New Job Involves Switching from Manual to Automatic Machine

I just moved from Seattle to Florida. I accepted a job as a barista at a local coffeeshop, but learned that they use an automatic machine. As in, you don't do anything but press a button to pull shots. No grinding.
I'm terrified. How do these machines work? I'm scared the coffee is going to come shooting out in 10 second shots and I won't be able to adjust it. I can, right? I mean... It has to be possible. Does it steam the milk for you? That'd be bad. I don't understand how these things can make good coffee. I believe it's similar to the Starbucks espresso machines, as the store was opened with the help of a Starbucks-trained manager.
Just looking for a little insight because I have no idea what I'm getting myself into.

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I'm sorry to hear about your situation. I researched these machines a while back for a hotel that is opening in NYC, and some do make...well.....decent drinks. Even going so far as to measure humidity and adjust acordingly. That being said they can be very difficul to adjust manually or on the spot, because the really "good" ones are supposed to do it themselves. They do, do milk, not well.

Alas a robot will never be as good as a human and an automatic will never be as much fun as a manual or semi-auto. Try to convince the people that you can be the trainer, they can sell the piece of junk (that is likely costing them a lot to maintain) and end up with better drinks.

Good Luck!
Where in Florida...Maybe you want to work on a Simonelli 3 group...Ahh, looking for a good barista in Broward.
Uggghhh. How awful. Depending on the machine, you could be facing any number of horrors. You can maybe eek out some small amount of challenge and interaction, but I'm not really optimistic.

I like what Jesse said on the subject, but...

The dirty secret is that if the machine is one of the better ones, it is programmed correctly, it uses good beans, and it is properly maintained, it will pull some reasonable shots. We can all do better using real equipment, but some of them are getting close. I honestly want to reject that this is so... but I've seen some things lately that have made me think that the machine is getting closer. Do not delude yourself, they will be as good as many of us are now in the matter of a few years. This is why we must get better!

Back to the question:

Depending on the model, it may dispense the milk already steamed and "textured" or require you to fill a pitcher and then steam. If it is the former, you are screwed*. If it is the latter, you may be able to at least grab some control back by using the latte function (or better yet, a flat white function) and manipulating the pitcher to get something along the same lines as the swirl and stretch you are used to. Just by manipulating your milk post-steam you'll end up with a better drink than a button-pusher.

If its pulling shots too fast, call the tech (and let him take you to school). On the espresso, the control you may have easy access to is the grind setting... on some machines there are little screw ends that you can turn that will adjust the grind. Jacking up the dose requires going in to maintenance mode, which is not an every day tweak (unless you talk your maintenance guy into showing you how to do it.) Once you know how to get in, its just a number in one of the menus. Much of the technical literature is available from the manufacturers' websites... time to study up?

The limiting factor on most of these right now is lack of knowledge and skill of the operator and lack of motivation of the owner. You don't buy one because you want to make great espresso, so simply owning one says something about the owner. Undoubtedly, other aspects of the process are suffering.

You COULD absolutely help it make coffee that is more like you made back home. The thing you really have to ask yourself is, do you want to make this machine better in the name of improving your current situation a bit?

I say they don't deserve a barista of your caliber. Look around for something else!

*If it is a milk-dispensing model, you may have a chance. Pop open the panel on the milk-dispense unit... chances are it is horrifying. That may help a case to replace the unit. On this topic, I'm convinced that we are a couple of months away from a large-scale outbreak of food-borne illness at the hands of poorly-maintained milk dispense units. The health departments are going to wise up eventually, and things are going to change.

Good luck!
Personally, I think you're doomed. Unless your masters are open and willing to explore coffee at a different (higher) level, you're probably fighting an uphill battle. I seriously doubt that after spending $10K+ on a superauto machine that they would be willing to chuck it and replace it with a semi-auto and some grinders.

I think you need to go back to them and have a serious discussion. See what their vision and commitment is like. Does it match your own or what you would like your vision to be? If not, then you're just setting yourself up for a lot of frustration and irritation.

Understand that it's perfectly acceptable to have that conversation and decide that this company is not the right fit for you. Better to decide that early, be upfront and honest about it and go your separate ways before getting into the company, butting heads with your masters and end up with no one happy and your reputation tarnished.
Throw some rocks in with the beans.
dude..... that sucks.... talk about a waste of skill. i would refuse to work with an auto machine. look for a place that deserves a real barista!
I dont know if there is anything you can do with the auto machine except watch the shots and if they are really on the bad side then dump them. Most of the shots should be basically acceptable but auto machines can occasionally produce really good shots and really bad shots.

If I were you I would simply focus on the customers. Give them the best customer service they have ever had in their life. I used to work for a retail company that said "Surprise and Delight" each customer. If you can do that you will be successful and I believe it could be very satisfying.
Remember guys, all super automatics have grinders and they can all be adjusted. Powder quantity on the other hand might have to be adjusted in the programming of the machine. I would need to know what make and model you got. I love Jesse -D-> reply "Alas a robot will never be as good as a human and an automatic will never be as much fun as a manual or semi-auto.", very true, but a super auto can make great shots if calibrated correctly and adjusted regularly.
Mickael said:
a super auto can make great shots if calibrated correctly and adjusted regularly.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! never admit it or we'll all be out of jobs!

although, i mean secretly, i agree with you. if you were to actually use quality coffee, you would probably have a pretty decent end result.

The main theme I'm getting out of this discussion is that this job isn't very well suited for you. I'm going to agree with all the rest and say perhaps you should seek employment elsewhere. In today's economy, it can be ridiculously hard to find a job, but there's always someone who needs a quality barista.
I do I do! Just a bit more South....But I need a GOOD Barista.

Matthew David said:
Mickael said:
a super auto can make great shots if calibrated correctly and adjusted regularly.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! never admit it or we'll all be out of jobs!

although, i mean secretly, i agree with you. if you were to actually use quality coffee, you would probably have a pretty decent end result.

The main theme I'm getting out of this discussion is that this job isn't very well suited for you. I'm going to agree with all the rest and say perhaps you should seek employment elsewhere. In today's economy, it can be ridiculously hard to find a job, but there's always someone who needs a quality barista.
I recommend that you get the manual for the machine and read up on it. Learn it inside and out. (That is if you are going to stick around with this company.) Quality is not king,... customer service is. Yet, you cannot have outstanding customer service without quality. So, this leaves you in a "do your best with what you have" situation. So on one hand, I agree with Jay. If this machine is going to be a huge bur in your saddle, change saddles. On the other hand, I also agree with Jared. Go above and beyond in all you do.

One more thing that I would like to encourage you in. Not all bad situations are all bad. Look for what you can learn. Who knows, this could be a huge growth opportunity for you. I know that I, along with a ton of other amazing people in the industry, will not look down on you for toughing it out at this location. But, don't be afraid to move on as well. Good luck!
Ha! Since writing this, I met the owner who explained his decision for picking an automatic machine. He noted that on my resume I was working with what he calls "old-fashioned" manual machines, with which you "smack tamp twirly wirly hooha, do all sorts of crazy stuff with." He said he specifically chose an automated one because "no two baristas can tamp at the same pressure." So it was a consistency issue. I don't agree with it at all, but I kept my mouth shut. I'm still on the fence about the place. I haven't met the machine and I don't know if I'm going to go forth on this venture anymore...
When I met the coffeeshop manager (not the owner) she was like, "I don't know why I'm managing this place, hahaha, I don't know ANYTHING about coffee! It's so funny because customers will ask me questions and I'll just say, 'Well... uh... I don't drink coffee...'"
Also noted that they have a crapload of syrups and that when someone asks what flavors are available, she replies "Well, there are a lot so why don't you tell me what you want, because I probably have it." Someone once told me that's never a good sign, and I kind of stuck with that thought.

In good news, through a family connection I got an IN with a different local shop that DOES have a manual machine, and it seems like they have passion. My interview for that is soon so hopefully I'll get that instead.

Thanks everyone!

And Barbara, thanks for the offer. I live in Central FL unfortunately!

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