First Choice, the coffee and espresso machine supplier which works as a supplier and trainer to several of the leading high-street café chains, has moved to take a lead in the world of telemetry, as related to coffee machines.
Telemetry is a form of information technology which allows for data to be gathered remotely and fed back to a central management for analysis.
It has come to be used in many fields, from warfare to medicine, and a typical use is in Formula One racing, in which data on engine performance, fuel usage and tyre wear is constantly fed back to computers in the pits for team management to make decisions on strategy. In the catering sector, telemetry exists in vending machines, which can transmit precise details of their contents and thus avoid unnecessary journeys for re-stocking.
Several espresso-machine manufacturers have experimented with how telemetry can be used to tell a café-chain management about what is actually happening in every one of its machines, and First Choice believes that it now leads the field in the measurement of bean-to-cup espresso machines, which are used by many of its chain clients.
"There are several big issues in coffee," says Giles Dick-Read of Cafe Data Systems, who is working on the First Choice project.
"What has been needed is a system which could monitor such things across whole groups of sites. The analogy is Formula One racing, in which the men in the pits are constantly monitoring what's happening on each lap, so they can tweak what happens inside the car, and we have now created a system relevant to coffee - we have made a bolt-on system which will work on a lot of different kinds of coffee machines."
The system operates through one control unit per café, which takes information from a 'tag' on each coffee machine, and reports through radio-frequency identification, known as Active RFID. An active tag monitors items such as flow times (if an espresso runs outside the accepted parameters of about 18-25 seconds, there is something wrong), fluid volumes per espresso shot, numbers of shots drawn, and will also monitor the times a machine is cleaned.
Every shot drawn from every espresso machine in a café is measured, and an average flow time will be taken from the previous fifty shots. Typically, the client will be provided with graphics showing the performance of a machine, but if an aspect such as flow time departs from the accepted norms, an emergency text message or e-mail alert is sent to the client, because this is likely to have a severely detrimental taste on the beverages being served.
The system can also offer data on drink quality and usage patterns, to give management an idea of what beverages are selling best at which periods. Water-filter life and fridge temperatures can also be monitored.
The system is being supplied by First Choice for use with its Black and White bean-to-cup machines. Café Data Systems has also worked with Matthew Algie, the Glasgow coffee roaster, to develop a system for traditional espresso machines.
By Ian Boughton