Coffee is one of the hottest commodities on the planet, a multibillion-dollar industry that could easily skirt past trillions shortly. However, the coffee supply chain and production process haven’t developed with the demand of modern customers. It’s an ancient process where coffee farmers don’t know what it tastes like until the end step — cupping.
Cupping is a time-consuming bottleneck in the industry that slows shipment to consumers. Countless professional cuppers sit and drink coffee all day, peeling apart the tasting notes from the famous coffee flavor wheel with as much accuracy as they can muster. Could AI speed up the process more precisely to empower coffee farms worldwide?
1. It Will Better the Lives of Rural Farmers
Several AI startups are testing to see if they can use sensors to scan the beans in earlier stages to uncover their flavor profile. Ripening coffee beans are called cherries. Before they fully develop, they have green outer skin. New AI could scan the green coffee to gather data instead of waiting for it to be processed and roasted.
Given how much coffee the world consumes, there is a need for more professional cuppers. Small farmers probably can’t afford a team of them to determine their coffee’s flavor profiles, hindering their products from reaching the masses as fast.
“However, AI can tell them what flavor their coffee is before pitching it to roasters, achieving a more curated, targeted audience to secure a resilient revenue stream. ”
It might not be cost-effective for smaller outfits, but investors might be the key to solidifying technology. In the meantime, coffee farmers can conceptualize ethical labor practices and move workers to new positions to secure their livelihoods. Drawbacks related to incorporating AI could be dissolved with careful consideration.
Coffee farming and production have countless variables that could compromise the coffee’s flavor, size, texture and quality. AI that uses technology to scan the coffee at any point in the process would lead to more consistent products and fewer defective batches. It creates better relationships between farmers and roasters when the coffee is quality-controlled. Plus, it means more coffee hits the market to satisfy demand.
2. It’s a Win for Sustainability
The coffee industry is a growing concern for environmentalists, and tech has a chance to minimize negative impact. Coffee requires a lot of heat, electricity and fuel throughout its production process.
AI can help workers produce results more efficiently, saving time, money and resources. Achieving the right climate conditions to create the perfect roast to customer specs will be easier and less trial-and-error. AI incorporation in coffee production reveals more sustainable gains for farmers and roasters.
Using AI to adjust humidity and temperature for a particular roast saps less energy and fuel to make a batch. Easily managed quality control means less waste generated during every phase of the process, reducing the carbon footprint of the industry further.
3. Professional Cuppers Are Training the AI
Everyone fears AI will take jobs. However, professional cuppers are training it to taste coffee. It will be long before AI renders cuppers obsolete — and it may never happen, as they can act as quality control and determination verification alongside AI aids. In the meantime, cuppers validate AI’s decisions about flavor profiles and coffee quality with their infrared sensors.
Cuppers are in short supply anyway because of their niche expertise, so AI help might be a boon to this small demographic of workers to help distribute workloads.
AI isn’t advanced enough to gather the more nuanced flavor profiles from the coffee flavor wheel. More subjective qualifiers that coffee fans long for are:
- Bitter and sweet balance
AI isn’t proficient enough yet to gather this data. It even has a difficult time determining the subtle differences in objective flavors. Can it distinguish between dried fruit aromas, like raisins versus prunes? Can it know how chocolate notes differ, from pure cocoa to dark chocolate, especially when not all beans in a single roast have the same flavor?
4. Agtech Keeps Getting Smarter
Agricultural technology, or agtech, is one of the most crucial investment areas on the planet, bringing numerous smallholder farms into the future and reducing the poverty gap.
“Coffee farmers need everything from GPS tracking on their products to survey drones to manage their crops, and AI analyzing coffee flavor profiles would be a seamless addition to the roster.”
The new technology could help everything from planting to harvesting. Farmers would know which flavor profiles sell better, earning them more profits and adjusting operations accordingly. Other agtech can be curated to facilitate beans with these compositions.
It’s helpful for roasters, which can sometimes use up to 75% of a single origin when roasting. When every aspect of a brew depends on that high percentage, it must be perfect.
5. It Appeals to Connoisseurs
Customer coffee tastes are more refined now. Connoisseurs want specific flavor profiles as they become more aware of the subtle differences in coffee strains. AI can help create consistent batches of coffee that garner better customer loyalty because it’s more likely to meet their standards.
It’s to the point where at-home, AI-powered coffee roasters are available for customers to experiment with roasting temperatures, grind sizes and origin blending.
AI and machine learning algorithms can take this to the next level to help roasters and customers by recommending coffee flavor profiles based on preference data. That information can inform industry research, guiding farmers and roasters for their subsequent batches and blends that customers are proven to enjoy.
When AI Sips on a Morning Brew
Humans are in an age where AI can share coffee with consumers, tasting and enjoying it to the point of changing the industry forever. It can take a load off stressed cuppers and struggling farmers, making antiquated processes more efficient and producing soaring profits.
The world falls in love with coffee more every day. The next stage of the industry could make it even more delicious with AI’s help, attracting a new wave of coffee drinkers.