When Cropster released their new Cropster Cafe integration with La Marzocco, I dropped them a line and asked if they’d talk to me about it. Pretty soon, I was talking with Cropster Global Sales Manager of New Products Andy Benedikter and Nicholas Castellano, a digital marketing specialist at the company.

On the face of it, the product is self-explanatory. Your LM espresso machine talks to Cropsters software, which can help inform you of variances between cafes and their different machines.  So, why did I think this was worth an 8 pm phone call?

We know that espresso is the base of many coffee drinks and that making a good espresso takes a lot of skill and a high standard of equipment. But ask yourself this question; if you’re the manager of a coffee chain, would you prefer to pursue excellence at the expense of consistency? How would your customers feel about your brand if one day they had the best espresso of their life, and the next day, perhaps in a different store, it was disappointing? 

One of my favourite axioms is ‘there is no quality without consistency’. This is one reason why Starbucks, or Mcdonald’s for that matter, go to tremendous lengths to ensure that their products taste the same whichever restaurant you visit.

A large part of the Cropster Cafe’s purpose is to solve this problem for the coffee chains. To paraphrase Andy on the call, as you have more cafes the value proposition becomes exponentially more.

But how does it work? Does it work?

Newer LM machines have the ability to talk with the Cropster app directly, while older machines can have a gateway retrofitted, so no machine is left behind.

When installed and set up, you’ll start seeing all the data from your connected LM machines that you need to determine shot performance, including brew time, extraction volume, temperature and more. You’ll even know which buttons on the LM machine have been assigned to do each function, so you’ll get granular data on all the machine’s functions, as well as be able to determine the performance of the barista.

Of course, at this stage, there’s no sensory analysis taking place, but it’s possible to make inferences based on the numbers.

As Andy described, however, the key point was that their software made it very easy to spot anomalies. Remember, we’re looking for consistency in our pursuit of brand development and quality. So it all boils down to anomaly detection, and then root cause analysis. 

If one machine is behaving differently from the others, then you can start to go through a checklist; what is the performance of the grinder? Is the coffee the same, or from a new batch? When was the machine last serviced?

With a process of deduction, you can identify and resolve issues that would simply have gone unnoticed before until a manager visited the store. 

Something I’ve noticed about talking with Cropster folk is that there is a technical competence that runs through the company. It’s not often I can talk with a Head of Sales figure, who is as comfortable talking about Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) as they are about Burr alignment. 

Before we finished the conversation, I prepared my ‘Colombo’ question. ‘Tell me something you’ve learned, in implementing this software, that was perhaps unexpected”. After some brief consideration, Andy explained that in fact, there is a simple feature included with the software that allows you to set tasks for the baristas. 

It may not be the most sophisticated feature, but giving structure through a list of tasks that need to be completed saves cafes from creating their own paper-based systems or spreadsheets.

What is coming in the future? 

In wrapping up, we discussed how great it would be if the grinder could be included in the workflow. It’s probably a challenging area to address. If the grinders themselves have sensors for things like burr wear, temperature, and alignment, then this data could be picked up and another aspect of espresso-making could be de-mystified.

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