Automation and consistency in the café

Automation and consistency in the café

Mocopan Coffee’s Babin Gurung on why consistency of products and services is one of the key factors to operating a sustainable business and how automation can help.

Consistency is a constant topic in our conversations, mainly because there is very little margin of error when working with a product such as coffee.

Babin Gurung
Babin Gurung is the New South Wales Barista Trainer of Suntory Coffee Australia.

In recent years, we have seen a boom in automation in coffee making to help us achieve just that. In the February edition of BeanScene magazine, we talked about how automatic tampers such as PuqPress are becoming part of standard café setup. This time, let’s explore how we can best utilise newfound technologies at different stages of the production line to help run a more efficient café.

The first stage of our coffee production line is preparing shots. The two main variables to this are dose and extraction time. A slight change in one or both variables can dramatically alter the flavour profile of your coffee (refer to my article ‘What makes a coffee strong?’ in BeanScene August 2019 for more on how flavours are controlled).

Since the introduction of electronic grinders, controlling dose has been easier. But electronic grinders only control grind time and not the actual weight of ground coffee. Hence, baristas rely on scales to verify the accuracy of the dose and adjust manually when necessary.

Automation and consistency in the café
The Mythos 2 uses gravimetric technology to grind coffee by weight rather than time.

Acaia scales are a popular choice and come with many features including a built-in timer, which comes in handy for manual brewing. Rhino scales are a great alternative and are more budget friendly.

As reliable as these scales are, it is an extra step for baristas and can slow down the production line, not to mention the bench space they occupy. The solution: grinders with built-in scale. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds because Victoria Arduino have come up with the Mythos 2 grinder which does exactly that. Mythos 2 – Gravimetric weighs your dose in real time and gives you the accuracy and efficiency you need in your workflow. There is even a function to increase the grind speed which not only grinds faster, but has also been found to produce some interesting flavour change.

The second variable of the equation, which is equally if not more important, is extraction time. Extraction time can fluctuate throughout the day, but lot of it is due to environmental factors such as humidity, moisture, and temperature (see Dr Monika Fekete’s August 2019 BeanScene article ‘Cause and effect’) for more on the effects of temperature. As a barista, you need to keep a close eye on extraction time and continually adjust the dial. New generation grinders are very responsive and one line on the dial gives you two to three seconds of extraction time. Using this as a guideline will help you maintain your grinder efficiently. Some new grinders have built-in heating and cooling units to maintain a steadier temperature of the beans giving you more controlled shots.

One other tool that has found its way into cafés across the world is a coffee distribution tool. Coffee distributers are simple in design and help baristas achieve an even spread of coffee in the group handle before tamping. The idea is to promote even saturation of flavours once the water passes through the coffee. As effective as hand distribution technique is, using tools such as the OCD developed by Sasa Sestic of Ona Coffee is a much more consistent and quicker way of distributing coffee evenly, giving you a more uniform result in your extraction. Pair this with an automatic tamper and you are one step closer to achieving your perfect shot.

At this stage, we are monitoring volume of our shots. Thankfully, volume is far less temperamental and if you can manage to keep dose and extraction time constant, volume usually isn’t an issue. Volume is based on your recipe and can be easily adjusted on the machine. But once again, if you don’t want to leave anything to chance and want to find a way to accurately and consistently measure your yield, you will need to weigh out your shots using a scale every time. Putting a scale on the drip tray is not very practical as it takes up space and you run into the risk of damaging your scale. The Stem Stand, once again developed by Sasa Sestic, is designed to work with your existing scale. It acts as a platform to place your cups while leaving the scale on the benchtop. With the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle, you have the option to get your coffee machine with built-in gravimetric technology that weighs your shots every time and stops at a preset amount. This is a much simpler way to keep track and maintain volume of your shots.

Automation and consistency in the café
Übermilk produces ready-to-pour steamed milk.

Third stage of our production line is milk frothing. As a trainer, I spend lot of time with my students going through the fine points of controlling froth and getting consistency around texture and temperature. It is an acquired skill and needs lot of practice. Using techniques discussed in the ‘Perfect pour’ article in BeanScene December 2019, can certainly help baristas get there quicker. But for smaller cafés, this can be challenging as they can’t afford to train their staff for long periods of time. For high-volume cafés with minimum staff, milk frothing can slow down the workflow.

Built-in self-frothing units aren’t new in the coffee world. Any standard coffee machine can be fitted with a milk frother that can get the job done. But the main reason this attachment hasn’t captured the market is because of the milk quality. Even though temperature is consistent, getting froth and texture right is a challenge. Over the last few years, we have seen a dramatic improvement in this technology with brands such as Übermilk cornering the market. Although they run on completely different technologies, both act as an aid to help baristas make coffees with speed and precision. The Juggler milk tap dispensing system is another device built to optimise workflow and control milk portioning, giving cafés long-term return.

Cost is a factor when investing in equipment such as these, but as the technology refines and becomes more accessible, cafés could benefit from automation around milk frothing as well.

So, there we have our ideal café setup. But are we close to achieving perfection in the way we make coffees? I don’t think so. As we dig deeper into the world of coffee, we have found more questions than answers. But for an average café trying their best to run a profitable business in this highly competitive market, speed and consistency can give them the edge – and having technology on your side most definitely helps.

This article appears in the April 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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