BEAN SCENE: Even the best beans won't produce a great cup of espresso without the proper gear.
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. It's a huge factor when customers are paying top dollar for coffee and espresso-based drinks.
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. Both of these options will give you consistent results and uniform levels of coffee no matter who pushes the switch to start the brew cycle.
It's a different story for espresso machines. They vary widely from the most basic models requiring an individual's skill to render a good cup to 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 espresso options.
A good cup of espresso is not hard to make if you have the right combination of machine and machine operator. Espresso is an Italian-style coffee, usually made by the cup, using high-pressure hot water forced through finely roasted coffee to create the distinct potency and flavor. Cappuccino is espresso mixed with steamed milk and frothed milk. Both espresso and cappuccino, and similar drinks like latte and cafè au lait, are steaming up sales in restaurants and specialty coffee shops throughout the country.
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 high-end 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 consistentstrength 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 actually 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 built-in 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 machines 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 quality 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 FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI).