The Flow system is more than a tool. It’s an insurance policy café operators need to quantify and qualify their performance, and ensure they stay in business next week, and in the months and years to come.
According to Barista Technology Australia CEO Brett Bolwell, there are two types of coffee shops: one that is run by a business owner, and one that is run by a coffee lover. In today’s challenging market environment, Brett says the one who treats the café as a business will be here next year. The other, will not.
“Café owners are no different to restaurant, bar, or retail shop owners. They need to know if they’re being profitable, how they can cover expenses, reduce labour costs, and keep revenue coming in. These are all questions that need to be asked each day,” Brett says. “The bigger question, is how can we make sure you’re here next year? And the answer, comes in the form of technology.”
Flow telemetry software, distributed through Barista Technology Australia, attaches to a volumetric coffee machine and records each shot pulled on a shot clock. It captures and analyses data from the machine and gives the user visibility and immediate feedback on whether the recipe is being met or not, and thus the consistency and quality output within a single cup, or across a working day or week.
“Rather than saying knowledge is power, it’s actually insight that is most powerful,” says Brett. “Insight is useless on its own, but it’s what you do with it that matters. It’s actionable insight. You can use Flow to tell you so many things about your company, an individual café, or a barista. Roasters can use it to help scale-up their clients, and franchises can use it to scale-up their franchisees and maintain a level of consistency.”
Flow can be used to help troubleshoot an error remotely and diagnose an issue. Recently, Brett says a barista called their café owner to tell them no water was coming out from the coffee machine and they would need to close the shop for the day, losing a day’s worth of stock and income. When the technician arrived, they found that the barista had made the grind size so fine that they were instead “choking” the machine.
In this instance, Flow would have identified that the machine was not the problem, but human error was. Flow data would also be able to identify if and when a barista was outside of normal recipe parameters, resulting in “bad coffees”, and potentially lost customers.
“Customers generally give you a second chance, but will they give you a third chance? Probably not,” Brett says. “What is the value of that client coming in each day, spending $5 on a cup of coffee? Then calculate that value over the year, and whatever else they may buy when they’re in your shop. That’s what people don’t measure, and they absolutely should. Consider the lifetime value of just one lost customer as a result of one bad coffee. Then add up two lost customers. With that in mind, $60 spent on Flow each month is a complete bargain.”
The reason Flow is so powerful, Brett adds, is because baristas have had no real-time actional insight up until now. Prior to the advancement of technology, baristas would simply rely on their palate to make decisions about the coffee they served. In “the Dark Ages”, just 10 years ago, Brett says, they would use their eyesight to judge the volume of coffee in the portafilter basket. Then, baristas progressed to weighing shots and using flow metres, and doing quick TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) readings mid-shift. Even then, Brett says, the result would be subjective.
“You didn’t have a baseline that was based on data, you had a baseline that was based on subjective information. What Flow gives you, however, is an objective baseline that you did not have before,” he says.
“If a barista sees the numbers are outside of normal recipe parameters, it’s telling you there’s an issue that needs to be investigated. Once you know what it’s telling you, then you can act on the insight and take the next step.
“The question you need to be asking, is what the cost of not having Flow technology? And what are you doing without it?”
Less stats, more insights
While Flow does give users a lot of data, Brett says it is important to put guard rails up to ensure that baristas are not given a “data overload”, only paying attention to a few key numbers that can help them understand if and how often they hit the recipe, and the percentage achieved each day.
“We definitely want to empower whoever is behind that screen to know what the Flow is telling them. But as an operator behind that machine, or the owner of that system, you don’t need to know the fancy ins and outs of how it works. Instead, worry about what are the actionable insights that it gives you,” he says.
With the overwhelming industry challenge at present of finding, employing, and training good baristas, Flow also lowers the barrier to entry to the barista profession, meaning even a chef or wait staff can use the coffee machine when needed.
“With Flow, everybody can make amazing coffee because it gives them a level of competence and control. Giving someone a go who is a mid-level barista, and using Flow, can quickly turn them into a high-level barista,” Brett says.
“Technical knowledge is not really needed because it’s almost abstracted by just looking at the Flow screen and seeing the numbers highlighted ‘green’, meaning they’ve accurately hit the recipe, or ‘red’ to show they haven’t. Consider what value do you as a café owner put on your own time to train someone each day? If you value your time and you value your staff, keeping them and finding them in the first place, then Flow is for you.”
A tool for the trade
Flow was first introduced to market in February 2021 from its New Zealand creators. Since then, businesses such as Pablo & Rusty’s, Seven Miles, and The Coffee Club have embraced the device.
Brett says one unnamed business was only hitting 4 per cent of its target recipes. After it started using Flow, it hit 80 per cent of recipes and customers noticed. “One even commented how much they loved the new blend, only they hadn’t changed the blend, they just started hitting their recipe targets more consistently,” he says.
Ben Graham, Head of Seven Miles’ Coffee Science and Education Centre, says about 85 of its wholesale accounts use Flow, and agrees it’s become a vital tool in developing consistency of recipes in cafés.
“The technology provides comfort to the business owner, so that when things diverge from where they need to be, they can – and we – can see the data, analyse the data, and keep in contact to identify if there’s an issue regarding a barista’s performance or machine error,” he says.
Ben says Flow’s technology will particularly benefit multi-site venues, high-volume accounts and business owners who are not on-site 24/7.
“I can see the long-term potential for this technology to be super valuable and have seen positive results so far,” he says. “Just like any other tool, you need the barista to be skilled to understand and maximise Flow’s potential, but it’s definitely a good buffer for consistency and a point of different for our customers to have.”
He adds that one of the most surprising benefits of implementing Flow to Seven Miles customers, has been the level of competitiveness created between baristas.
“Flow has made brewing a bit of a game. At our own Seven Miles venue at Manly Vale, Sydney, the baristas try to one-up the other and ensure they’re hitting the highest percentage of recipe accuracy. This shows that baristas are wanting to do a good job and that they are committed to quality output,” Ben says.
Barista Technology Australia’s Brett has made the same observation, noting barista’s increased confidence levels because they have parameters to work towards, and a greater pride and ownership of their role.
“The ones that do hit their numbers and achieve the recipe will always aim for something higher, and then start measuring how consistently they hit the recipe day to day,” he says.
“As a result, what we’re going to see is a much higher quality of coffee across the industry. That’s the goal, right? For customers to have better quality coffee, but we want the barista to be able to take action and be responsible for what they do. Until now, they’ve never had anything to measure their job by.”
Happy baristas, happy life
Quite simply, Flow is a tool for baristas to improve their output, but ultimately, Brett says it’s there to make the barista’s job easier.
“Baristas on their own want the latest technology to produce the greatest extraction. But they don’t want to be doing much heavy thinking about what they need to do. They just want their life made easier to get to the end goal of serving delicious coffee,” he says.
“Working on bars is hard, and it’s only gotten harder in the past two years. If you can make the barista’s life easier, then you’ve got staff who are happy in their job and will stick around, and happy customers. And the best part is, you’re likely to still be in business not just next week, but next month and the next year, because you’re running a business with the data, and producing tasty coffee because of it.”
Brett says the Flow system has a strong roadmap ahead for access to even more “actionable insights”, but as it exists now, it’s invaluable technology that he hopes will one day become the standard for cafés.
“The value of Flow is significant,” he says. “It’s great technology now, and it’s only going to get better.”
For more information, visit baristatechnology.com.au
This article appears in the June 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.