Those of us who have been involved in with specialty coffee for the last decade or so may have noticed a dramatic shift in the way we prepare our favourite beverage.
Everything nowadays seems to be weighed, measured and quantified. We use sophisticated refractometers and apps to log data, we weigh our coffee grounds to 1/10th of a gram and some cafes are even using machines to tamp for them! What does this mean for the future of the barista profession? Will we all be made redundant when the machines finally master latte art?
My prediction: definitely not.
One of the main things that first attracted me to specialty coffee was its perfect balance of being both artisanal and intellectual. There is a huge amount of science involved (if you’re into that sort of thing) but it is also an art form, not just in the form of latte art, but in the manipulation of flavour profiles. In the same way a chef is considered an artist for producing an amazing dish, a barista can be an artist for producing an amazing coffee.
Many seasoned baristas have told me that they feel uneasy about recent developments in the industry such as weighing coffee grounds because the ‘art’ is being taken out of the craft and replaced with sterile routines; some of these professionals flat-out refuse to change. I personally see this change in a different light. I see these revelations as an opportunity for a dynamic shift (a fourth wave if you will) in the role of the barista. By systematically introducing easy to follow, repeatable procedures, we are freeing up our minds to focus on more important aspects of the process. We will be able to turn our attention to sourcing new and exciting coffees, engaging with customers on a deeper level, tweaking our brew recipes to the nth degree and so much more.
I envision the future of the barista profession to be something akin to that of a sommelier: a customer focussed individual with an encyclopaedic knowledge of coffee and its associated intricacies. Yes, the coffee making process itself is becoming more automated, but if we have less to worry about when it comes to consistency then we can begin to improve our knowledge of coffee in general.