If your restaurant serves breakfast, you probably serve coffee as well. But have you really thought about what goes into that little caffeinated (or decaf) cup of goodness? What happens between water and coffee?
Many times, it can be easy to overlook this part of your menu – you put the pre-packaged Folger’s in the brewer, pour in some water, press a button, and voila – your customers get their daily dose. But what makes some people go to Starbuck’s and spend maybe twice as much to get their coffee over yours? It’s about time you make your coffee so good it becomes your customers’ favorite morning ritual.
Before we can talk about how to make it better, we should first discuss the basics of how it’s made. The first thing to note is that the coffee “bean” isn’t really a bean at all – it’s actually a roasted seed from the coffee plant. The seed is picked when it is inside the coffee plant’s cherry. To add to the confusion, the “cherry” isn’t a cherry at all, but a drupe – a more generalized description of a fleshy fruit with a pit. We’re not botanists, so from here on out we’ll simply refer to it by the misnomer we all know and love – “coffee bean.”
There’s literally hundreds of species of coffee plants, each with it’s own flavor. The plants take four or five years to mature, and then will produce a harvest for fifty or sixty years thereafter. Once the plant is grown, and once the 9 month ripening period is over, the fruit from the coffee plant is picked – usually by hand. Once picked, they are dried, and the outer layer is separated from the seed. The coffee is shipped unroasted – this is known as green coffee.
As a restaurant owner, all of this matters in regards to how the coffee you serve your customers tastes. Because of differences in soils and water cycles, coffees from different regions taste different: the Americas provide a crisp taste, the African coffees are often more acidic with a lingering aftertaste, and Indonesian coffee tends to be bolder. For mornings, American coffees are a crowd-pleaser – strong enough to wake you up, but not so strong that it’s considered a dessert coffee.
Once the coffee has been picked, stripped, and shipped, it needs to be roasted. Roasting is an art and a science, with the temperature and length of time changing depending on what type of result is desired – stronger coffee requires a darker roast and longer heating time, lighter coffees require a lighter roast and shorter heating time. After roasting, the beans take on the familiar dark color, and the roasting brings out the natural flavor so it can be transferred during the coffee making process.
Restaurants generally serve a medium roast coffee in the mornings, splitting the difference for patrons. To stand out from the crowd, it may be a good idea to offer both a dark and a light roast, or to offer a medium roast all the time (a “house” coffee) and a different specialty coffee or roast every day or week.
Once roasted, coffee is ready for grinding. Many restaurants, perhaps yours included, leave this to the experts, and buy coffee in already-ground form. Once you expose ground coffee to air, it starts losing it’s flavor, leaving you with blander coffee later in the week than at the beginning. Some coffee connoisseurs turn their nose even at the least offensive pre-ground option, which is vaccuum-sealed single-serving packages. Even though no air can reach the contents, and they don’t lose their flavor over time, there still may be a legitimate reason for this abhorrence.
When you grind your own coffee, the dust that is created doesn’t stay in the grinder; it floats throughout your establishment, creating a distinct and delicious smell – one that is oft-loved even by non-coffee drinkers. This alone may be a good reason to grind your own coffee. Besides this, however, fresh-ground coffee does just taste better, and you have more control over how it is ground. There are probably entire books devoted to how to make the daily grind, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll just note that grinds go from coarse to fine. Coarsely ground coffee is used for specialty brewers like the French press or even more exotic Toddy cold-brew method. Finely ground coffee is used for espressos and other specialty brewers like the AeroPress. Since you are more than likely using a conventional drip-coffee brewer, a medium grind works best.
So now that you have your coffee ground, just throw it in the coffee maker with a filter and some water, and you’re good to go, right? Almost.
First, if you still use paper filters, it may be time to make the switch to a non-disposable filter, usually made out of fine metal or plastic mesh. Paper filters absorb coffee oils, removing some taste from the final result. Not that much, mind you, but if you are looking to serve your customers the best, it’s something to consider. Also, you’ll be cutting down on costs in the long run, as well as keeping filters out of the landfill.
Secondly, since black coffee consists of 99% water (shocking, I know), it’s important to know what’s going into it. The difference between filtered water and regular water is night and day, so you can imagine what happens to the coffee when you put hard water that smells like eggs in your brewer – not good. So, get a water filter; if you are a low-volume coffee-serving operation, Brita will work, for larger volumes, a dedicated in-line water filter will be best. Trust me, your customers will thank you.
That about covers the basics. Feel free to send us a Tweet if you liked this article or learned something from it, and if you want to purchase a coffee machine from us, visit www.coffeemakerworld.com. A new coffee machine, with the aforementioned tips, may just be the ticket to getting a boost in your early-morning traffic.