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The automation of espresso machines.

Espresso machines are becoming more and more automated enabling foodservice operators to become master baristas at the push of a button.

When one thinks of espresso machines, the picture that most often comes to mind is a sparkling brass apparatus resembling more a piece of Renaissance art than an actual functioning machine. Not all espresso machines are so ornately adorned though, and several espresso machine manufacturers have invented high-tech espresso machines with state-of-the-art technology to complement their contemporary appearance.

Sleek, modern, and oh so easy to operate, these machines can prepare various different beverages, including latte, cappuccino, and espresso, at the push of a button. The machines grind beans and steam milk according to each specific order, with the beverage delivered in less than 30 seconds.

According to Espresso Armando, a New Hampshire-based espresso machine manufacturer, all the glitz and glimmer of today's espresso machines divert attention from the real issue - the ability to brew truly superb espresso.

Espresso Armando, a wholly owned subsidiary of Basis Audio, Inc, a designer and manufacturer of high-end audio equipment, is a newcomer to the coffee industry.

"We needed an expanding industry," said Armando Conti, president of Armando Espresso, who described his company's entrance into the coffee world as a deliberate attempt to move into a growing industry.

Taking espresso beyond where its always been is an ongoing goal of Caffe Acorto, another espresso machine manufacturer based in Washington state. Their machine, the Acorto 990, can presently be found in ski areas, ferry boats, convenience stores, full-service and fast food restaurants, company cafeterias, theaters, hotels, and independent gas stations.

Consistency is a concept Caffe Acorto prides themselves on and the Acorto 990 is touted to deliver a consistent quality beverage without the need for a skilled operator.

"We are constantly improving current machinery through software refinements, along with working with vendors to improve quality," said Kyle Anderson, vice president, research & development, Caffe Acorto.

Each step of the beverage production is fully automated, push-button controlled, and designed for easy operation from a self-prompting menu-driven touch panel. The machine automatically grinds fresh beans, brews consistent single or double shots of espresso, steams and froths fresh milk which is drawn from a built-in refrigerated chamber, expels spent coffee grounds, and sterilizes and cleans itself before preparing the next beverage.

Caffe Acorto was founded in 1989 when Anderson and Duke Goss got together and decided that there had to be a better way to make espresso, incorporating both consistency and speed. The pair travelled to Italy in search of this machine, hoping to find a line of automatic espresso equipment for distribution in the U.S. They searched to no avail and some of Italy's largest espresso machine manufacturers told them that the machine they were looking for could not be done.

Well, it took Anderson and Goss only three months to develop the Acorto 990, and debut it in June of 1990. Since then, sales have sky-rocketed and the company is currently aiming for US$ 12-20 million in sales this year alone.

Caffe Acorto offers a four-day training school for their distributors, and every machine is tested for 24 hours before it is sold, producing about 100 drinks. There are over 190 messages in the machine, which are translated into various languages.

The U.S. market encompasses the majority of the company's sales, with more than 500 machines in operation throughout the country. Canada, South America, Japan, Korea, and Singapore comprise about 30% of sales, and the company is planning to go into China before the end of the year.

"There is a correlation between coffee consumption and affluence in a country," said Anderson. "As a country gets industrialized, coffee consumption grows."

The quality of coffee is important in Asia, stressed Anderson, a region which currently represents US$ 2 million in company sales. Consumers are accustomed to buying high quality beverages from automatic machines and this type of technology is highly valued, he said.

Concerning new innovations, Anderson revealed that there is a number of products in the "think tank stage," but would not disclose any specifics. He did though stress Caffe Acorto's preference to remain on the cutting edge of automation with no interest in conventional machines. "We are sticking to automation," said Anderson, and when asked about the future of Caffe Acorto, he expects "ongoing steady growth for years."

Enter Espresso Armando

Espresso Armando machines were introduced to the public in May, 1993 at the Specialty Coffee Association of America Show in Boston, and at the International Fancy Food Show in New York in June. According to the company, response to the new machines has been extremely favorable.

"We have been researching the espresso market for over five years," said Conti, a mechanical engineer whose enthusiasm for his machine radiated through his voice.

To guarantee consistent espresso every time, Conti explained that his company developed high-efficiency group heads, together with a unique system of internal manifolding between these group heads, as well as all flow control devices. These innovations result in temperature stability whether the espresso is the first cup or one of many.

"Like music, the quality of coffee is not a concept that can be measured, but is discernible," said Conti.

To achieve the dense, rich steamed milk used in the preparation of cappuccino and latte, the company produces a dry steam with the operation of its oversized steam boiler. Operator convenience and learning ease are enhanced by the positive, instant-on, instant-off electronic steam valves.

The machine was engineered for peak performance and reliability in constant-use situations, ensuring 100% dependability. This is reinforced with a toll-free technical support and service hot-line for advice on all aspects of the machine's operation and the brewing process.

When asked about expansion into international markets, Conti replied that it is up to supply and demand, adding; "We want to be known as the people who are solid." He then revealed that if sales continue to rise, eventually the company will expand internationally, first into Canada.

"To have success, there must be a marriage of the technical with the artistic," he said, and upon viewing these highly automated machines and their fame in the market, success is certainly a concept these companies have achieved.

So, the next time you walk into your favorite convenience store, don't be surprised to see one of these sleek, fully-automated machines on the counter. Don't be frightened. Just walk up, push a button, and seconds later stroll away beaming, adorned with your favorite beverage in hand.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Boxman, Alyson R.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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