Barista iPhone App Review

Coffee App

Barista iPhone app teaches users to make espresso drinks like Americano and flat white at home.

Image from Glass House Apps

I’ve been talking too much about drip coffee these days, especially when the ratio of drip specialty coffee consumption (as in by-the-cup) to espresso drinks is probably 10% to 90%. In Los Angeles, every person has their particular way of drinking their coffee – non-fat half-caff (half-caffeine), soy-milk latte is one example. Starbucks has given us the completely customizable espresso drink, but I’m definitely not grateful for this over-milked culture that eschews the flavor of coffee for whatever masks it. I think that’s the reason why espresso drinks are so much more popular despite the relative ease of making a good cup of drip coffee versus making espresso drinks at home. We leave the making of espresso drinks to baristas, and hopefully ones that are skilled.

However, there are many of us that venture to make espresso drinks at home. There’s an incredible variety of consumer grade espresso machines, and even some enthusiast grade machines such as the Rancilio Silvia (which tends to be considered the gold standard for affordable home espresso machines). And then there are even those automatic/capsule machines like Nespresso or Tassimo that I hope the readers of this website don’t consider. Most of us probably have something that we got from a wedding registry or birthday gift, something that’s offered at Bed Bath and Beyond.

Like drip coffee brewing, most of us don’t think too much about how we can brew better. Subsequently, with our home espresso machines, we’re left mostly trying to figure out the rather complex dynamics behind pulling a good shot of espresso. And then we’re left fumbling around with milk and steaming it up for our lattes and cappuccinos. Speaking with a few baristas and coffee professionals, most of them encourage me not to think about home espresso brewing – without the commercial grade equipment it just isn’t worth the effort. But those of us with home espresso machines have to do something with them, or else surrender them to Craigslist or Goodwill.

If you’re one of those people, then the Barista iPhone App works to educate people on making good espresso drinks at home.

1. Design and Feel

When you first open the app you go straight to a menu of “Make It,” where you’re shown a list of
espresso drinks with an accompanying illustration. At the top is the ubiquitous caffe latte, along with cappuccino, flat white, Americano, and espresso. The list goes through nearly every conceivable espresso drink from the affogato to the babyccino (never heard of that one, but it sounds cute). Clicking through will show a larger photo and then give you step by step instructions on how to make it. The verbiage is clear and straightforward, though longer descriptions require another click through. The instructions seem helpful, giving you an impression of what each drink should result in. This is helpful if you’ve never had a macchiato before, in this case one that doesn’t necessarily include caramel or white chocolate (for you Starbucks fans).

The next menu shows videos of pulling a basic shot of espresso and understanding the dynamics of the espresso machine. There’s also a few videos of two common latte art styles – rosetta and heart. The videos load quickly and feature smooth, fast-paced instructions. The Tips & Tricks menu gives you even more details, such as tamping techniques, milk-texturing and pouring. There’s a lot of verbiage that I think would’ve been better accompanied by photos or visual diagrams. Finally a Coffee Talk section contains a glossary of common coffee terms.

Sifting through the content is quick, easy, and seamless, displaying layers of useful espresso-making information for home brewers.

2. Function and Content

I have a feeble single-port espresso maker at home that a former coworker gave to me. It probably cost 50 bucks. It’s pretty terrible. Besides a commercial machine that I’ve used at a restaurant, this is the only experience I’ve had with working with an espresso machine. The content of this app is definitely varied and extensive. Almost any question that a novice espresso brewer would ask could be answered, either in the “Make it” section or the “Tips Section.” With the wealth of available information about brewing espresso on the Internet, it makes sense to have an app summarize it and categorize it. All of this is great – except that much of the content straddles a line between the “Starbucks” variety of drinks and something you might expect at a top-notch coffee bar.

Like a general use app should, it gives consumers the knowledge to create any kind of espresso drink they’re likely to find. But for some reason I want something more. People who are going to spend $3 for an app about espresso drinks should be able to access more advanced information that’s on the forefront of the coffee world. Instead you learn how to make drinks that you’re likely to find at a Coffee Bean, Costa Coffee, or Peet’s. This is the coffee app that’s perhaps a few years late, reflecting the “Third Wave” of coffee that’s frankly been left in the dust by many coffee roasters.

Then again, perhaps Airsource/Glasshouse apps, the company that developed this app, is simply
reaching for the masses. It’s not a bad move, considering that the app is a for-profit venture. I don’t fault them for making this first step of coffee education available for iPhone users. For the coffee and espresso novice, this app is a good start. You’ll learn about the basics of selecting coffee, storage, extraction, milk texturing, and pouring. You won’t be able to master the basics and start your own café any time soon, but you should be able to make respectable drinks at home for your daily coffee or dinner guests.

3. Suggested Improvements

There are a myriad number of improvements one could make, and for the price of $2.99 for the
app, I feel like many of these would be needed in order to justify the price. First off, I’d like to see a section about how to select an espresso machine, and the differences between them. Secondly, more videos! Lastly, rather than making it general use (like suggesting a dusting of cocoa powder onto your cappuccino!), pare down the content and focus it toward the current zeitgeist of the coffee world – simple drinks that feature the coffee, not the ancillary ingredients. I really only want to know how to make the following: espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, and latte. Lastly, instead of a lot of text, have accompanying drawings or photos. I found this incredibly helpful for the Intelligentsia iPhone app. I do think that when Intelligentsia adds an espresso component to their current (free) app, it’ll definitely outpace the Barista app – that is unless Barista can pick up the pace.

Find more of Matthew Kang’s writing on his blog, Mattatouille, and find him behind the counter of Scoops Westside.

Tags:

Matthew Kang

Find more of Matthew's writing on his blog, Mattatouille. Find him behind the Scoops Westside counter.

Blog Comments

Hey, good post, I have the app and have about the same comments/criticisms. Spro is another espresso/coffee app that covers Barista’s weakpoints and goes farther. It doesn’t have videos but it I don’t think it needs them.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/spro/id423950536?mt=8

Matt,

Thanks for the espresso app alternative.

Leave a Comment