The Flow coffee telemetry system from Barista Technology Australia provides new levels of transparency, consistency, and information to the coffee industry.
Consistency is one of the most important elements when it comes to coffee, but it’s something that has always been difficult to accurately measure.
Is the barista following the right recipe from shot to shot? Does the coffee taste the same from barista to barista? Or is a blend brewed similarly from café to café? Short of tasting every shot – hardly practical or hygienic – there was no way to tell. Until now.
The Flow coffee telemetry system from Barista Technology Australia can be connected directly to an espresso machine from any major manufacturer, tracking the information produced with each and every shot.
“If you look at the industry now, with a manual coffee machine, there’s very little transparency around the data and consistency of the coffee,” says Brett Bolwell, CEO of Barista Technology Australia.
“The type of data we can extract with Flow gives coffee companies transparency to their coffee that’s never been achieved before. Telemetry is going to take making the perfect coffee to the next level.”
Installing Flow at a café is relatively easy. Barista Technology equips sensors to the espresso machine which communicates information to a small telemetry-enabled device. This can be accessed remotely by the barista, café owner, roaster, and support team.
Real-time gauges can be set up to give baristas immediate feedback on whether they’ve hit the recipe. Information the unit gathers can also be viewed via an app or web-based dashboard, providing objective feedback on the barista’s performance. The dashboard can produce daily reports and compare baristas – even stores – to each other.
“It effectively provides you with a snapshot of your coffee business. Especially if you’re a multisite operator, it can show all your stores on one screen and you can physically see at what percentages the stores are performing against set brew recipes,” Brett says.
“If you’re a coffee company wanting to improve or sustain your brand recognition, understanding what’s happening at a café or barista level is critical to maintain the quality.”
Flow has already been trialled by several prominent players in the Australian coffee community – from quick service restaurants to multi-site operators, independent cafés to roasters, including Seven Miles Coffee Roasters. It aims to roll out the telemetry system across 200 partner cafés by the end of 2021.
“Pretty much every roaster we put Flow in front of immediately see value in them, whether as a tool to improve operational efficiencies or simply as a way to acquire new business,” Brett says.
“At the multinational store level, Flow is currently being trialled in Australia’s largest coffee chain. An understanding of what’s happening across 1186 stores is really important, not just for consistency but from a supply perspective. If they notice sales have gone up, they and their suppliers can better forecast to meet demand.”
Flow also provides benefits when it comes to equipment repairs and maintenance or identifying when additional training may be required at a wholesale account.
“There’s a clunkiness to the way we do some things in the industry. A rep might visit a store every fortnight or so, and when they go in there, try to find ways they can help the customer. But it’s a very hit and miss way of doing things,” Brett says.
“With live data of what’s going on at-site, a roaster can quickly identify issues for the customer, tell them straight away, and start fixing the problem.”
But the benefits of a system like Flow are not limited to the coffee roaster. With the information accessible to the café owner and their staff, everyone is able to review their performance and where changes need to be made.
“People will invest as much as $50,000 in their coffee set up, making sure they’ve got the best equipment, but then it’s up to the barista to make it worthwhile. If they’re not, your investment in that business and your customers can quickly go out the door,” Brett says.
“If you’ve got great tasting coffee and shots are being pulled within the brew recipe, you’ll have happier customers, higher sales, and everybody wins.”
It was in a New Zealand café that Flow began its life almost five years ago. Web developer, former café owner, and Head of Innovation at Flow, Scott Nightingale, was frustrated that all he had was a shot timer to measure the consistency of his espresso during peak hour.
“There are a number of variables a shot timer doesn’t show you. He thought ‘the flavour’s still not right and I don’t have enough data to figure out why’. So, he set out to change that,” Brett says.
Scott spoke with a friend from a large NZ coffee roaster who agreed there was a market for more information and a clearer picture of coffee extraction. They developed a program and began trialling it around NZ.
“That conversation happened over a cup of coffee in Scott’s café in Auckland. Four years later, Flow came to my attention, but the product still wasn’t quite finished,” Brett says.
“They didn’t have an app built. We live in a mobile world, if a coffee company has reps out on the road, how are they going to log in and look at this data? They’re not going to sit down on a computer and log in to a cloud-based backend. They need to access it quickly and the café needs to be able to see it too.”
Seeing the telemetry system’s potential, Brett secured the Australian distribution rights and with his strong connections and more than 20 years of experience in coffee, began helping take Flow to the next level.
“I worked closely with them, saw some things we could improve, and they’ve taken in every piece of advice,” Brett says.
“We’ve shown this technology to several coffee companies and the feedback we keep hearing from the industry is that people have been looking for something like this for years. There’s nothing else in the market like it.”
While heavier scrutiny and tighter targets a potential put off to some baristas, like many other technological innovations, Brett says they’ll see the benefits on the coffee bar.
“It’s no different to when we introduced PuqPress five and a half years ago. Baristas would tell me ‘it’s never going to take off, a barista needs to control their art’. Now, nearly 60 per cent of cafés use one. We have sold more than 19,000 Puqpress units in Australia against approximately 31,500 cafés in the country, according to market statistics,” Brett says.
“As a café owner or coffee roaster, you don’t want to make it feel like ‘Big Brother’ is watching. It’s important to show baristas that this is fundamentally a support mechanism to help them achieve the best they can. Once baristas embrace it as a tool that helps them to grow and improve, everybody wins.”
While Flow currently focuses on the espresso machine, Brett says it’s a simple step to start incorporating the other equipment on an espresso bar. This includes grinders, milk texturing systems, and “any piece of equipment that comes with a motherboard”.
“The next phase for us, and something we’re working on now, is integrating water filtration monitoring. As we expand Flow, it’s going to give coffee companies a whole new level of data to analyse,” he says.
“For example, you can see if workflow speed increases as you introduce different pieces of equipment to the business. There’s so much that can be done with it. We’re really at the ground floor of what telemetry can do.”
For more information, visit www.flowcoffee.com.au
This article appears in the April 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.