The barista and the
I must admit, I was a little apprehensive when I was first approached to road test an automatic coffee machine. It seemed to me not appropriate for a barista champion to be testing a machine designed specifically for users with minimal coffee making skills. The item in questions was the evolution plus AutoSteam pro (ASp), Franke Coffee Systems’ (franke cS) latest automatic coffee machine option to hit the market. I’m usually pretty open and excited about new technology, so my negative attitude caught me off guard and got me thinking: what was it about automatic coffee machines that made me so apprehensive?
The reason I believe, was fear and I don’t think I’m the only barista to shun away from automatic machines.
But where does this fear of automatic espresso machines come from?
For me, I believe it probably comes from the negative experiences I’ve had with some automatic coffee machines in the past. Having had more than one bad coffee from very average automatic espresso machines, then naturally it’s harder for me to believe these machines can produce something decent.
But I think there is an even deeper fear: that automatic espresso machines are trying to take the place of a traditional espresso machines, grinders and eventually baristas.
Confronting my fears, I found my way to Coffee Works Express to review the Franke cS Evolution Plus ASp. The first thing I did was ask David Downing, Oceania Sales Manager for Franke cS, about the position of these coffee machines on the market.
His response helped put me immediately at ease as it addressed those attitudes I think many baristas have when it comes to automatic machines. He said that he believed there is a place in the market for these machines, but that he does not want these machines to take the place of baristas in espresso bars and cafés – and he knows that in Australia they never will. But, he believes the quality of coffee this machine can produce is far better than the average quality you would get from someone with minimal coffee skills using a traditional machine.
Anyone who’s had a bad coffee from unskilled staff at a hotel, food chain, club, and so on, would know this all too well.
You get average coffee from an untrained barista trying to operate a traditional machine. And the management of these establishments cannot afford to constantly train them because of the high staff turnover or geographic location of at these establishments.
So this brings us to the purpose of our road test. Does the Franke Evolution Plus ASp make a better cup of coffee than those with minimal coffee skills on a traditional machine?
Talking to Peter Viler, Franke cS Oceania Technical Manager, I learn that there’s a lot more to an automatic coffee machine than pushing a button. You can program it to do a cornucopia of things. The machine has the ability to handle up to 64 different settings, including making hot chocolate, adding syrups, and heating milk to different temperatures and different amounts of froth.
But, as a barista, all I am really interested in is: can it make a good espresso? To achieve this there are a lot of variables you can program on the evolution plus. Shot length, dose, grind, brew temperature, pre-infusion volume, pre-infusion time, and so on. We set about playing around with these parameters to see how they would effect cup quality.
We made our first espresso with the following settings: a 50-millilitre shot with a 10 millilitres pre-infusion, setting the boiler at 92 degrees and using a 12 gram dose. We then made a second espresso using the same settings, except we shortened the shot volume to 30 millilitres. For our third coffee we increased the tamp time from half a second to 1 second. We then increased the dose from 12 grams to 14 grams and then to 16 grams. As we played around and worked through the variables, the shots got consistently shorter, tighter and richer in colour, to the point where the extractions started looking really good.
The end result was a 30-millilitre espresso using 16 grams of coffee that poured in approximately 25 seconds and tasted good. We then textured and heated milk using the automatic steaming arm. To be perfectly honest, putting all my preconceptions about automatic coffee machines aside, the flat white and latte were really very nice.
For me to come around on automatic coffee machines has been a huge personal step, and I think many others would have a similar experience. I think what made another big difference was using quality coffee. Chances are, if others have had similar negative experiences with automatic coffee machines in the past, it’s likely because the coffee used in those machines was dark roasted, and probably of poor quality using too much low-grade robusta or arabica in the blend. The machine was possibly dirty, the dose set wrong and the shot length too long. If any barista failed to set correct parametres on a traditional machine the coffee would be just as horrible.
After this test, my opinion is that a Franke Evolution Plus ASp can produce a cup of coffee that is definitely better than what you get from an unskilled person on a traditional machine. Using light roasted, good quality, specialty coffee with the right parametres, this machine produces a cup of coffee that is 100 per cent better than anything I have ever tasted from an automatic espresso machine before. I think we achieved this result by putting in decent coffee and playing around with the settings to achieve the result we wanted.
Am I saying that you will get a nice cup of coffee from any automatic espresso machine? Definitely not. Just the same as with traditional espresso machines, it is up to the operator to buy decent coffee , ensure the settings are right, and that it is a quality automatic machine. I believe many operators setting up automatic machines buy cheap coffee and set the machines to dose as little coffee as possible and run as much water through it as possible to minimise their costs. And as a result, most of the coffee we try from automatic machines is terrible. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And today David Downing from Franke and the team at CWE proved that to me.
As for machines ever taking the place of baristas, the reality is that this will never be the case because the craftsmanship, personal touch and passion of a great barista is essential to our industry and thankfully always will be. At the same time, there are many occasions where a traditional machine has been installed in chains, hotels and the like where an automatic machine could have been the better option.
Written by Scottie Callaghan