Automation. The word comes with a lot of baggage. Ever since the industrial revolution, workers have had an ever-growing fear of being replaced by machines. Textile workers rioted in the 19th century when many lost their jobs to industrial automation. This trend continued into the 20th century, most famously with the automobile industry. As technology advances, our need for a human labour force diminishes. So, what does this mean for coffee? We have already witnessed the advent of the pod machine, automatic vending style machines have been around even longer, there’s even the odd robotic barista arm popping up here and there. Is this the beginning of the end for your morning coffee ritual? Well, sort of, but not in the way you might think.
The current argument against modern automatic machines is “The quality just isn’t as good.” And this is true, for now. But inevitably technology will catch up with consumers’ palates and one day soon we’ll be able to purchase a perfectly made flat white with beautiful latte art from a machine. The thing that people don’t always understand is that coffee isn’t just a caffeinated drink; it is a social catalyst, an excuse to escape the drudgery of work/home life. Throughout the centuries, people have always needed three ‘spaces’ in order to maintain a balanced and happy lifestyle. The first space – home - is important for relaxation, safety and shelter. Work – the second space – is where we go to earn a living and contribute to society. The third space can be anything that offers respite from the other two spaces. While it’s nice to be at home, the pressures of family and household duties can be overwhelming. Similarly, work can be very stressful at times with deadlines and other pressures. This is where the third space comes in. It could be the gym, a pub, a restaurant, anything that offers a reprieve from the everyday. For many, the local café is that reprieve. Sure, you can put a pod machine in the office, but even though people may be getting their caffeine hit, they’re not getting what they really need.
So where do we go from here? Is the death of cafes as we know it inevitable? The answer is a resounding “no”. However, we will see a shift in the role baristas play in our coffee experience. With automatic equipment such as Puqpress’s (automatic tamping machine) and Ubermilk’s (automatic milk texturing machine) now the norm in many cafes around the world, baristas are freed up to do what they do best; talk! Baristas are the smiling faces behind the counter that greet you every morning. They ask you about your day, your family, your dog. They remember exactly how you like your coffee (and don’t judge you when you’ve had a hard day and want an extra sugar). Now imagine they can do all this during a busy morning rush. More automation in coffee means more hospitality and an overall nicer experience for people whose café is their refuge. Yes, the role of the barista is going to change, but instead of being made redundant by machines, baristas will morph into the coffee equivalents of sommeliers and maître D’s.
This shift is coming sooner than you think, so rather than worry about cafes disappearing, let’s get excited about what’s coming next! If you want to explore automation or have some questions, get in touch, we’d love to chat with you.