Can an automated milk steamer match a barista’s skillset? BeanScene talks to a café owner about his experience with Caffe Assist.
With staff shortages posing one of the hardest challenges the food and beverage industry has ever faced, café operators are open to equipment and technology that can assist with workflow and free up valuable barista time. An automated milk steamer is one such product, but does it truly compare to the expertise of a highly trained barista? This was the question David Schmidt faced when he introduced the Caffe Assist to his business in East Gippsland, Victoria.
“The biggest issue we’re facing at the moment is staffing – being able to recruit enough staff to keep up with our demand,” explains David, Director of Mr D. Food & Coffee in Bairnsdale. “Prior to getting our first Caffe Assist machine, the most common complaint we had was the time it would take to get a takeaway coffee from us.”
Prompted by customer feedback, David explored the option of an automated milk steamer. He became acquainted with Caffe Assist thanks to Roy Greenfield, Owner of Zest Specialty Coffee Roasters which supplies its coffee to Mr D. Food & Coffee.
“I went with Roy’s recommendation because the Caffe Assist can be used with all types of milk, not just the one type,” he says. “That includes regular fat, skinny and lactose-free diary milks, but also non-dairy such as almond, soy and oat. It’s a highly versatile machine.”
Importantly, Caffe Assist has resolved Mr D’s most pressing issue: long wait times for takeaway coffee.
“The best thing about the Caffe Assist is that it frees up hands. We used to have three, maybe four sets of hands on an espresso machine at any one time, and now we have two Caffe Assists, which effectively frees up four sets of hands,” David says. “It’s extremely consistent as well. It doesn’t matter who’s on the machine, the milk will always produce the same quality.”
According to David, the combination of speed and consistency that the Caffe Assist provides has improved coffee sales.
“We’ve noticed since operating the two Caffe Assists that our coffee sales have gone up,” he says. “I think this is in part because of the speed of delivery, but also just because of the consistency in the milk texturing.”
In an average week, Mr D’s produces 4000 coffees per week (or more than 100 kilograms of beans), with David estimating that 85 per cent of all coffees sold are milk espresso-based coffees. With staff shortages it’s been a struggle to keep up with demand, particularly in the peak holiday seasons when coffee sales soar.
“We have four high quality trained baristas on the team, and they were reluctant to use the Caffe Assist at first,” says David. “But they quickly changed their mind when they saw and experienced its capabilities first-hand. They now enjoy using it, as it affords them more time to focus on the coffee itself and to interact with customers.”
As to whether the Caffe Assist can genuinely match the skillset of his trained baristas, David says it’s up to the challenge.
“A few of our baristas believed they could produce a better milk than the Caffe Assist, so we put it to the test one day,” David recalls. “We had a milk-off. I put the jug on the Caffe Assist at the same time as they started, and the Caffe Assist produced a better milk. So that line of conversation soon came to an end.”
One of the key benefits of using the Caffe Assist is that it self-cleans and can transition from texturing dairy milks to plant-based milks without any fuss. This can be a challenge for baristas, who can get slowed down by plant-based milk coffee orders.
“When you’ve finished with one milk jug, the wand automatically purges and cleans itself, so it’s a simple process of just grabbing a different jug to start a new milk – downtime is minimal,” says David. “We recently added oat milk to our portfolio, and the Caffe Assist team helped us over the phone to create the setting. We played with it a bit until we were happy, and now it’s locked in and good to go every time.”
Additionally, David says the Caffe Assist promotes a more hygienic process for cleaning than manual milk texturing.
“We had a health inspector come through to do a routine check last week and he noticed we didn’t have cleaning cloths by the machine milk steaming wand – when we demonstrated the Caffe Assist he was very impressed with how it automatically cleans itself,” David adds. “This saves us time on the cleaning as well.”
The time-saving benefit of Caffe Assist is a vital one. As Caffe Assist Sales Executive Alexander Purton explains, the rising requests for plant-based textured milk have influenced how the contemporary barista goes about filling orders.
“On average, over 70 per cent of Australian café orders are milk espresso, with plant-based milks now set to overtake cows’ milk in cafés,” says Alex. “This has had a significant impact on the time involved to make coffees – in previous years, baristas could texture a large amount of dairy milk to fill a number of orders in one go, but now they are using multiple small jugs for various milk types. This puts a lot of pressure on them to deliver coffees on time, particularly when you factor in all the milk change-outs and cleaning in between.”
This is where Alex says the Caffe Assist can prove invaluable to café owners.
“Ultimately, it comes back to that combination of speed, quality and consistency. For café owners during this staffing crisis, it enables them to achieve the quality they need. Because from that business perspective, it only takes one bad coffee experience to lose a customer,” Alex says. “Caffe Assist helps bridge the gap with the challenges of staff shortages by providing that quality, consistently. And while, as David mentions, there is likely to be hesitation from barista staff about using the Caffe Assist at the start, it’s important to reiterate that it’s not there to replace a barista. It’s there to assist them.”
This article appears in the August 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.