John: “My work has a cap machine. It will replace you all someday!!!”
Me: “It sux and you know it”
John: “Best machine I’ve seen. Hopper with whole beans and chilled milk.”
Me: “Mine are better and machines can’t charm you:). That’s half the appeal of a barista.”
My brother supports my craft, but he also has a knack for pointing out the obvious “reality.” As with countless other “craft” industries, automation is slowly encroaching on the human element of coffee production. A decade ago, an experienced barista could laugh at the idea of high quality coffee coming out of anything automated and operated by a non-professional.
Now, it would be hard to make the same case. Clovers, Swifts, Bona Vitas, and the Bunn Trifecta are a few examples of how even the most mundane, simplistic steps of baristaing are being submitted to the will of technology and machine, and doing a better job. Arguably, they are more accurate, precise, careful, and generally more cost effective. In fact, I know they will do a better job than most amateur baristas. While there may be a call for going “back to the basics” with the increasing commonality of siphon brewing, a resurgence of Chemex, and manual operated pressure-profiling features in new digital espresso machines, the signs are clear; coffee is moving towards increased automation and in many ways, it is for the better.
Machines still have a long ways to go before they can out-do a talented hand, but the future of coffee is off on the horizon.
So what is wrong with this? Nothing. We as baristas just have to evolve our minds towards new trends and never forget why we partake in the coffee tradition; it’s about the love and the products themselves. As engaged individuals (not just as baristas), we will always find ways to perfect the use of new machinery and ensure that a careful artisan is always operating the sensitive equipment and overseeing the delicate process.
We should also be the brains behind the designing, marketing, and implementation of new waves in coffee production. Stay on top, stay informed, remain active, avoid stagnation. That is a key to any industry and any craft. We can maintain tradition (though that is an endlessly arguable term), at least as servicewomen and men, because machines have no souls… yet. When that happens, I will say goodbye to all my jobs and become a monk.
On that final point, my last anecdote in the text is extremely true. The true appeal of baristaing, beyond the craft, it is about human interaction and the interpersonal processes. People come to our stores for the atmosphere, service, and a level of quality they cannot get at home. Automated espresso machine’s cannot charm, but they cannot be incredulous snobs either. It is our responsibility to be centers of knowledge, welcoming friends who want share their passions, cornerstones of constantly-improving schools of coffee thought, benchmarks of professionalism, and role models of customer satisfaction. Yes, that is your job.
This won’t come naturally to everyone, but it is part of being a barista. It pains me when baristas miss out on this enjoyable aspect. Be charming, sensitive, caring, informative, witty, and fun; you really do a number on people’s days if you are out to help others. And machines can’t do that.