CAC Highlights the Impact of AI on Coffee Segment


By Victoria Vijayakumar

The Coffee Association of Canada (CAC) recently hosted its monthly webinar series, What’s Brewing, to discuss the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in coffee-quality assessment and the potential it holds for the industry’s future.

Moderated by CAC president Robert Carter, panellists included Mark Crowley, professor at the University of Waterloo and national secretary of the Canadian Artificial Intelligence Association, who has carried out extensive research in reinforcement learning, large-scale image-like processing, manifold learning and use of AI for scientific and experimental reasoning, and Felipe Ayerbe, co-founder and CEO at Demetria, a start-up working to digitalize taste. Demertia harnesses spectroscopy, AI and machine learning (ML) to revolutionize the coffee industry by facilitating data-driven decisions.

The conversation began with a discussion about AI, delving into its overarching implications and applications. Despite apprehensions of an AI takeover, Crowley said AI would enhance the efficiency of the process rather than eliminate jobs. “AI will help a lot of people do their job more efficiently,” he said, pointing out the heavy utilization of AI in marketing, especially in targeted advertisements. However, he voiced concerns about the application of AI in medical imaging and the automotive industry. “You still have to validate what the outputs are of these models because it usually has a probability of every answer, and they’re picking the highest one. That’s easy to miss,” he said.

Transitioning to the consumer perspective, Carter delved into the transformative influence of AI not just in the industrial sphere but also on a personal, consumer level. He shared anecdotes about how companies like his internet service provider and even his local barber have seamlessly integrated AI into their services. “It’s been fantastic,” said Carter. “It’s changed my behaviour in how I interact with them. I use their AI tool now because it’s so efficient.”

However, AI influence extends far beyond individual habits; it has permeated the coffee industry and now plays a prominent role in the transformation of coffee-quality assessment.  Ayerbe elaborated, “We use a sensor that’s called a near infrared spectrometer. It looks into the chemistry of the coffee beans through light…it shines different rays of light into the coffee beans and each ray of light interacts differently with the chemical composition of the coffee. What we get is a reading we call the spectral fingerprint that’s in a language we don’t understand.”

AI is harnessed to interpret this language, making the process of coffee cupping more accessible and efficient. The database of cuppers can now be measured against the spectral fingerprints of coffee.

Despite initial skepticism, AI is now viewed with enthusiasm by industry players who recognize its potential as a game-changer for coffee quality control. Quality control will be easier to track with AI’s application in identifying coffee-bean attributes and flavors which promises enhanced coffee quality and consistency.

Additionally, the panellists envisioned AI’s future in the coffee industry and discussed several potential developments. Tailor-made coffee might become the norm with consumers having access to tailor-made coffee profiles that align perfectly with their taste preferences.

“Our vision is to not only be able to measure coffee and digitalize taste right, but actually backward engineer to understand what are the conditions that produce that taste so that it’s not by accident,” said Ayerbe.

AI will advance the integration of digital transparency throughout the coffee supply chain, enabling consumers to track and trace coffee from the farm to their cup and ensuring a personalized coffee experience. AI is also poised to play a pivotal role in supply-chain management, optimizing logistics, inventory and demand forecasting.

In closing, the panellists expressed their optimism about the transformative potential of AI implementation in the coffee sector and concluded that embracing AI would deliver a more personalized and transparent coffee experience to consumers worldwide.

Webinar Recording:

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