Brewing with Artificial Intelligence: How Does Technology Breathe New Life into the Coffee Industry?

How Does Technology Breathe New Life into the Coffee Industry

Next time you have a perfect cup of coffee, you may be thanking AI.

When it comes to coffee, what pops up in your mind may be a coffee machine that crackles or a coffee cup with your name on it. Regardless, to many of us, artificial intelligence (AI) is not even remotely related to coffee. As irrelevant as they may seem to each other, AI has infiltrated the global coffee supply chain and impressed us with its coffee selection, roasting and pouring abilities. But what are some practical AI usages in the industry? Read on to find out.

Coffee bean assessment

In case you need a refresher, the coffee beans we usually come across can be classified into four varieties: Arabic, Robusta, Liberica and Excelsa. These varieties of coffee beans vary distinctly in aroma, flavor and price. Unless you’re a coffee enthusiast or a “Q Grader” (a professional specializing in coffee tasting and grading), it’s unlikely for you to distinguish between each type of coffee. However, with the help of AI, you can also examine coffee beans like a pro.

Demetria, an Israel-based AgriTech start-up, is launching a handheld device equipped with a near-infrared sensor that works with its AI platform “e-Palate” to determine coffee bean quality. To start with, users need to input quality parameters, such as fragrance, aftertaste, acidity and sweetness, into the device. Then, users can lay the device above the coffee beans, and the near-infrared sensor will analyze biochemical markers (a set of distinctive genetic traits that tell the crop properties) on the beans. The data obtained will then be sent to “e-Palate”, where AI matches the bean profiles with their unique flavors defined by the nonprofit, membership-based coffee trading organization Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) taster’s flavor wheel.

With Demetria’s AI-backed device, coffee assessment becomes more accessible to general coffee traders, roasters and farmers, empowering more business practitioners to examine and monitor coffee quality during trading.

Roasting coffee to perfection

Everyone can be a roaster as long as you have the right equipment with you. Meanwhile, roasting coffee well is way more demanding. Although roast profiles are personal (some may prefer a sourer or more acidic taste, while some prefer or more bitter flavor), coffee beans should neither be under-roasted (tastes grassy and sour) nor over-roasted (tastes burnt). Otherwise, they will both overpower the natural flavors of the beans.

So, how can we ensure coffee quality during roasting? The answer, again, is AI. Given that steam builds up in coffee beans during roasting, they will undergo two “cracks” (audible popping sounds) throughout the process, indicating the coffee roasting stage. For those who prefer light to medium roasts, they should stop roasting when the first crack is heard, whereas those who opt for a dark roast should wait until the second crack. As such, it’s crucial to control the roasting duration precisely to achieve our desired coffee flavors.

Norwegian sample coffee roaster manufacturer Roest teamed up with audio and machine learning (ML) firm Soundsensing to devise an AI-powered coffee roaster. Unlike other general coffee makers, Roest’s machine comes with an in-built microcontroller containing a microphone associated with a sound-sensing firmware (a software installed on a hardware) that monitors “cracks” during roasting. Once the microphone detects the first crack, the audio data will be processed by the pre-trained ML algorithm installed in the microcontroller that prompts the roaster to stop the roasting procedure, preventing the coffee beans from being over-roasted.

Although Roest’s machine may not be what dark roast fans need because it only looks for the first crack, it prevents us from drinking burnt coffee, at the very least.

Enjoy your exclusive coffee

The use of AI in the two settings mentioned above may have impressed you (hopefully). But, if you’re not a DIYer, and you’d rather remain an experienced coffee consumer, you may care more about how AI can optimize your purchasing experience. Learn more from the two case studies below!

Virtual barista

If you want to enjoy a cup of “personalized” coffee that matches your taste but don’t have much to spend on an AI coffee roaster like Roest’s, Javaya’s one-stop coffee online site may be what you need.

Javaya is a Chicago-based start-up that runs an AI-driven coffee bean marketplace. Inside the space, customers will meet a virtual AI barista asking them three questions surrounding their coffee preferences, including taste (bitterness, sweetness, sourness), body (also known as mouthfeel, a structural characteristic of coffee) and texture (grainy, creamy, smooth). Upon expressing the preferences, the AI algorithm will render instant coffee recommendations for customers and help locate the best batch of coffee beans for them.

To supply customers with coffee beans of premium quality, Javaya collaborates with only the top roasters in the U.S. who roast beans with exceptional skills. Javaya even promises that their coffee beans will be roasted, packed and shipped to customer’s doorsteps when they’re at “peak flavor”, ensuring that consumers can taste the best coffee at home.

A cup of “thoughtful” coffee

Can AI customize coffee based on more than inputted preferences? Yes, and this is what Preface Coffee has been doing. A coffee concept store established collaboratively by coding school Preface Coding and brand experience agency Secret Tour HK, Preface Coffee worked with a group of young programmers and devised a “coffee” big data AI system.

The system contains big data ranging from different times of day (sunrise, morning, afternoon, evening) and outdoor temperature to global news headlines (positive or negative news). These datasets will be analyzed by the AI system, which automatically adjusts the brewing process to create coffee that suits customers’ needs. Specifically, if customers come on a sunny day in summer (and no glaring global disaster has occurred), the AI system will increase the caffeine ratio—to energize consumers in the morning; lower the coffee temperature—or maybe add some ice to make the drink refreshing; and maintain moderate sweetness—without requiring extra sugar to boost positivity.

Since time, temperature and world news are constantly changing, the coffee recipe will also change accordingly. To help customers memorize the moment they enjoy the coffee, the store will print the coffee recipe on the coffee cup sleeve, which serves as an invaluable memento.

From what has been introduced above, AI has undoubtedly upgraded the coffee production game, taking roasting consistency in as well as the ability to customize and create optimal flavor to the next level. But will human baristas likely be put off work when more coffee shops deploy AI? Not really, because when everything surrounding us is ice-cold technology, we’d rather spend five minutes chatting sincerely with a barista while waiting for that cup of imperfect yet heartwarming coffee.

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Header image courtesy of Freepik

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