Is technology advancement in the coffee industry always good? There are several camps that line up on different sides.
The latest coffee technology advances are immediately appealing to those that line up on the side of “any and all advances in coffee technology must be good“. If you can attach a computer to it, it’s gotta be great!
Then there are the more natural purists that are skeptical and tend to be opposed to coffee technology advancements. This camp’s mantra is “what’s wrong with the manual method, it’s worked great for … “. You can plug in for how long the old fashion method has been in practice.
Of course, more reasonably, there’s a middle ground, taking each situation on a case by case basis. In this more objective view of coffee technology advancements, clearly some are truly advancements, and others are much more novelty than utilitarian or beneficial.
Here are a few coffee technology criteria to consider:
- Does the technology produce better coffee?
- Does the technology create new efficiencies and save money?
- Does the technology solve a difficult problem with a better solution, or does it actually make matters more complicated?
- Does the technology replace a human, attempting to duplicate a process or technique that requires some art, nuance or subtle skill that only a human can accomplish?
Here are a few examples of new applications of technology to coffee. Some are intriguing, but are they truly useful? Others are simply amusing. Look, entertainment value counts for something, right?
Now, here’s a fellow, Oleksiy Pikalo, who has come up with a rather ingenious application of computerized coffee technology. Oleksiy has modified a computer controlled robotic plotter stylus to produce programmable patterns on the surface of a cup of latte. He substitutes an edible chocolate syrup for the plotter ink, so you can drink your latte design after you’re done admiring the art work.
See the following demonstration of his device, plotting the Starbucks logo pattern on the surface of a latte. OK, definitely an example of technical creativity, but probably not too practical, this one falls under the category of “entertainment”.
Computerized Latte Art – Starbucks logo on the surface of a latte.
OK, looking for your next do-it-yourself computer project? For the coffee geek at heart, this PC modification grinds the coffee, tamps, produces a shot of espresso, and ejects the coffee puck. Hmmm, isn’t this a homemade super automatic espresso machine. Probably don’t want to know the price. But clever, ingenious and cute. This one also falls under the category of “coffee technology entertainment”.
No ordinary PC modification.
Next, consider a new feat of coffee engineering, a “coffee tasting machine developed by scientists at the Nestle Research Center in Switzerland“. This machine may be quite impressive, but I remain skeptical of a device that can mechanically replace the sophisticated human skill of “coffee tasting”. Sensory pattern recognition is a complex human process, with the added level of “cognitive decisioning” by the human brain that is difficult to mimic with a computer. Computer scientists have been chasing the “artificial intelligence” holy grail for years. OK, maybe I’m just being stubborn when it comes to replacing people with computers.
And then there’s the Clover. We’ve been talking about the Clover brewing machine in a number of posts. See “Starbucks Acquires Clover Manufacturer, Should Have Seen It Coming” and “Starbucks Tests the Clover in Several Stores“. It’s an $11,000 automated brewing system designed to produce “custom single cup brews” that maximize the best extractions. The Clover has been a feature at a number of high-end specialty coffee houses for the last few years.
Now that Starbucks has acquired the company, the ability for specialty coffee houses to differentiate themselves has been diminished somewhat, at least in the eyes of some of the coffee house owners. In the end, it’s very possible that the old standby pour-over brew bar technology can do just as good a job in the hands of a skillful barista. At several hundred dollars for a quality brew bar, that’s easily a cost savings of $10,000. And the truth is, the Clover doesn’t eliminate the need for barista skill by any means.
Stay tuned, there’s always new coffee technology emerging. We look forward to bringing you more commentary and perspective on coffee technology.