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Is This the End of the Barista? by George Sabados
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plod
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Posted Fri Feb 9, 2007, 4:32pm
Subject: Re: Is This the End of the Barista? by George Sabados
 

wogaut Said:

Baristi and coffee shop owners had it coming for years, by kicking coffee with their feet and serving crap to customers, educating them to be ok with it (afer all, coffee is an acquired taste). Reading George's articles, I could literally see $$$ in his eyes and brain cells, and that's wrong with the picture. I do not believe that super-autos will replace a well-trained passionate barista, just all the other 90% making anything from ok to undrinkable espresso. But I do think that espresso machines will get better, smarter, be more powerful tools in hands of skilled baristi. And yes, there will be better super-super autos for the underskilled ingorants calling themselves professionals.

Wolfgang

Posted December 31, 2006 link

I completely agree.   Unfortunately here (Australia), the % of crap baristi is greater than 90% so 'smart' super-autos would (regrettably) be better than most cafes.

It may even get to the stage where home users (who cannot afford 'smart' super autos) are the only ones practicing old style coffee making as we know it today.   And until a machine can make a better coffee than me, I will continue to drink coffee only at home.

Luca Said:

But is the kind of person who buys a regular superato really going to stay on top of it?

Cheers,

Luca

Posted January 25, 2007 link

I think most would be sold with maintenance agreements?   I certainly noticed one cafe which started using super-autos a few years ago (Blue Zone at Melb Uni) regularly had Vittoria techs in there a few days a week for the first month trying to tweak the machine.  Pity the coffee was awful no matter what they did. ;)

from article

It is my belief that what the bulk of consumers want out of a café is a consistently good cup of coffee with quick service and a degree of personality.

Super-autos have a personality?  ;)

Why even go to a cafe?  Just stand in front almighty coffee vending machine, insert money, select drink type, wait for drink to be spurted into paper cup.      Wait, you can already do this at most hospital waiting rooms, but that ain't coffee!
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alsterling
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Posted Fri Feb 9, 2007, 5:52pm
Subject: Re: Is This the End of the Barista? by George Sabados
 

plod Said:

regarding superautos at commercial locations..........I think most would be sold with maintenance agreements?   I certainly noticed one cafe which started using super-autos a few years ago (Blue Zone at Melb Uni) regularly had Vittoria techs in there a few days a week for the first month trying to tweak the machine.  Pity the coffee was awful no matter what they did. ;)..............Why even go to a cafe?  Just stand in front almighty coffee vending machine, insert money, select drink type, wait for drink to be spurted into paper cup. Wait, you can already do this at most hospital waiting rooms, but that ain't coffee!

Posted February 9, 2007 link

I purchased a superauto as my first home machine; the Gaggia Sychrony Compact. It was nearly as unpredictable in mechanical performance as the coffee was bad to low-mediocre. As I understand it, you don't just have "Tech level maintenance" every three days as was recommended by a dealer I spoke with, you need to break out the brew unit every so many extractions and rinse it clean. That's something you have to do as a machine operator. I heartily don't think these machines get that kind of attention, considering that even on semi auto machines I see caked up steam wands that only need a wipe off with a damp cloth and they don't get it.

Best, Al

 
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Squinnanian
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Posted Fri Mar 2, 2007, 4:08pm
Subject: Re: Is This the End of the Barista? by George Sabados
 

Realistic and interesting article.  I say realistic because your average cafe in Main St. USA does not have a skilled barista making espresso drinks.  I can't count how many crappy espressos I've had in Minneapolis and St. Paul through the years even at independent well known cafes.  Cafes are businesses owned by business owners who must make a profit (profit is not a "dirty word" in small business; it's elementally and fundamentally and utterly essential).  I was shocked to read in the article about the average profit in contemporary cafes being 4%?!  Most any CPA will tell you that a viable long term business must generate 10-20% net annual profit.  

I believe experienced Baristas are both artisans and skilled tradespeople.  They have every reason to be proud of what they do; however, IF the stark reality is that super-autos will meet or exceed most barista's skills in the future, in large part, Baristas will decrease dramatically in number and will then become a rarity.  The author was correct:  consumers drive and influence markets even if their choices are not "right".

Bottom line:  IF super-autos can meet and/or exceed the typical barista's skills consistenly, it will be a matter only of WHEN skilled barista's will be replaced.  Bad for baristas....good for prosumers who will then be able to buy used semi-auto commercial machines to install at home for a song!
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Posted Tue Mar 27, 2007, 4:37pm
Subject: Re: Is This the End of the Barista? by George Sabados
 

Some of us will always appreciate watching a skilled barista pull shots, steam milk and make espresso based drinks.  It's like the difference between and handmade piece of furniture or art compared to something mass produced.  

Part of the population will seek out the nostalgia of places that maintain or improve upon the current coffee shop culture.  Many people will want fast and cheap.

As the market for upscale coffee continues to grow in the US, you know the high-volume chains will "go auto" while some shops will maintain the tradition and experience.  I'm sure the prices will adjust accordingly too.

I was thinking about this how some traditions are hard to break regardless of costs and technology advances.  In the wine world, we have resisted replacing cork with superior substances for our upscale wines and many expensive bottles have been ruined.   I just don't think I could get excited about pulling a piece of rubberized plastic out of a bottle of Mouton and I'll always get a kick out of watching coffee drinks made by hand.
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eculp
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Posted Sun Apr 8, 2007, 5:47am
Subject: Re: Is This the End of the Barista? by George Sabados
 

lethalblonde, my only answer to your post is "AMEN".

I might consider changing my opinion when  a "super auto" can consistently extract a sweet, syrupy, chocolaty triple ristreto that lingers on the palate.

Please excuse me but I think it is time to have yet another chat with my not automatic, possibly obsolete, espresso machine.

ed
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alsterling
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Posted Sun Apr 8, 2007, 10:30am
Subject: Re: Is This the End of the Barista? by George Sabados
 

Since this post awhile back, I've rethought the issue. I don't see super-autos "taking over." What I see are franchises expanding their business. Obviously, it's not coffee, it's the experience. That's how they convert real estate into dollars.

Maybe there needs to be a restatement and clear seperation between the Starbucks experience and the more traditional specialty coffee retailers. If you put the franchiser out of mind, and look at the "Third Wave" as a totally different business model, then there's little with which to concern oneself. Franchises, at least in recent history, have employed coffee-technicians, not baristas. Whether they run an LM four group, or are converted to a La Cimbali super-auto.......they'll still have a job.

Al

 
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Posted Mon Apr 9, 2007, 12:21am
Subject: Re: Is This the End of the Barista? by George Sabados
 

alsterling Said:

Since this post awhile back, I've rethought the issue. I don't see super-autos "taking over." What I see are franchises expanding their business. Obviously, it's not coffee, it's the experience. That's how they convert real estate into dollars.

......

Posted April 8, 2007 link


Similar to *$s, some other cafes may also turn to super-auto machines, due to the luck of experienced and qualified baristas.

If the market cannot provide enough experienced and qualified baristas, they may have to change.

This is IMHO.

 
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Philosopher
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Posted Sun Jul 8, 2007, 9:08pm
Subject: Re: Is This the End of the Barista? by George Sabados
 

George makes an interesting point, if a machine can replace a person - with a higher throughput,  a better level of consistency and reliability, then where is the place of the true artisan.  

Perhaps the kudos should go to the  roaster.   After all espresso preparation is only to maximise the potential that has already been given to the bean.

Who would you rather have to provide expert advice on the service of coffee - the barista or the roaster?
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alsterling
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Posted Mon Jul 9, 2007, 8:55am
Subject: Re: Is This the End of the Barista? by George Sabados
 

Philosopher Said:

George makes an interesting point, if a machine can replace a person - with a higher throughput,  a better level of consistency and reliability, then where is the place of the true artisan.  Perhaps the kudos should go to the  roaster.   After all espresso preparation is only to maximise the potential that has already been given to the bean. Who would you rather have to provide expert advice on the service of coffee - the barista or the roaster?

Posted July 8, 2007 link

A roaster should, of course, know the optimal brewing parameters for getting whatever is wanted from his or her roast. In my short experience, I've found only a few "expert baristas" who were also "expert roasters." Each discipline appears to demand so much from one's waking hours that only the people I've met who literally grew up in the coffee business and have worked years at both ends have expert skills in both fields.

Personally, I see way too many variables in the brewing of the bean to believe that a machine could take over and do as well as an expert barista. My argument would be that if it were easily possible, then gourmet food preparation could also be done by a machine. Granted, there are incredible variations of food types and preparations when compared to just cranking out an espresso. However, I can't think of one super auto food preparation machine on the market that does as well as a human? How about the bread machines? They have only one function, were designed to sell to a "huge worldwide market".......yet with all that revenue, do you actually think they do as well as a skilled baker? I don't. Maybe the bread machine is a good example of why super auto espresso makers have a long, long way to go.................unless you're willing to settle for production level bread and robotic espresso the rest of your life?

Best, Al

 
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Philosopher
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Posted Mon Jul 9, 2007, 6:43pm
Subject: Re: Is This the End of the Barista? by George Sabados
 

alsterling Said:

A roaster should, of course, know the optimal brewing parameters for getting whatever is wanted from his or her roast.

Posted July 9, 2007 link

And therefore the better person to tweak the mythical super-automatic?

alsterling Said:

Each discipline appears to demand so much from one's waking hours

Posted July 9, 2007 link

Baristas will need to have a reasonable ability to assess their results but I would argue that the roaster needs to have a better developed palate since he constantly is working with a variety of beans, blends and of course - roast levels.  Furthermore, they have a more intricate knowledge of the bean such as would be possessed by a sommelier for wine.

I would expect that with a little practice that most individuals can learn to perfect the technical skills of preparing an espresso.  I see that the Baristas come to the fore because they can do it over and over again with exacting consistency in a high volume/intensity setting.

However, once you remove the technical aspects with a machine - all you need is a person to occasionally taste the espresso and verify the machine's settings are correct for the day.


alsterling Said:

Personally, I see way too many variables in the brewing of the bean to believe that a machine could take over and do as well as an expert barista. My argument would be that if it were easily possible, then gourmet food preparation could also be done by a machine.

Posted July 9, 2007 link

Are you sure the repertoire of skills possessed by a first class chef can be compared to a barista.


alsterling Said:

However, I can't think of one super auto food preparation machine on the market that does as well as a human?

Posted July 9, 2007 link

I think it comes down to an issue of cost and reliability.  There is already the hardware to perform all the functions of tamping, grinding and pouring etc.   You can always engineer a solution to integrate all functions without operator intervention.  To do this elegantly and cost-effectively is the challenge.  Additional 'housekeeping' functions and sensors also increases the propensity to failure.  


alsterling Said:

How about the bread machines? They have only one function, were designed to sell to a "huge worldwide market".......yet with all that revenue, do you actually think they do as well as a skilled baker?

Posted July 9, 2007 link

Even a baker does not knead his dough by hand! The limiting aspect of automated bread makers is that it won't allow too much variation of the settings but you still have a wide choice of ingredient.  For the average householder this still allows them to produce a tastier loaf than at the supermarket.  In the mass market, a well-designed super-automatic may be enough to address their coffee needs.
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