Secrets of the superautomatics: Behind the curtain of coffee’s greatest invention
Hayley Osbourne explores the inner workings of superautomatic coffee machines and how innovative tech is transforming the world of coffee.
Since the introduction of the very first espresso machine well over a century ago, inventors and tinkerers have been striving to perfect and adapt it for a range of applications.
Today, coffee consumers have a lot in common with these early innovators. For instance, convenience is high on the list of customer expectations – the same expectations that drove inventors to speed up the coffee brewing process, ultimately resulting in the first espresso machines.
However, coffee machine technology has come a long way since then. In the modern world, many hospitality businesses turn to superautomatic coffee machines to satisfy consumer demand. But what are these complex yet convenient devices?
On a fundamental level, superautomatic coffee machines differ from their semi-automatic counterparts in that they can prepare a coffee-based drink in its entirety. Typically, this includes grinding, dosing, and milk frothing.
Superautomatic coffee machines have helped revolutionise the coffee industry by being safe, easy to use, and capable of more than simply brewing coffee. Among other things, this has enabled consumers to save both time and money, and it’s even empowered them to brew high quality espresso at home.
Furthermore, for those working in coffee shops or other hospitality environments, superautomatic coffee machines have made daily life much easier. Baristas can now brew multiple coffees at once with perfect consistency, enabling them to focus on other aspects of their workflow, such as customer engagement.
As a result, superautomatic coffee machines can be found in homes, hotels, coffee shops, bars, and restaurants, with different models suited to different needs.
How exactly do superautomatic coffee machines work?
Each espresso machine differs, and as such, the operator should always pay attention to the instructions given. Having said that, however, these machines are generally very easy to use.
On the simplest level, the user simply adds water to the machine’s reservoir, adds milk to its milk chamber, pours espresso beans into the grinder, and turns the machine on. All that’s left to do is press a button.
Modern superautomatic espresso machines like the Carimali SilverAce even boast intuitive touch-screen interfaces that allow the user to customise drinks at will. Among other things, such machines can adjust grind size, brew temperature, and even the ratio of coffee to milk.
On command, the machine grinds the beans and heats the water (and milk where required) to make the coffee.
The easiest way to understand the inner workings of these machines is to follow the flow of water. After the user has added water to the reservoir, it flows to the pump. There are two kinds of pump commonly used in superautomatic espresso machines: the vibratory pump and the rotary pump.
With the former, an electric current moves a piston, which subsequently forces water where it needs to go. In the case of a rotary pump, a motor spins a disc that generates pressure to achieve the same result.
Vibratory pumps are more common in home espresso machines, whereas rotary pumps are usually found in commercial machines.
Once the water is pressurised, it’s pumped to the boiler, where it’s heated to the required temperature. From here, the hot water heads to the grouphead, where it infuses with the tamped and ground coffee before pouring into the cup.
The entire process is governed by highly sensitive software that ensures the correct pressure, temperature, and brew time are used.
When it comes to steaming the milk, the machine either may use a single boiler with two thermostats, meaning the user has to wait for the espresso to be pulled before they can froth the milk.
Machines on the higher end of the market may contain dual boilers – one for espresso and one for milk – so the user can froth the milk while the espresso is being pulled, saving time.
The future of superautomatics
With coffee machine technology improving all the time, it makes sense that a lot of work is put into creating the best possible products. According to Antonello Ferrante, research and development director at Carimali, the company uses a high-level committee to decide how to improve its machine portfolio.
“We consider the orientation of the world market, new trends, and the habits and tastes of the new generation of people,” he explains. “The world of super-automatic coffee machines is always looking for new opportunities to attract customers. Carimali is moving in parallel directions.”
First, the company is focusing on connectivity and telemetry. Antonello explains that using the CARIcare system, Carimali customers have access to a kind of “hotline” that allows them to download product information and maintenance guidelines.
Furthermore, this software allows users to remotely program their machines, enabling them to change brewing parameters across multiple locations, which is especially useful for coffee shop chains.
Automatic adjustment of the recipe parameters to guarantee the quality of the beverages set at the installation. The new generation of coffee machines must adjust the quantity of ground coffee and its granulometry by sophisticated algorithms.
The second direction involves embracing sustainable culture and the explosion of the plant-based milk market.
“Fresh milk is an essential product that has to be dispensed with superautomatic coffee machines,” Antonello explains. “In the HoReCa market, machines with fresh milk are very appreciated.”
Carimali’s latest machines can prepare beverages based on both dairy and plant-based milk. This is essential, because the quality of frothing depends on the percentage of dairy or plant-based milk proteins.
Some of these machines also avoid cross-contamination by containing separate refrigerated milk chambers, each with their own pipes and circuits.
Antonello adds that the self-cleaning steam wand is another feature that will become more and more common with superautomatic coffee machines.
“Not only do they further reduce the risk of cross-contamination, but they also protect the distinct flavour of the milk,” he adds.
Ultimately, he feels that home users are set to benefit the most from superautomatic coffee machines.
“The superautomatic domestic machine has a lot of benefits,” he says. “There’s the medium cost of the equipment, variety of beans available, and the integrated grinder. The user can personalise his espresso by choosing the different grinding times, and an easy system to froth the milk is normally available.”