Technology

How the Flow telemetry system delivers fast-paced feedback on coffee quality

Flow

The new Flow telemetry system is designed to deliver feedback on coffee quality, even before it touches the customers’ lips. Flow’s Head of Innovation Scott Nightingale and Chief Operating Officer Dave Floyd, explain how.

When Scott Nightingale first opened his own café, he realised he had no way to measure the quality and consistency of coffee leaving his store daily.

“I realised in a home environment I could take all the time in the world to control my parameters and what I was producing, creating a great result every time, but that became really difficult in the commercial environment because it was so busy,” says Nightingale, Head of Innovation at Flow.

As a basic necessity, Nightingale realised he needed a “shot clock”, an espresso shot timer that measured extraction time.

After a failed attempt to acquire a coffee machine with an in-built shot clock, Nightingale turned to his own IT background to solve the problem.

“The idea for Flow was born in my spare bedroom,” says Nightingale. “I started thinking ‘what’s it going to take for me to retrofit a shot clock?’ When I realised that I could extract data from coffee machines flow sensors, I knew I’d tapped into a very rich data source.”

It was here the Flow telemetry system was born: an integrated system which provides café owners with data on their coffee machine’s set recipe and espresso execution accuracy.

“Originally, I was just producing [Flow] for myself. I had this big screen up on a wall in my café so our customers and my baristas could see it,” says Nightingale. “Having these results up there for the world to see was pretty scary at first, but I very quickly discovered my customer loved being included in the process of making their coffee.”

Customers gain a competitive advantage through Flow’s objective feedback.

Working closely with his team in New Zealand and with Australian re-seller Barista Technology Australia, Nightingale worked to bring Flow to market in early 2020.

The Flow system can be connected directly to an espresso machine from any major manufacturer. The system comprises of three parts: the Flow device itself, real-time gauges, and a cloud dashboard.

“The Flow device integrates with the flow sensors in the machine and measures the flow rate of the espresso extraction which can tell us an amazing amount,” Nightingale explains. “It calculates the speed and volume of each shot poured through measuring the pulse counts as the shot passes through at different stages of the extraction.”

The Flow real-time gauges give baristas immediate feedback on whether they’ve hit the set recipe.
“We developed the real-time gauges working closely with New Zealand roaster Altura so that the barista knows from a glance if the shot clock goes red, they’ve missed the recipe parameters or green if they’ve hit,” says Floyd.

The bottom of the gauge also features a grind suggestion that informs the barista whether the grinds are too coarse or fine based on the shot time.

The third aspect, the dashboard, provides an overview of how well each site is performing. This gives all owners, whether one or 500 sites, the ability to assess the performance of each location remotely. This allows management to direct resources to the sites that need it the most, diagnosing issues remotely and saving call out times and costs.

“Especially from an owners’ point of view, you’re sometimes very removed, so this device helps them to understand what is going on in their own café and what is causing these inconsistencies,” says Nightingale.

With Flow launching just before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nightingale and Flow Chief Operating Officer Dave Floyd say they have seen a positive shift in the way cafés operate using Flow.

“Café owners during COVID began to realise they needed to nail down their competitive edge and we could offer this through Flow’s objective feedback,” explains Nightingale.

Floyd stresses that the Flow system isn’t designed to micromanage baristas at every step, like the video surveillance program Big Brother.

“We want to get across that it’s a valuable tool designed to benefit baristas and once they use it and feel the benefit of having live data and feedback, it becomes hard to live without,” Floyd says. “Receiving that feedback from the real-time gauges or dashboard becomes really empowering. You feel proud when you see it flash green.”

With this data, café owners are encouraged to be more proactive, not only with regularly cleaning and maintaining their machines, but with equipment choices and training programs.

Flow’s real-time gauge features grind suggestions based on espresso shot time.

“By having clear data, clients can assess machinery against how it affects their performance. For example, does this new grinder actually improve the execution of the recipe?” says Floyd.

“It can also show management where training needs to be focused. Rather than trying to make an assessment in a five-minute site visit, training can now be based on the last months’ worth of data and organisations can direct their resources to the sites within their network that need the most help.”

Flow creates a competitive edge through creating visibility. Nightingale and Floyd pride themselves in creating a customer-centric product, and say since Flow’s integration to the café market, it’s become an extra talking-point for customer interaction.

“The hardest aspect is getting people through the door, so once you’ve got them, you want to maximise that opportunity,” Floyd says.

“If the customer is receiving great coffee, that creates loyalty, which produces good word of mouth, brand protection for the roaster, and increased sales since customers keep coming back.”

For Floyd, what differentiates the Flow system from other telemetry systems on the market is its focus on execution of recipe and coffee quality, over machine functionality.

“To us, a lot of other systems are focused on equipment and its maintenance,” says Floyd. “With Flow, we’re 100 per cent concentrating on the recipe and coffee quality, because we believe it is the consistency of coffee quality that will create customer loyalty and increased sales.”

Flow isn’t just for specialty, high-end coffee shops. Nightingale says he wants to see Flow raise the standard for coffee quality across all sectors of the market.

“If you live in great coffee areas, you’ve got many great options, but as soon as you are outside of those areas, getting a consistent coffee can be really challenging. So that’s what we’re looking to do: create great coffee everywhere and that’s absolutely achievable.”

With the world emerging post-COVID-19, Floyd and Nightingale are in the process of setting up an international reseller network and already have resellers aligned in the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, and Australia.

“We hope that our Flow system will have a big impact on consistency and trust from the customers, and can move the industry towards a more standardised model for making coffee,” Floyd says.

For more information, visit flowcoffee.co.nz

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