Handmade or Machine Made: Which is better and for who?

Can you guess if these latte art patterns were handmade or machine made?

If you answered yes to either then you’re both right. These are the winning latte art patterns at our inaugural Barista Redefined Challenge 2019, which pitted SIngapore’s top latte artists at each other with a twist. All the milk steaming was accomplished by La Cimbali’s patented Turbosteam system. All that the competitor’s had to do was to take the perfectly steamed milk and pour the latte art pattern of their choice.

With the BRC, we’ve set out to prove that technology has finally caught up with Baristas. with steam wand technology that’s now capable of producing the beautifully steamed milk for showcasing all the talent a baristas needs to showcase their latte art pouring skills.

In the beginning…

I’ve often been asked about how to go about learning the art of latte art and my answer usually start with a cheeky answer :” First you need to set aside milk from two cow’s worth milk….”.

In reality when I first started it did take me around two months of training, and most probably with milk produced from two cows over that time, to get a decent grasp of the skills needed to achieve the correct texture , temperature and pouring skills to produce a decent cappuccino and latte for our customers.

This also means for two months some customers were definitely getting some interesting versions of their cappuccinos.

Problems with technology

In the field of espresso machine brewing technology so much innovation has been achieved. However all the innovations have largely been about how to brew a better cup of espresso.

Conversely, the essential core process of how milk is steamed and textured for preparation into milk based beverages, has not changed since the steam wand was invented. 

The entire process is time consuming and skill intensive. Requiring a highly skilled barista to execute in daily repetition. The irony of asking a highly trained Barista to executive an essentially repetitive task represents a profligate waste of talent.

Bottleneck station

Most cafes or baristas seldom talk about speed but how long you wait in line is one of the biggest issues in busy cafes today. In a busy cafe setting, the single bottleneck of any stack of coffee orders will always be the time it takes to steam milk. Speed & Consistency are important factors in perceived overall customer experience. Since Milk prep is a main component in bottlenecking the speed of service our customers, most often the only solution for most cafes is to put more people to steam the milk.

Of course this is not a good option because:

  1. The barista is 100% occupied (limited customer service)
  2. $$ Training time & resources
  3. Adding more staff during peak periods will cause over staffing during low periods
  4. Risk of consistency and quality rises

Turbosteam technology

At Caffeine Solutions, our partner for espresso machines, Gruppo Cimbali, share our similar vision of using technology to enable our clients to do better and more at the same time. Enter their TurbosteamⓅ system, a patented device that enables users to froth milk automatically, at a constant temperature and to an optimum quality level, achieving the standards of a professional barista. The result is a consistent, creamy foam.


With the Turbosteam technology, milk can be frothed automatically to the standard of a professional barista. Milk quality, quantity and temperature can be kept constant; while the wand is doing its job automatically, the barista has his or her hands free to do other things, considerably saving time and speeding up service. The Turbosteam wand is also easy to maintain – the end section of the Turbosteam wand can be changed without the help of a technician. With a quick twist the wand can easily be dismantled for cleaning and servicing. The Turbosteam technology is very versatile and can be programmed to handle small and big milk jugs alike. Even small amounts of milk can be frothed to drastically reduce milk waste.

Many of our customers use La Cimbali’s patented milk steaming technology and have eliminated this issue to a large degree. Using Turbosteam has proven itself to save a large portion of the steaming time taken taken and free the barista to either do more ancillary work OR spend the time making a connection with the customer (Hint: increased sales/).

Using an automated system also eliminates the time needed to train a barista the skills needed. In some busy instances even a floor staff can jump in and assist, with little or no training at all.

Bah Barista! Skeptics Galore

All of the 30+ baristas at the BRC 2019 were skeptical at first, but as you can see from the results they have managed to pull off some of their best work. As expected at the start of pratice there was a healthy dose of initial skepticism and resistance. Many came into the practice sessions with the only perspective they had, which was oldskool hand skills were still superior to any form of automated milk steaming technology.

However, with a little bit of practice many of the Baristas soon managed to produce milkfoam and latte art of the quality they expected from a traditional steam wand.

”Barista grade technology has reached the milk texturing systems, we need to overcome the mis-conception that handmade is always better. To me the concept of “better” is always about better products AND a better customer experience. Technology should enable us to focus on making real human connections, at the end of the day it’s the most valuable aspect of any brand”- Keith Loh

“I think the Turbosteam is an awesome technology to assist baristas in training and operation. It allows baristas to understand how silky milk is formed and increases the pace of operation as it is fully hands-free.” – Jervis Tan, Singapore National Latte Art Champion 2019

“ At first I was a bit sceptical because I was so used to steaming my own …But after adjusting for a while it (Turbosteam) could actually foam a very consistent and silky textured milk. 

Turbosteam I feel will allow for cafe operations to reduce human error and through that improve consistency, which is something most cafes cannot replicate with each shift potentially having the bar run by different baristas with varying skill levels.

I think the challenge for the Turbosteam technology would be that some baristas would feel like this is “cheat” as the skill to froth and texture milk is removed from the equation of pouring latte art, but for me I’d rather be efficient in making coffee for my customers and have a trusty tool to froth my milk, giving me some more extra time to pour intricate latte art for customers.“ Darren.  BRC Champion 2019.

Well folks we’ve tried, tested and proven the Turbosteam technology with some of the best Baristas in the country. Hopefully the steaming and frothing of milk by hand might soon become a thing of the past. Baristas can up their service, justify better wages and serve better coffee faster. Cafe owners will benefit too, with productivity, consistency and service all playing an important part in helping our beloved coffee outlets gain a real edge and sustain in this increasingly competitive industry.

Welcome to the future now with Turbosteam..