Super Automatic Espresso Machines – where do they fit?
Where do they fit?
Everyone knows that to make a good coffee you need fresh beans and pure water. In the same fashion that a great watercolour doesn’t paint itself, making a great coffee beverage takes a mixture of experience, science, and art. In the past you also needed a professional “barista” who had weeks of training and hours of practice in the art of creating quality beverages. Even then, the quality of drink varies from barista to barista and from day to day. Today, there are other options.
After selecting properly roasted beans the coffee artist must decide by trial and error the exact grind of the bean, the exact quantity of ground coffee to use, the perfect pressure and, the perfect brewing or extraction time. In the case of milk-based beverages, like lattes, the milk must be steamed to exact temperatures and consistencies for the various types of milk-based espresso beverages.
It is a tall order to learn coffee artistry, and just like a novice watercolour artist; there are few “first time” masterpieces. Even after the trade is learned, both the watercolour master and the coffee artist have occasional bad days that impact the quality of their artistry.
Enter the Super-Automatic commercial espresso machine! Over the years, we’ve been told that “automation does not produce quality products” and “we really need to focus on producing handmade goods”. However in everything from electronics to automobiles and from food packaging to carpet weaving, automation has improved the quality of the product, has improved functionality and consistency, and has resulted in reduced costs.
Operating Efficiency and Guest Satisfaction
So what about Caterers and Hotelkeepers, should they consider using a one-step super automatic machine? The answer is YES! We believe that it is not just what goes on outside the machine, but it is also what goes on inside the machine that creates a substantial difference in your operating efficiencies, as well as increases overall satisfaction for your guests.
Let’s first examine what happens on the outside. We have chosen, in our business, to feature the Concordia brand of machines manufactured by Concordia Coffee Systems – the originator of the super automatic process that combines making of espresso and preparing the milk in one step, at the touch of a button. All of Concordia’s products use fresh beans and haverefrigerators to keep fresh milk, fresh. In addition, every machine comes standard with a water filtration system to ensure the water is as pure as possible.
Concordia’s entire line of machines is particularly suited to self-service locations and to situations where high turnover in staff exists. Everything needed to make a world-class espresso based beverage is in the machine. The touchpad that controls the machine is simple to use with clearly marked instructions and several models feature beverage photos to assist the user in selecting the type of beverage they prefer.
When the machines are used in “back of house“ operations all employees can quickly make every type of coffee drink, at the touch of a button, with no special training required. The result is that your customers receive their coffees more quickly and drink quality is consistent from beverage to beverage. Servers who are working their first day on the job become “instant baristas“ they just place a cup on the tray of the machine and press a button – the Concordia machine does the rest. Servers can also add an extra touch to their service by providing steamed milk with hot cereals or with coffee – again, at the touch of a button. Special barista training is eliminated and the machine never phones in sick or shows up late for work.
When super automatic machines are used in the “front of the house“, even more self-serve options are available. If you serve a breakfast buffet your customers can choose and make their own beverages, at the touch of a button. No employee involvement is required. Caterers and Hotelkeepers now have the ability tosell buns and pastries, along with coffee drinks. The customer would come to your counter to order a coffee and pastry. Your server hands a cup to the customer and the customer selects and prepares their choice of beverage, while the server prepares the pastry. The automated machine helps reduce queuing, which is particularly important in small spaces. The process also reduces the need for a second employee to make beverages, on a standard espresso machine, while the other employee serves pastries and takes money.
Concordia has now gone one step further in full self-service by introducing their new “Self-Serve Espresso Bar.“ More than 70% of all espresso beverages sold in US cafés are flavoured. The trend toward flavours continues to grow all around the world. To meet this evolving consumer preference, Concordia released its second-generation espresso bar product. The new unit comes with the first ever fully integrated flavour infusion system. Fresh water, fresh beans, and fresh milk are used to create beverages and flavoured sauces and syrups are automatically steamed into the beverage at the touch of a button, thus providing a genuine café experience without a barista. A full vending system is also included which accepts debit/credit cards, bills and coins. The freestanding Self-Serve Espresso Bar is approximately 2.5 meters high and 2 meters wide and can be made available 24 hours a day without having an attendant present. It fits perfectly into hotel lobbies, convention centers, and other locations where there is a demand for world-class espresso throughout all hours of the day.
What Happens Inside The Machine?
We talked earlier about the three keys to making outstanding coffee beverages,
1. Grinding, quality and quantity 2. Perfect pressure and extraction timing, and 3. Proper milk steaming and preparation for all types of espresso based beverages. Let us examine how the super automatic espresso machine addresses these three key areas.
In most coffee shops the grinding process is done using a tabletop grinder. Each barista determines the “appropriate“ grind and powder quantity through a trial and error process. Continued changes to the grinder settings and use of inexpensive grinders may mean that there is no standard beverage profile/recipe and the return customer experiences varying beverage quality.
Commercial grade super automatic machines have eliminated these issues. The better machines use more expensive top of the line grinders with oversized motors that prevent the grinder blades from “slowing down“ in the grinding process. These grinders are generally made of cast aluminum and have carbon steel blades. Since they are bolted to the frame of the machine, there is little chance for vibration or grinder movement that would impact the quality of the grind. The grinders are fully adjustable, and because of their overall quality and robustness they can be adjusted to accommodate finer changes in grinding. Once the beverage profile is set, the grinder maintains these settings. When you shop for an automatic machine make sure you buy one with a “substantial” grinder. Spending a little more up-front to get a machine with a great grinder will save time and trouble in the long run.
The second key to making outstanding coffee beverages is perfect pressure and extraction time. In super automatic machines coffee extraction is done in the “brew group”. Brew groups have a brewing chamber where the grinders deposit the ground beans. The beans are then automatically tamped and water is infused into the beans. Once the tamped coffee is infused with water the brew group presses or extracts the espresso from the beans and puts the espresso into the customers’ cup. The brew group then disposes of the used coffee or “puck“. The brew group pressure, timing, water quantity etc. are fully adjustable so that espresso can be made to a standard taste profile. Once set, the brew group maintains this profile providing consistency of beverage. The Concordia machines actually monitor activity in the brew group and will “self-adjust“ if a previous beverage does not meet the specified profile. Again, commercial grade machines use very substantial brew groups with metal construction and the best machines have oversized steam tanks or separate tanks for the brew group. In commercial applications, it is wise to avoid brew groups constructed of plastic or other materials, and machines with very small steam tanks.
Besides adjustability and the preciseness of grind and brewing, the biggest advantage that a super automatic machine provides is the ability to combine the milk preparation and espresso extraction in one step, at the touch of a button. The best machines have an integrated milk cooler that is a part of the basic machine. The operator puts milk in the cooler and the machine maintains freshness by managing milk temperature. That’s the last time the operator touches the milk. When the operator presses the button to make a latte or cappuccino, the super automatic machine immediately grinds fresh beans, places the ground coffee into the brew group, and begins the brewing process. At the same time, the machine draws milk from the cooler and “superheats“ the milk to a preset temperature based on the type of beverage chosen. Commercial grade machines also froth milk to the proper consistency for various types of beverages. The heated milk is immediately dispensed into the customers’ cup, and the coffee is added without having to move the cup. That’s what makes self-serve possible. The best machines have a separate steam tank for steaming the milk. Again, you should avoid machines with smaller tanks. Instead of integrating the milk cooler in the machine, some automatic machines offer “add-on“ or sidecar milk coolers. Many of these add-on configurations require the user to remove the milk overnight to avoid freezing, and require disassembly of parts or milk tubes which increases the cleaning time. Milk can be left overnight in machines with integrated milk coolers and temperature control systems.