How superautomatic coffee machines redefined airport coffee
Bronwyn Linkhorn speaks to Hawaiian Paradise Coffee vice president, Marilyn Kiriakos, to find out how superautomatic coffee machines have elevated the airport coffee experience.
Airports are generally considered places of transit, neither here nor there when it comes to hospitality. Travellers simply move through airport terminals on their way to somewhere else, typically glued to their phones or computers as they squeeze in one last minute of work.
This transient lifestyle is often fuelled by fast food and coffee, both of which tend to dominate airport food courts, and frequently-flying coffee consumers may have noticed an improvement in airport coffee offerings in recent years.
Not too long ago, the most common airport coffee was batch brewed filter coffee, sometimes served without the option of milk or sugar. Today, there are more options than ever, and specialty coffee is more widely available at airports.
Marilyn Kiriakos, vice president of Hawaiian Paradise Coffee and Half Here Half There LLC, says she has experienced this shift first-hand.
“With the use of superautomatic coffee machines, airports have evolved from only offering drip coffee to now being able to offer specialised espresso beverages such as cappuccinos and lattes at the push of a button,” she explains.
She explains that after the pandemic, superautomatic coffee machines have helped solve the labour shortage in the hospitality industry, especially where businesses struggle to recruit experienced baristas.
Furthermore, she adds that these machines bring a level of consistency that makes them ideal for many hospitality businesses – like airport restaurants and lounges.
Because of the time constraints created by tight flight schedules and the sheer scale of footfall at airports, superautomatic coffee machines have proven to be a perfect fit.
What are the benefits of superautomatic coffee machines?
When it comes to modern coffee machines, there are different levels of automation depending on the requirements of the user. For instance, a coffee shop may buy a superautomatic espresso machine to reduce the burden on its baristas, while a hotel might buy one that can be fully operated by guests.
The main differences between superautomatic, semi-automatic, and automatic coffee machines are the level of automation, ease of use, and level of control.
For example, both semi-automatic and automatic machines require someone to manually grind and tamp the coffee. However, while the former will brew the resulting grind at the touch of a button, the latter still mandates the presence of a user to start and stop the brewing process.
Conversely, superautomatic coffee machines are able to perform almost all the steps involved in making a cup of coffee – from grinding to milk frothing – at the touch of a button.
“The pros are that they eliminate the need for skilled labour and provide more drink options,” Marilyn says. “They can also be used as self-serve options in the lounges for convenience.”
It’s no surprise, then, that superautomatic coffee machines have grown in popularity as they have evolved over time. With sales growing year on year, their popularity shows no signs of slowing down.
Recent innovations in superautomatic espresso machine technology have focused on energy saving measures, versatility, and compatibility with plant-based milks.
For example, the Carimali SilverAce is capable of brewing 200 cups of coffee a day. All the user needs to do is select their preferred drink on the touchscreen, and the machine does the rest.
The SilverAce can also brew powder-based beverages like hot chocolate or powdered tea, and owners that make use of the CARIcare telematics portal can wirelessly keep track of product levels and machine performance.
How have consumers responded?
Superautomatic coffee machines have some obvious advantages. However, while they are increasingly popular among young people who appreciate their convenience and consistent quality, Marilyn says they are taking more time to catch on among older generations.
“It seems as though older generations still prefer to see their espresso being made on a traditional espresso machine,” she explains.
“Younger consumers don’t seem to mind, as long as the beverages still produce the proper crema on the espresso and the product tastes good. The younger generations value convenience and ease of access.”
In fact, research shows that price, taste, and convenience are all factors that appeal to Gen Z coffee consumers.
In an airport, consumers’ main priorities for coffee are likely to include speed and convenience, but the same can’t be said for consumers in a coffee shop. Here, they may be drawn to the social setting or the extra quality they perceive to be afforded by a barista.
In other words, while superautomatic coffee machines may be perceived well in an airport setting, their popularity won’t necessarily translate into specialty coffee shops in the same way. Rather, they tend to suit environments that require high output and reliable consistency.
“The cost of superautomatic brewers is significantly higher than the traditional drip brewers,” Marilyn notes. “Therefore, parts and maintenance runs higher than traditional espresso machines. Most coffee cafés or lounges will need to provide two superautomatic machines to keep up with the volume.”
Some in the coffee industry remain concerned that superautomatic machines can’t adequately replicate the quality of coffee that a barista can. In some cases, consumer perception is that if the majority of work is automated rather than done by a human, the output is going to be less refined.
In reality, this is a misconception. Superautomatic coffee machines are being continuously improved, closing the gap between mechanical precision and human skill.
As such, a combination of automation and a human touch is considered the way forward, ensuring that baristas continue to hone their skills, while providing the most convenience and consistency for consumers, whether they’re enjoying their coffee in airports or elsewhere.