.

The Baristas don’t have to be relegated to memorizing puppy’s names. They can gather before work or after and each can develop signature blends that could change daily. They can talk about the blend instead of birthdays.

Big Brother can also have standardized branded blends as well.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

If you base your brand and values around hand crafting something then it’s definitely not an avenue for you.

For other businesses who place high value on (and advertise for) excellent product with exceptional customer service, it’s a no-brainer.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Thank you! I don’t really find blends as exciting as you, but I’m glad you found another positive!

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

I agree with some of that but not all 🙂

Re instant. It’ll work, and taste good, but it’ll never be as high quality as fresh brewed. I don’t see why superauto machines can’t do by-the-cup brewing at scale as well.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Messy and annoying is key.

I’m with you on the theatrics. But there’s also an argument that the strong human connection the staff are making could lead them to recommending those drinks based on conversation; and also understanding a customer’s needs rather than monkey-see-monkey-do shiny-siphon-globe brew bar that happens so often. Will be interesting times!

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Agreed. None of this is rocket science (although it has elements of rocket science!)

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Thanks Tony 🙂

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Of course Starbucks will have them. Starbucks will be the biggest customer for machines like this. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It just means the specialty operators will have to rely on their differentiators being more meaningful and substantial than “we make coffee well”

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Correct. The act of hand-crafting isn’t a cause for quality, it’s a correlation with quality.

Geoff K
Guest
Geoff K

We already have a lack of appreciation for coffee – infact i would say its really the default state for most. Many use it as a utility.

Geoff K
Guest
Geoff K

I think blends – just as in the whisky world – are more about putting out a consistent product, year on year – than they are the “pinnacle” of coffee.

Single Origin / Single Harvest is something that you may never experience again – due to the conditions that it was grown in.

Tony Chrampanis
Guest
Tony Chrampanis
Geoff K
Guest
Geoff K

Honestly I think its beyond that. For many that are particular about the taste of coffee – but not “all in” with the coffee experience – given that theoretically places like McDonald’s will be able to have machines like this (and even your home/vending machines) – I think that unless Starbucks lifts their game in other areas of service (its been years since i’ve been to one – but the food was awful compared to standard Melbourne Cafe fair) – they will die anyway. You touch on this with the K-Cup question. And the following one – “Good” Super Autos… Read more »

David
Guest
David

Hey Matt, thanks for your detailed reply. You make a compelling argument. Have you heard back from manufacturers not currently entertaining superautomatic lines about this?

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Hi David! thanks for the kind words 🙂 I feel you on some of your points, but there are some rather stark realities that I feel need to be mentioned. And they’re quite possibly even more alienating than my upbeat and positive presentation (my apologies, but I’m just the messenger): – People will always have a connection with manual machines. Just as people will continue to drive their old cars as the cloud of driverless cars mercilessly sweeps through nations. The economics of the automated version are so incredibly compelling that you will have to REALLY love using it to… Read more »

David
Guest
David

Hi Matt, I’d like to start by saying I have a tremendous amount of respect for you and your contributions to our industry, and anything you read here comes directly from that place of deep respect. I have to say that your talk as brave and controversial as it was, seemed very alienating to me as it didn’t offer much for those of us committed to traditional machines. As a technician and reseller/dealer of traditional machines, I am committed to them for several reasons: Firstly, they are much less complicated and as a rule more economical to own and maintain,… Read more »

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

You just got straight to the essence of this. The playing field will be aggressively flattened. Skill making coffee consistently will not be a differentiator – everything else will.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Hey Matt, I realize I’m a little late to the party here, but I just watched this and I think you make a really interesting and compelling case for the future of specialty coffee shops being super-auto machines. I completely agree with most points, but I may be more pessimistic about the future of specialty coffee shops. After super-autos get to the point where they can produce quality coffee, I would imagine they start becoming smaller and cheaper. Before long, either the super-autos become affordable and accessible enough for the average kitchen, or existing machines like kuregs/nespressos start learning from… Read more »

Pods, Poseidon or Perdition | Prufrock Coffee
Guest
Pods, Poseidon or Perdition | Prufrock Coffee

[…] Hoffmann, meanwhile Maxwell CD has announced his strategy to pare down to pods. Matt Perger does a hatchet job on barista training giving way to super-automation and to this Prufrock says touché. But it also […]

Raymond Payne
Guest
Raymond Payne

Machines can’t make decisions about flavour and adjust accordingly.
Super automated will take away strain and painful repetitive movements. A good barista will still talk to their roasters about modifications needed. They will be tasting and testing for quality. They will be presenting to the customer their work and can guide them though the experience of tasting coffee.

Fletcher Koch
Guest
Fletcher Koch

http://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2015/12/robot-baristas-fact-of-fiction/ Do I want a robot barista? Interesting article that maybe dives a little deeper into this part of your talk Matt.

Robermuscle
Guest
Robermuscle

Hi Matt,

We’ve been trying to nail our systems with robot like precision, so I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation. You alluded to the La Marzocco Volcano towards the end of the video. This machine seems fairly good at dosing a consistent volume with adequate tamping, so why hasn’t it been embraced more by the specialty coffee scene? What have you found to be the limitations of a system where this machine is paired with volumetrics and what needs to improve to take us to the next step of this ‘hybrid’ stage?

Automation And Espresso - The French Roaster
Guest
Automation And Espresso - The French Roaster

[…] future the role of the barista will involve putting the customer first. (Matt Perger’s “The Death of the Death of the Barista” is a good place to start in all […]

Michael Wilson
Guest
Michael Wilson

“I’m yet to see a super-automatic machine that can replicate the work of a highly skilled barista though I have seen some that come close!” I’m curious to see the superautomatic machines that come close to producing the quality of an espresso made by a good barista. Which are they?

Troy Gardner
Guest
Troy Gardner

Thanks for this well thought out video. It was spooky and refreshing to find a similar contrarian vision for where coffee, cafes technology is headed, in a future world where transparency, super automation and even coffee scarcity might be the norm that few seem prepared to think about. Let’s imagine a world, where the following distopian and disruptive technology exists. – China awakes to coffee consumption and coffee becomes increasingly scarce, and good quality coffee is now 2x-4x as expensive. Perhaps oil and water are also super expensive, affecting the entire ecosystem of cafes get supplies and people get to… Read more »

Jennifer Lynn Hauser
Guest
Jennifer Lynn Hauser

Hi Matt, Thank you…I really loved the talk! I totally agree with the two different types of baristas but I do feel that having the option of being both types is a huge benefit of working in the cafe industry. Personally, I go through bouts of being a technical barista and a service barista…a few times a week. I wouldn’t want my “job” to be one or the other. How would the technical barista move around, dial in, and open 50+ cafes on time everyday? Wouldn’t the company/brand have to invest/hire a ton of technical baristas in order for every… Read more »

Troy Gardner
Guest
Troy Gardner

i prefer the room temp hand of highly sophisticated yet simple tech AND someone who can bring out the best in a natural processed ethiopian, by setting it and forgetting it once dialed in, I can supply my own PhD friends/area of discussion, just want coffee better than I can make it.

Is the tide is pulling back on 3rd Wave – @jonathonsciola
Guest
Is the tide is pulling back on 3rd Wave – @jonathonsciola

[…] Super-automatic espresso machines coming soon according to Barista Hustle […]

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