The future is robotic
It's a no brainer.
In ten years we won't have baristas.
We'll just have machines that make amazing coffee, every time.
The future is already arriving, and it's taking hold very quickly. There are two key stages of making a great coffee: the shot and the milk. The key to being a great barista lies in the ability to replicate the process over and over, and get it perfect every time even when taking into effect changing conditions (such as air temperature or milk types). When you think about it, the future becomes very clear, and it doesn't have a place for your favourite barista!
The shot part has already been almost completely automated, thanks to huge advancements in grinder technology, as well as new devices that take all the guess work out of tamping.
Have you heard of the Puq Press? Check them out here. The Puq Press will tamp your coffee shot for you. Which means you no longer have to adjust your grind setting every time you swap with another barista. There's no "keep your elbow raised" or "tamp as hard as I'm pushing on your shoulder now" guess-work involved. Its a machine that just does it for you. You set it once and it tamps perfectly, every time, no matter who's making the coffee.
That still leaves the dosage and the grind setting up to the barista. But, that too is also now fully automated, thanks to grinders such as the Victoria Arduono Mythos 2, which you can read about here. One of the biggest challenges in setting the correct grind is due to the air temperature and density. On a cold morning you will need to set your grind much coarser than a hot afternoon. The Mythos 2 is one step ahead of the barista with its "Clima Pro" technology. It actually adjusts the grind setting based on the air temperature and density, so you will always pour the perfect shot. And as for the dosage, well it's possibly the most accurate doser on the planet, due to its "Gravimetric" technology. So you don't need to even dose your shot. The machine does it for you. The barista simply holds the group handle under the grinder and it doses your shot to perfection, every time. And, unsurprisingly, Puq Press have even teamed up with some of the big grinder manufacturers so you can actually get your Puq Press built into the grinder, saving you bench space. Genius.
The question therefore becomes what is the point of the barista? Well, it's definitely true that the barista's role is already in jeopardy. Cafe's that are using grinders like the Mythos 2 and the Puq Press are already finding that they can teach any cafe team member how to pour the shots. You can walk into any Soul Origin Cafe and see them using this technology, and find a 16 year old trainee pouring amazing shots that a 40 year old veteran barista would be proud of. It's all very straightforward with such handy machinery. The only real skill now lies in the milk, including the pour.
So far, I haven't seen any amazing pieces of equipment that will pour the perfect latte art like your barista can, but I've got no doubt it's just a matter of time away. There are machines in America that are already fully automating the entire process. Check out the Cafe X technology here. Mind you, that's America. No good coffee ever came out of that continent, except when Australian's went there to make it! But don't worry, the technology is coming and it will arrive in Australia within the next year or two.
The big question for me is how will an industry as snobbish as the coffee industry (I can say that, I'm a part of it!) deal with the reality that a machine might make a better espresso than a $200k-a-year-barista? Well, the baristas might struggle with that reality but the cafe owners won't! The wage-savings alone will help them get over it very quickly! How will the customers react? That will be the big issue. I imagine it will be a case of clever marketing work to ensure that there is always a role for the "barista", even if he or she isn't really doing all that much work. Otherwise cafes will really start to struggle, especially if these machines become readily available for everyday consumers. Think of the DJ that doesn't actually mix any music on stage, but still has a crowd of 10,000 adoring, paying fans. I think the coffee industry will look to replicate this type of arrangement!
Interestingly, on a recent trip to Melbourne (Australia's self-proclaimed coffee capital) I discovered that there weren't too many fancy grinders or Puq Presses in use, at least not in the trendy cafes I was visiting. They were still making coffee the old-school way. The proud baristas are still earning their keep down there. But in Sydney, you will find these things everywhere you look. And the results speak for themselves: great coffee, every time. Melbourne better be careful! Or maybe Melbourne doesn't want to be careful. I'm not too fussed who (or what!) makes my coffee. I just want it to be good. That argument is surely going to win out in the long run.
One thing that surprises me so much is how long it's taken to get this far with the new technology. After all, we've had automatic coffee machines in service stations and offices for decades. They are all hopeless, as you well know, but that is all about to change. Perhaps there has been some clever investment (or non-investment) by big coffee machine manufactures and coffee roasters to ensure that the public perception of automatic coffee is that it's no good!? Either way, the future is arriving now, and it's moving with such rapid pace that the barista doesn't have too many places left to hide.
Unfortunately, coffee van owners like myself don't yet have the ability to just implement all this new technology. The main issue being power. Our van's only have so much power available, and these new grinders and the Puq Press do draw significantly more power than the traditional grinders.
I guess Australia's best baristas therefore have two choices: move to Melbourne, or buy a coffee van!