Take a look at this photo. Don’t let the sign mislead you; it’s not a showroom for coffee machines. This is where coffee goes to die. It’s a funeral home and these are coffee caskets.
That statement may seem over the top, but these are what I call “dumb” coffee machines. They have archaic controls and were built with the amount of coffee produced per hour as their top selling point (a clear indicator of quantity over quality). If you’re currently using one of these machines to make coffee, you’ll want to use something else. The speed and volume of delivery is attractive for businesses. At best you’ll meet volume demands for a hot beverage that qualifies as coffee. Ultimately, you’ll end up limiting the success of your coffee business because your machine is built for quantity over quality.
There are times when these types of Bunn coffee makers do an OK job. If you clean the hell out of the urn, the machine, and the basket, as well as use the maximum amount of coffee the basket can hold (always a flirtation with disaster) and just the right kind of beans (usually dark roast, very bold coffee) only then does it produce decent coffee. Repeating that level of attention is not practical for every pot made. More often than not, the stars are not forced into alignment with a crowbar, sheer will, and altar sacrifices. The average business owner doesn’t have the time, the patience, or the knowledge of pagan ceremonies and proper rapport with the necessary deities. Ultimately, a hectic schedule and volume demand leads to a situation where the operator doesn’t have the time to maximize the limited potential of these machines. The result is disappointing coffee; the beans almost never reach their potential.
We’re in the midst of a coffee renaissance, or a resurgence of coffee culture, known as Third Wave). The accessibility of technology, information, and better coffee beans has increased dramatically in the US in the past ten or so years and there’s an incredible amount of detailed information, quality gear, and quality beans out there. If you don’t have time to make every batch or cup by hand (via Pour-Over, Chemex, AeroPress, French Press, Espresso, etc), you’ll need an automatic machine that can provide a similar level of care. If you’re a business owner, or even a private consumer with many cups to brew every day or week, don’t suffer with a dumb machine. Grab a smart machine, if you can.
For example, Fetco is an excellent company. Some of the top independent coffee shops in Philadelphia use these smart coffee machines: Fetco Coffee Makers
What you want in an automatic coffee machine is consistency with flexibility. You want to be able to hone in on the way you or your customers want the coffee to taste - and have the ability to repeat the feat. BUT, you also want to be able to adapt and respond to different beans or water as well as tastes. With the dumb coffee machines, there’s no flexibility: the coffee can be brewed one way and no other way - regardless of all other factors.
Contrast this with Pour-Over brewing. Making Pour-Over coffee offers a great deal of flexibility. You can easily adjust and control the water temperature, the type of water you use, the evenness of the brewing across all grounds, the strength of the brew - even with the same amount of water through a controlled pour - and more. There are many variables at play when using a the Pour-Over method.
A greater number of variables in a manual brewing method requires greater diligence on the part of the user to achieve consistency. However that flexibility allows the user to quickly adjust for taste. You can use the same technology to brew an espresso blend, a breakfast blend, or a single origin by adjusting the variables to get the most from those particular beans. Dumb machines can’t adapt to your beans. But, instead of making your coffee manually, you can achieve comparable results with a smart machine.
A parting thought: consistency is not the only goal. If your machine is rigidly consistent, stagnation sets in. Some machines promise the same result time after time. When they deliver on this promise, you’ll find yourself bored because you can’t ever change it. Consider the K-Cup machines. Have you ever tried to drink those day after day, week after week? Unless you’re constantly using different coffees from different brands, then you’re always getting the same experience. There is value in a certain degree of inconsistency. Inconsistency and quality are not mutually exclusive. Even when you do change K-cup selections constantly, you’ll begin to notice that they are each made with almost precise consistency.
Though this issue of consistency is beside the main point (flexible automatic brewing machines that can adapt) it should not be overlooked. How could a great cup of coffee made consistently great be bad? Consider this: perfect or near-perfect consistency no matter how good, after enough exposure, inevitably becomes boring. Using a coffee machine that adapts to different variables will allow you to focus on the quality end of the spectrum, which is lacking in the dumb machines. Those who drink the coffee you make will notice and value the difference.
James Falconi - 2.6.2014