The Espresso of the Future?

Coffee Robots Are Our Future

Composite image of businessman and robot shaking hands against red vignette

The Future IS Beyond That Line. No, That One. That One

The future is here! Does anyone hate that phrase? I only do when I really start to think about it too hard and recognize that it does not, and can never, make sense because the future is inextricably in the future, meaning that it never can be here.

That being said, the future is here in that our imaginings of the future for the past century or so have included an ever-evolving projection of a robot-heavy or robot-run world, with everything from robots in essential roles of servitude to robots taking over and destroying humanity as we know it.

This future news is more of the former rather than the latter. And it, of course, has to do with coffee.

Cafelat is a maker of all things needed to make espresso. They produce tools and accessories aimed at aiding espresso production, making it more creative or efficient or in any way better. Their designs are for the nerdiest of coffee nerds, to such a degree that I hardly understand them when they’re explained. Something about bottomless espresso and an automatic espresso tamper? I think.

Their latest design, however, takes automation to the next level; yep, you guessed it (and how could you not, with my opening?): robotics.

Coffee is fuel. Close up male hand is taking cup of delicious espresso from robot in office

ROBOTICS In Cofee & Espresso Drinks

It was just announced that by the end of 2017, they’ll have moved beyond their primary focus of coffee-making accessories to coffee making itself. “By the end of this year,” Daily Coffee News reports, “the company [is prepared] to introduce the Cafelat Robot.”

Their design is a manual espresso maker, though of course, that’s probably completely the wrong word to use considering there’s no human involved. It’s based on 1950s technology with a 1960s aesthetic. It has c-shaped handles and apparently, despite the “robot” in its name, doesn’t involve electronics at all.

Confused? So am I.

First of all, the design comes from the mind of their ingenious leader, Paul Pratt, who, among other things, has a specialty in refurbishing retro and antique machinery.

The FAEMA Baby

Decades ago, there was a machine called a Faema Baby which had a bottomless portafilter, turning the espresso focus from volume to temperature regarding perfecting flavor. (What would the Italians think?).

Apparently, there isn’t automation as the “arms” (which I believe is where the robot naming comes from) are pushed down simultaneously, widespread levers on either side, after the water is situated in the extra-deep portafilter/basket. It seems like it combines espresso with French press in having the water and coffee sit together for the brewing process. It is espresso technically because air pressure and pressure from the heat as well as the pressing motion of the portafilter contraption are what force the liquid coffee out of the holey bottom into the espresso glass. There’s a video online, but it shows an incomplete angle that left me mostly guessing that this is the process they’re using.

The “innovation” is in having the coffee and water in the basket at once, and instead of tamping the espresso grounds. This process of pressing them down into an even, packed pile in the portafilter allow and make sure the grounds are pressed after they’ve sat in the water, as occurs in a French press system.

Though it is still in the prototype phase, being perfected, and not yet marketable, it promises the consistency that can be missing from actually automated, steam-driven espresso machines. Because of the process of brewing based on water volume (a consistent amount each time, presumably, per the design) and temperature, there seems to be less room for error based on variation, temperature changes, et cetera.

The company is also promising a barista-friendly version that allows for adjustments based on observed need.

Nine to 10 Bars – The Espresso Standard

Reportedly the current prototypes boast the right amount of pressure for an espresso standard (9-10 bars).

One of the most interesting things I viewed was that the espresso pull still has the characteristic crema, generally produced because of the pressurized nature of espresso brewing. That means that the mechanical pressure being incorporated is such that, even though there isn’t steam involved, produces the microbubbles associated with steam machines. I shouldn’t be surprised because they are supposedly pulling at 9 bars of pressure; but, I have, like others presumably, associated that crema with the steam power.

One commenter on Instagram called the pull “syrupy” and too thick, and in fact, to my slightly out of an practiced but previously well-trained eye, it does seem to pull with a little less viscosity than regular espresso.

Two Legs Two Arms in AN Anthropomorphic Stance

That being said, the excitement is there among coffee nerds on the Internet. It is a standalone device, with two legs that allow it to tower over the espresso cup and the two arms which definitely give it a slightly anthropomorphic aesthetic; it does, in fact, look like it could march stiffly down the street with arms outstretched stiffly in front of it.

Embrace the Coffee of the Future

Its sleek design, boasting mostly steel and aluminum I believe, is plastic-free and would give coffee shops the ability to embrace the latest in coffee culture, which combines the preferences for transparency and a good pour-over. Customers could watch the espresso process in a way that your usual bulking espresso machine does not allow. Its minimalistic, mechanical aesthetic is also conducive to today’s most fashionable designs. If it works, therefore, it would definitely be welcome, and fitting, in many small, experimental, third-and-fourth-wave coffee houses, where brining science, innovation, modernity, and transparency to the coffee experience are the epitome of “goals.”


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