Last year in Melbourne, a new café opened its doors. This is not at all unusual; a new café opens in Melbourne pretty much every day! What was unusual about this café was the fact that the barista was in fact a robot… Yep, an actual robot! This thing slung espressos for the coffee-loving folk of Collingwood every single day, hour after hour… and it didn’t even ask for a lunch break!

We live in an exciting time. We are innovating at a rate never seen before. New technology is constantly making its way off the production line and into our lives. The coffee industry is never far behind when it comes to innovation. It makes you wonder how coffee will change and evolve into the future. As a barista, it also makes me wonder; with the advancement of technology will I still have a job in the future? This article is going to look into the future coffee prospects. The weird, the exciting and the confronting.  

‘Once Alike’ are the creators behind the amazing coffee slinging robot concept. They opened a café of the same name in Collingwood in December 2017 where ‘Rocky’, as the robo-barista was called, was the sole staff member! Rocky was engineered to mimic the techniques of a real human barista. This was intended as a trial to see how the technology would fare in the real world. Customers had to be fairly patient; coffees would usually take anywhere from 2-6 minutes to make. This is because ‘Rocky’ was engineered to dump any coffees that didn’t fall within certain strict parameters. The goal was to get this time down to a much more normal (or human!) speed of 60-90 seconds.  

Rocky the Robo-Barista

Yeah ok, it’s a cool novelty, but can the bot actually make a decent cup of coffee? Well according to Google reviews (4.5 stars): yeah it can! The Melbourne trial has since ended and the engineers have gone back to the lab to give Rocky some refinements/ get the coffee grinds out of his robo-beard.

So should we expect to see robots/automated machinery completely replace the baristas at your local Adelaide coffee shop in the near future? As a barista, I like to think there’s more to my job than just making lattes. When you walk into a café, it should be an experience. There should be someone (with a brain and a conscience) to welcome you, ask you how you are, maybe engage in a bit of light-hearted banter if you’ve got the time! Human interaction is a psychological need that we all have. At First Things First Coffee customer service is the thing that motivates us, excites us and gets us out of bed at all hours! We bloody love that we can have a positive impact on people’s day with a brief conversation at the window. It would be a sad world where this isn’t part of the customer experience.

While we might not see robots taking jobs away from baristas at your local Adelaide café any time soon, there is no doubt that coffee making will become way more autonomous in the future.

LaMarzocco has recently launched some new technology imbedded into their machines which has baristas all over the world excited. They’ve just started releasing machines with a technology they call ‘Auto Brew Ratio’. Basically, under each group head is set of scales; incorporated into the drip tray. The scales feed back to the computer within the machine and will automatically turn off the flow of water through the group head once it reaches a set weight. This allows baristas to nail their desired shot volume every single time. This technology will apparently be far more accurate than relying on the machines ‘flow meter’ alone. Read about the auto-brew ration on the Strada here.

Ubermilk is another product in the market making coffee-making more autonomous. It’s essentially a commercial grade automatic milk steamer that produces well-textured milk, steamed to a desired temperature at the push of a button. This would work really well for super busy cafes that go through heaps of the same type of milk.

These are just a couple of examples of the rise of autonomy in coffee making. Both are designed to get coffees out quicker and more consistently. Both still require an actual human to operate them!

So far we’ve talked about some of the cool innovation we can expect to see in the coffee industry in the future. Imagine however, a future world without coffee! Unfortunately climate change is putting the production of the very thing we all love so much at great risk. Coffee requires very specific growing conditions. It’s highly susceptible to even slight changes in climate. Scientists say that 60% of coffee plants are now at risk of extinction due to climate change and deforestation. It is predicted that 50% of the land used to grow coffee will not be farmable by the year 2100. Aaron Davis, coffee researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says “Ultimately, we need to reverse deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.

As unthinkable as it sounds, a future without coffee is a reality that our world may soon face unless we drastically change the way we live.

Have you seen any cool futuristic innovation at your local Adelaide café? Have you got a cool idea that the coffee industry could implement? Comment below!

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