More than 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world each year. Is your operation taking advantage of the growing consumer demand for high-quality coffee? If not, it should be since profit margins are often higher for coffee than most menu items. But such a simple drink is not necessarily easy to produce. Buying a quality grind or bean is not all you need to serve great coffee; you must also have the right machinery. The equipment you use and how you use it play an important part in determining product quality.
Many commercial coffee and espresso machines are available on the market today. Coffee makers range from the small pour-over models to huge machines capable of serving large banquet rooms. Some machines use recent developments in packing technology, such as single-use portioned coffees. Espresso machines vary widely from the most basic models requiring an individual's skill to render a good cup to the sophisticated models capable of pouring a perfectly portioned espresso with a single touch of a button. Here are some points to consider when evaluating your coffee-making options.
The recipe for a great cup of coffee starts before you hook up your new machine. Do not overlook the fact that you'll need good water. Since coffee is 98% water, it's only logical that pure water is a prerequisite for a good cup. Have your water tested to determine your filtering needs. No matter how good you may think your water is, a quality water filter is mandatory to remove any chemicals or minerals that may affect taste. Some of these same minerals, if not removed, will build up in the equipment and cause operating problems.
When you choose a water filter, compare the size of particles that the unit will remove and match the equipment water flow to the proper size filter. Too small or too large a filter will waste your money.
The first thing you need to know before selecting a machine is the volume of coffee you will sell and what your peaks and valleys in demand will be. Work with your equipment salesman to determine the correct equipment. Too large a machine will produce coffee that sits until it is no longer fresh. Too small and your staff will spend too much time making coffee.
You can calculate the proper coffee maker size yourself by analyzing the manufacturer's data. Typically, manufacturer's data will have the gallons brewed per hour and the batch size. From this, you can calculate a cycle time and the cups brewed per cycle.
Coffee makers for brewed coffee range in size from a single halfgallon decanter unit to 80-gallonplus banquet urns. The small decanter or bottle brewers have been around for decades and will serve well. An alternative many smaller operations use is shuttles, which are insulated, transport well and dispense product easily through a faucet. They're great for moveable buffets.
We have all seen the rapid increase in popularity of the airpot. Airpots are completely sealed and insulated like a thermos and, according to one manufacturer, can hold temperature and quality up to eight hours. Airpots are attractive and easy for customers to operate. They are excellent for serving a variety of specialty or flavored coffees since a group of airpots can be held on a merchandising rack. Even when offering a variety of different coffees, airpot users have little waste because batches are small, usually two or three liters.
For high-volume coffee use, especially in banquet situations, coffee urn machines make sense. The urn brewers have been around for decades using basically the same mechanics for coffee brewing. You should upgrade to an urn when you need to serve more than 150 cups at the same time.
Never underestimate the importance of clean equipment. At the end of each day the equipment should be thoroughly cleaned, including taking apart faucets, scrubbing the decanters or urns and cleaning gauge glasses. Don't use soap or abrasives except on decanters, and rinse thoroughly.
One exception to the daily clean-up routine is a new coffee system on the market that uses single-portion sealed pouches that are individually brewed in a special machine. It opens the pack and pumps in hot water that brews through the pack's filter. A fully brewed cup is then dispensed into a waiting cup. You can serve a variety of the gourmet coffee flavors the manufacturer offers without having to worry about keeping fresh product on hand and having a place to keep an array of coffee pots on warmers.
The equipment specially made for this single-portion system provides fresh, consistent coffee with each cup. You won't have to worry about selling stale, bitter coffee or waste either with this system. An added benefit is the same machine can produce some brewed teas and hot chocolate as well as more than a dozen coffee flavors. These machines are great for serving a wide variety of coffees in small volumes.
A good cup of espresso is not hard to make if you have the right combination of machine and machine operator.
Espresso makers vary in size, capabilities and ease of operation. A match to your expected volume is easy to make once you decide on the degree of sophistication needed for your machine. Unless you have a highend automatic machine with an internal grinder, a special coffee grinder is needed. Freshly ground beans are mandatory for a good cup. The grind must be extremely fine, much finer than regular coffee, so it's important to use a specialized grinder. Don't forget to leave space next to your machine for the grinder since you will be grinding-very small amounts frequently.
A number of coffee suppliers offer a preground espresso grind that is good for some operations. Some coffee suppliers now provide pre-portioned espresso "pods" that eliminate a lot of mess and provide a more consistent strength espresso. The disposable pods are portioned and wrapped in filter paper ready to be loaded into the dosing chamber as needed. The same pouch is discarded when done without any need to ever touch the coffee.
Fully automatic machines produce a high quality consistent espresso with minimum waste and little chance for operator error. This equipment has a builtin bean storage hopper and grinder. With the press of a button, the exact weight of beans is dispensed, ground, tamped into the brewing chamber and brewed with the precise amount of water at the proper temperature. The brewing chamber is even automatically cleaned and the used grounds stored or flushed down the drain.
Some manufacturers make a machine that has a refrigerated milk compartment and automatically steams and mixes the milk for a quality cappuccino. These are ideal from a food safety aspect and are operationally sensible where there will be many operators and training each on a traditional machine would be difficult.
Some machines are so simple to operate that they are specifically for the self-service market and are perfect for snack bars or cafeterias.
Customers now expect a good cup of coffee or espresso. Good coffee and espresso can mean satisfied customers and high profit for most any operation.
DAN BENDALL is a principal of Food-Strategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI).