Throughout my career in the coffee industry so far, there has always been a major goal/motivation to be consistent. This has been the case no matter whether we're talking about the beginning where one of the consistency measures was 'three pulls of the grinder dosing lever', to present day where we're trying to maintain extraction ratios of grams in and out. Completely different levels of quality in the cup, but both championing a level of consistency as key.
A lot can be said about consistency, and it is certainly a key motivator for the general coffee drinker. People regularly build up a symbiotic relationship with their regular cafe, based on an agreement that they know the cafe and the cafe knows what they want, and can consistently deliver their coffee the way they like it. Chain coffee is successful because it works on the principle that you know the brand and you know what you're going to get.
It's even more interesting to think about how big a part consistency plays in people's coffee drinking habits. If I think about one of the biggest Coffee Companies off the top of my head - Starbucks - consistency is a big part of their business model. When I think of Starbucks, I think of your coffee order being a part of your identity, tailor-made to your requirements with more prefixes and suffixes than antidisestablishmentarianism. You can order your coffee, and systems are in place to hopefully make that coffee the same every time, just the way you like it.
image via moedaniels.wordpress.com
The Specialty Coffee industry then has a tricky job because first of all they have to change people's mindset - educating customers to understand and believe that they shouldn't want a cup which is the same every time. By that I mean that the coffee should be made to a high standard with a high level of consistency, but the flavour in the cup will change based on the coffee which is currently on offer. This can be a hard sell, which is why a lot of cafes still promote a 'house blend' by one name or another, with a consistent cup profile even if the blend components have to change due to seasonality. In this case, the cafe is promoting consistency, but at a higher standard of quality.
Of course, in an effort to provide unique flavour consistently, lots of processes are employed. From farmers, to roasters, to baristas, each step in the chain has a number of methods aimed at providing a quality cup profile time and time again. In the years I've worked in coffee, consistency has always been a key, but the accuracy of this consistency has improved dramatically. For example as a barista, we have gone from three clicks of the grinder to weighing each dose to the nearest 0.1grams, from a preference for volumetric extractions to weighing extraction yield, and with this extraction we have started to measure TDS in an effort to objectively evaluate the quality of the extraction, rather than relying on our subjective opinion.
All of the above obviously slow down service, so current advances in coffee technology are aiming to improve on these consistencies in a way which is also seamlessly integrated in to the running of a busy cafe. It will be interesting to see if we ever reach a technology level where a fully automated machine will be able to deliver specialty coffee based on a bunch of brew parameters that a barista has punched in. To me, this is probably a closer future than we'd all think. I personally would be excited to see how the role of the barista changes as technology advances - at the moment a lot of a barista's job is fighting against the equipment they're using to provide the best cup of coffee they can.
Instead of this, imagine a world where you can spend more of your time talking about the coffee itself, and promoting the wonderfully inconsistent world that is Specialty Coffee.
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