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The past, present, and future of automation with Melitta Professional Coffee Solutions

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Melitta Professional Coffee Solutions offers a full system automatic coffee solution to its customers that has been shaped by their demands and adapts to their individual requirements.

With 112 years of experience in coffee, Melitta has seen the industry embrace many new trends and technologies. In many cases, the German coffee company even led these developments. 

Company founder Melitta Bentz created the hand-held coffee filter as we know it today, and Oliver Welschar, Head of Global Key Account Management for Melitta Professional, says the company was one of the first to manufacture automatic filter coffee machines.

So, when Swiss company Cafina became the first manufacturer to build automatic espresso machines on an industrial level in the 1970s, Melitta saw a natural cohesion between the two brands.

“The Swiss had many Italian tourists. They are famous for their refined and diverse taste in coffee, for their ristrettos, macchiatos, lattes, the list goes on,” Welschar says. “There was always a crowd in the breakfast room. German tourists were easy, you just had to prepare a big batch of filter coffee, but to serve just one Italian family, it takes time. So, very often they would head somewhere else for their coffee. Smart hotel owners realised they were missing an opportunity to sell so much more coffee to their Italian skiing guests in the winter time. 

“That was where the idea for automation was born. There was a customer demand and Cafina provided the technology to meet it.”

Melitta acquired Cafina in 1988, and automatic coffee machines have been core to its Melitta Professional B2B arm ever since.

“We were the first to do filter coffee, they were the first to do automatics – it was like Adam and Eve coming together,” Welschar says.

Melitta Professional
Henn na Café in Tokyo takes fully automatics in coffee up a level.

Over more than 30 years, Melitta has had plenty of opportunity to develop or innovate its machines. Justin Rejske, Managing Director of Melitta Professional Coffee Solutions Australia, says the company was a pioneer of many of the features now popular in the industry. He gives the automatic grinder correction of Melitta’s  automatic coffee quality (ACS) system as an example.

“We’ve had that technology for 20 years. We took these high-performing machines and found ways that they can make corrections during the day,” Rejske says.

“We know from bag to bag of coffee there can be inconsistencies. In a blend of three or four bean origins, the bean size, roast colour, and moisture density can differ, and these impacts grinding performance. This is where our ACS technology comes in, to make corrections in any deviations in the coffee to make sure the cup quality stays the same.”

ACS uses a central processing unit to connect and control the grinder and piston and ensure coffee consistently hits the pre-set recipe.

Hand in hand with ACS is a variable pressure system that allows different levels of pressure to be used in the tamping process for individual recipes. Rejske says this is of particular importance to customers with a wide variety of beverages on their menu.

“You can have hundreds of different products on the menu with their own level of tamping,” he says. “Customers may have different preferences – espresso, double espresso, americano, or even different sizes – and you need to ensure you have a good tamping pressure for each of these products.”

Welschar adds that while this type of feature is now common in automatics, many have pre-set pressure levels that must be chosen from, whereas Melitta allows customer to type in their desired pressure in kilonewtons.

“The vast majority of our users are happy with sticking to one setting, but some have individual preferences. If you serve a high-end single origin, where every process of harvesting and roasting was made to measure up to certain expectations, these fine details really matter,” Welschar says.

“Our machines can achieve pressure up to 1200 kilonewtons and work consistently, again and again. We guarantee spare parts for up to 10 years, so you can achieve this level of pressure for up to a decade.”

Another feature originating with Melitta, around the same time as ACS, was Clean-In-Place technology, providing its fully automatics with automated cleaning procedures.

“From an operator’s perspective, one of the hardest elements with automatics was the cleaning. The dispensing of coffee is simple enough, you press a button, the coffee comes out,” Rejske says. “We made it so the operator only had to insert a tablet and did not have to remove any of any components during cleaning.

“We’re not fans of inventing something in our R&D and telling customers they need it. Instead, our innovations and designs are driven by customer demand.”

This mindset means Melitta can tailor its machines to the unique needs of its customers. For instance, in 2007, McDonald’s Japan showed interest in Melitta’s Alpha unit for a rollout in its stores, but required the size of the coffee machine be reduced 40 per cent to fit in its stores.

Melitta totally reconfigured the machine to this demand, with a different interface to fit the space requirement. Now, across Japan alone, Rejske estimates there are Melitta units that have been similarly customised number in the five-digits.

Melitta tailors its solutions to a large number of customers, ranging from hotels and restaurants to petrol stations and fast food chains to large retail chains and Swedish furniture stores.

With a long history in coffee service and automatics, Rejske says Melitta also demonstrates the benefits of operating as a complete solutions provider to these customers.

“At Melitta, we always strive for the best quality in the cup. A high-quality coffee bean is important, but so is the dispenser. That’s why we match the quality of the coffee we offer with our machines,” Rejske says.

“It’s only possible to keep delivering this with a good after-sales service – from the back office and account management side to field service as well – that keeps the machines working continuously and consistently.”

He adds that, as a full system supplier, Melitta can be flexible with its payment solutions. Customers can choose to pay off the machine over a long period of time, or on a cup-by-cup basis, like they would with a traditional roaster machine placement.

Looking to the future, the team at Melitta predicts an increased demand for unmanned coffee stations, which it has already begun to experience. Melitta partnered with travel group H.I.S. to launch Henn na Café, a coffee bar operated by a robotic arm, in Tokyo, Japan, in 2018. 

In Australia, Melitta is working with IOR Petroleum to add coffee service to its unmanned diesel stops and fuel depots. In Taiwan, another global convenience store chain has chosen the Melitta XT6 for its new and fully automated concept stores. “Automation will catch on fastest in countries already using it in other parts of life, or that are more smart phone driven, like China, Taiwan, or Japan”, Welschar says.

While these kinds of solutions are becoming more popular thanks to the advent of telemetry in coffee, Welschar stresses that a one-size-fits-all approach should not be taken to the technology.

“We work with our customers so they can make the most out of this information,” Welschar says. “If we act as just a manufacturer or a seller and not as a partner we won’t learn why they really need this. We listen to what they say so we can understand their needs and fulfil them.”

For more information, visit www.melitta-professional.com

This article appears in the November/December 2020 edition of Global Coffee Report. Subscribe HERE.

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