This April, coffee professionals traveled to Portland, Oregon, for the 2023 Specialty Coffee Expo, one of the industry’s largest trade shows hosted by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). Attendees were treated to various coffee-focused activities, including a massive show floor with 500+ exhibitors, workshops, lectures, coffee cuppings, and the United States Coffee Championships.
An array of green coffee importers, equipment manufacturers, software companies, roasters, and more set up shop on the show floor. Among the rows upon rows of vendors, several new gadgets piqued our interest.
The Superautomatic Machine Ascends
2023 was the year of the superautomatic espresso machine—nearly every manufacturer had a superautomatic machine on display. A quick walk along the show floor led us to the Nuova Simonelli Prontobar Touch, the La Cimbali S20, the Egro Touch Coffee, and Eversys’ full lineup of superautos, to name a few. It’s no surprise: automated machines are better than ever and are growing in popularity within the specialty coffee industry. Automated machines allow specialty coffee to enter new markets like drive-thrus, hotels, and offices.
The thought of superautomatic might conjure up images of robot baristas—and indeed, we did get to meet Tom, a robot barista made by Wingman Cobot. But we also got to see machines like the Nuova Simonelli Prontobar Touch, a superautomatic machine that allows baristas to customize up to 20 individual beverage parameters, including tamp pressure, grind size, brew time, and temperature. The machine is designed to be compact and easy, including the Prontobar’s easy cream wand, which automatically dispenses steam milk into a pitcher.
TONE Touch 04
TONE, a Swiss-based equipment manufacturer, unveiled its latest brewing innovation on the expo floor. In 2021, the company won a Best New Product award for the TONE Touch 03, a boilerless brewer that uses a proprietary heating element to bring water up to brewing temperature. Basically, it eliminates the need for a big ol’ boiler to keep water hot all day in anticipation of brewing and conserving energy in the process.
This year, they debuted the TONE Touch 04, which improves on the 03 model by offering larger brewing capabilities (up to four liters—the 03 was designed for pour over style brewing and smaller quantities of coffee). The 04 can brew coffee within seconds of pressing a button, and baristas can program different brewing recipes using the TONE Beverage Manager app. A notable feature of the Tone 04 is the deep, narrow brew basket, enabling baristas to experiment with various levels of brew bed agitation from the initial bloom to the final pour.
Additionally, baristas can also program up to four water dynamic water profiles using the bypass functionality. With this feature, coffee shops can brew coffee concentrates and dilute or brew large amounts of tea.
Combining the convenience of single-serve pods with the artisanal nature of pour overs, the xBloom made a splash on the exhibition floor. This luxurious automatic single-cup home brewer includes a built-in grinder with 48mm burrs, programmed pouring patterns, and an embedded scale to achieve the optimal brewing ratio with every cup.
xBloom challenges the idea of how pod-based machines work. Their pods contain whole beans instead of pre-ground coffee and double as the brewing vessel. To brew, users place the fully compostable pod on top of the machine, which has an RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip to read what beans are inside the pod, and once the xBloom recognizes the beans, the machine executes specific pre-programmed brewing parameters (or you can program your own).
The xBloom’s pods, called xPods, also serve as the brewing device—after you pour the beans into the hopper, users place the pod in a holder under the grinder, and water is dispensed over the grounds. xPods are available from well-known roasters, including Verve Coffee Roasters, Counter Culture Coffee, Onyx Coffee Lab, and more.
We had the pleasure of watching the xBloom brew a cup of coffee from Verve and enjoyed a bright, well-balanced cup full of berry sweetness.
Precision Fill Mini by SŌVDA
Weighing, filling, and sealing coffee bags is one of the most arduous and time-consuming parts of running a roastery. As a roastery grows, so does the volume of coffee they roast—and the amount of coffee they have to weigh and package. Weigh-and-fill machines, which automatically dispense a set weight of roasted or green coffee beans into a bag, have long been the answer to this hurdle. However, the sheer size and cost of such equipment often mean smaller to mid-size roasting companies cannot justify investing in this time-saving technology.
SŌVDA, an equipment manufacturer from Portland, Oregon, aims to bring the efficiency of weigh-and-fill machines to small roasting businesses with their Precision Fill Mini, a compact version of their Precision Fill machine. They showcased the Precision Fill Mini with live demonstrations of how the machine weighs and dispenses coffee.
The Precision Fill Mini clocks in at 540mm deep, 480mm wide, and 1200mm tall, making it possible to fit comfortably on a table inside smaller roasteries. The 25-liter hopper capacity enables production teams to fill 4-10 bags per minute, depending on bag size. With the built-in scale, the weigh-and-fill machine can fill bags ranging in size from 50 grams to 5 lbs.
The Precision Fill Mini also works with SŌVDA’s other available equipment, including their lift conveyor, a tubing system that transports green and roasted coffee from one area of a roastery or piece of machinery to another, which was also on display at Expo.
Latte Art Factory Bar Pro
The Latte Art Factory team was pouring up intricate latte art designs all weekend, demonstrating the versatility and accuracy of their brand-new automated milk frother, the Latte Art Factory Bar Pro.
The Latte Art Factory Bar Pro dispenses hot or cold foam dairy or alternative milk with the exact amount of foam desired. Baristas use a touch screen to select the type of milk and foam to produce and place the pitcher in the designated stand. The Latte Art Factory Bar Pro then heats up, froths, and dispenses the desired dairy or alternative milk. A refrigerator and modem are located underneath the bar.
The machine is completely programmable and can accommodate over 100 recipes ranging from steamed milk for lattes to cold foam made with oat milk and can be used to dispense cold brew beverages. The Latte Art Factory Bar Pro won SCA’s Best New Product award in the Commercial Coffee Preparation and Serving Equipment category.
Honorable Mention: The SCA Coffee Value Assessment
Although not a new brewing gadget or technology, the newly announced SCA Coffee Value Assessment was on full display in Portland. Posters were placed across the show floor displaying the new format, and attendees could participate in cuppings utilizing the updated form.
Created to examine how coffee professionals identify and determine value, the SCA Coffee Value Assessment tool examines both quantitative and qualitative characteristics of a particular coffee. The forms are currently being beta-tested and will serve as an update to the widely used 2004 SCA Cupping and Grading Protocol once finalized.