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When Innovation isn't Innovative

Every morning when I visit my local café, I expect to receive the same thing I did yesterday... clean, strong espresso, served in a small ceramic cup, with a glass of water.


Like many professions, consistency is key.


On the surface, making coffee appears as a rather simple manual task... however, over the last 10-15 years you may have observed a trend within cafés for more digital and automated tools - wholly automated grinders, digital scales, electric tampers, thermometers and increasingly digitised espresso machines.


Personally, having spent some time on ‘the tools’ it gave me pause to wonder why?


Espresso is a relatively simple task, though it requires experience, craft and dedication in order to become proficient and deliver a consistent, quality result.


I think a relevant question to ask when being sold any #innovation is... do we really need the fancy tools and do they actually improve the process or result?



The basics making espresso can be taught in five minutes:

  1. Grind coffee beans.

  2. Dose the grind into the portafilter (basket).

  3. Tamp the grind.

  4. Insert basket into the group head (espresso machine).

  5. Extract/pour the espresso.

  6. If the coffee requires milk, you would be steaming this at the same time.

  7. Add milk to coffee as required.

  8. Plate and serve.


Making one coffee is easy. Juggling multiple orders with different milks, delivering them hot/cold, consistently, cleanly, in-house or take-away, is where skill and expertise is required.


For a Barista, the advent of automatic tools is merely the substitution of a manual process for an automated process.


While appearing to remove certain tasks from a Barista, they do not replace the need for a Barista, nor does it produce a more efficient result and (in my opinion) reduces the quality of the product.



The want to improve something that doesn’t need to be fixed,

is often a case of applying the magnifying glass over the process,

rather than the result.



So whose innovation was this and how has it become so popular?


To answer this we need to dive into the granular math of making espresso...


 


The average espresso portafilter (basket) ranges in size between 12g to 16g; the basket size will depend on the type of coffee you use and the flavour profile you wish to create.


A 1kg bag of coffee, at 12g doses, will make approximately 80 coffees; the higher the dose, the more grind you use, the fewer the number of coffees produced per bag.


Let’s suppose our local café goes through 5kg per day:


5kgs per day x 7 = 35kgs per week


35kgs x 4 = 140kgs per month


Our local café buys their coffee from a roaster/supplier who generally offers equipment to facilitate their product, thus creating a one-stop-shop for café owners.


Let’s say a supplier sells our café 35kgs of coffee per week, at standard 12 month contract = 35kgs x 52 weeks.


If our local cafe was brewing espresso at 12g per dose: 



1kg @ 12g = 80 coffees


5kg p/d @ 80 coffees = 400 coffees p/day


35kgs p/week @ 400 coffees p/day = 11, 200 coffees p/month


If we increase the math by only 2g dose:


1kg @ 14g = 70 coffees


5kg p/d @ 70 coffees = 350 coffees p/day


35kgs p/week @ 350 coffees p/day = 9,800 coffees p/month


An increase of 2g per dose results in 1, 400 less coffees per month.

Our café would need to order twenty extra kilos per month to satisfy demand.


If the average wholesale cost of coffee beans was: 1kg bag = $40


Our local cafés account previously valued at: 140kg p/month x $40 = $5,600 p/month


At 14g per dose, is now worth: 160kg p/month x $40 = $6,400 p/month



Over 12 months, the account is worth an additional: $9,600 p/a


Even though more coffee is being consumed, our café is not selling more coffee or increasing their profits; they’re spending $9.6k p.a more to satisfy equivalent demand.


Roasters learned that your average café will shop around based on ‘price per kilo’, so they adopted the classic ice-cream sales tactic… ‘keep the price the same, reduce the size’.


For our local café, it's an extra $10k p.a investment for limited return.