Concluding our series exploring the future of automatic coffee technology, we unpack the modern day role of the barista and ask, could automated machines completely replace the barista? Catch up on parts one
What is the modern day role of the barista in coffee shops?
When it comes to the highest echelons of coffee quality, Lem Butler, Co-founder, Black & White Coffee Roasters, is sceptical that machines could ever replace human baristas. “I don’t think there ever would be a time where a machine would match a highly skilled barista. A machine can’t know if the coffee is an anaerobic natural process coffee from Colombia, or if it’s 20 days off roast.”
But aside from the capabilities of an elite group of coffee professionals, Butler highlights the importance of baristas as important links between customers and the coffee supply chain.
“The real role of the barista is forging human connection,” says Butler. “The barista is the last
person in the coffee value chain that connects the consumer to the person who produced the coffee. It’s one of the saddest elements too, because farmers and baristas are the two lowest paid groups in the coffee value chain. Once people start to realise the importance of the barista who is connecting the consumer to this entire chain, we’ll start to see the value of the barista rise.”
“Super-automatic machines are not intended to negate human creativity and ability"
– Enrico Bracesco, Chief Commercial Officer, Gruppo Cimbali
Enrico Bracesco, Chief Commercial Officer, Gruppo Cimbali, is also doubtful that automated machines will entirely replace the barista.
“Super-automatic machines are not intended to negate human creativity and ability. Rather, they provide the option of automation without compromising the end product.”
Even Rozum’ Café’s Chief Commercial Officer, Eugene Kovalenko, foresees a future where human baristas will remain in-demand, albeit in more specialised contexts. “There will always be the demand for exclusive products and places with some history behind them. While the dynamic for automation keeps evolving, demand for baristas that can provide clients with more than simply coffee will remain,” he says.
It is clear there will always be demand for high-quality barista-made beverages in coffee shops.
“The real role of the barista is forging human connection”
– Lem Butler, Co-founder, Black & White Coffee Roasters
Automation may relieve the necessity for human interaction across many hospitality formats, but it seems likely the barista role will evolve to become far more specialised, revolving around customer service, beverage customisation and education.
In the post-pandemic world, where socially distanced, hygienic, and minimised interaction have become the norm for hospitality businesses, automated coffee solutions could also provide a valuable additional sales channels.
While automated coffee cannot and should not replace the hand-made beverage experience, it can present a tantalising opportunity for hospitality businesses to scale their brands in hard-to-staff environments where speed and convenience are paramount – without sacrificing quality. While human connection will always be intrinsic to the coffee shop experience, automated technology will likely prove instrumental in democratising quality coffee for the global masses.
This article was first published in Issue 7 of 5THWAVE magazine.
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