Quick Recipes and Easy

Easy Tips to Serve Better Coffee

On trips across the country performing Barista training courses and coffee shop consulting, we regularly stop in at local coffee shops and restaurants as anonymous consumers to sample their coffee offerings. With a few rare exceptions, what is tasted at those shops is not quite, but nearly, entirely undrinkable. This raises the question why is such an overwhelming majority of specialty coffee beverages served in North America are so, well… just plain dreadful? More vital: what can we do about it?

In this months newsletter, we take a look at four helpful tips we feel address some of the basics that are commonly overlooked or misunderstood, and could be easily improved upon to make the most substantial impact on beverages at any coffee shop:

Use only fresh coffee, ground for immediate use – You should always serve excellent quality coffees fresh from the roaster. In principle, everyone is in agreement, but what exactly does fresh mean?

Within the first 10 days of exposure to air after leaving the roaster, 80% of the 1,000 distinct aromatic compounds forming the complex smell and subsequent taste of fresh coffee are lost from exposure to the air. Vacuum sealed bags do retard this degradation, but not as much as would be promoted on your local grocery store shelf.

We recommend that you take delivery of only enough coffee directly from your roaster to last no more than one week at a time. Grinding only accelerates the problem, exposing far greater surface area to air and lessening the useable life of coffee to only a few minutes instead of days. Grind only enough to immediately serve beverages and discard any excess. To help with this process and maximize efficiency, you may wish consider a grinder designed to grind only precise volumes on-demand such as the Azkoyen Capriccio auto dosing grinder or well loved La Marzocco Swift auto-tamping dual grinder.

Keep espresso contact surfaces warm. How often have you walked into a coffee shop or restaurant and seen a portafilter in any of these positions: on top of the machine, beside the machine, in a sink, across the drip tray or on a counter? The only place to store your clean portafilters is engaged in the group head so that they remain warm and temperature is not drained from your extraction before hitting the cup. The same is right for your serving cups; make sure that your non-disposable cups are warmed on your espresso machine’s warming tray or with heated water before serving.

Right espresso extraction requires precise pressure and temperature, specifically 9.3 bar (135 psi) and 198-202 deg F (92-94.5 deg C). Any significant deviation from these limits or fluctuation during the extraction process will at a minimum interfere with the emulsification that makes crema where most of the flavor, and the essence of espresso originates. If you have ever received a bitter, small dose of black coffee in place of the espresso you ordered, temperature irregularity is one of the usual suspects (also by grind coarseness, coffee volume, tamping problems, pressure problems, coffee freshness and quality).

Use only cold, fresh milk – only once. If questioned to name a volatile liquid, what comes to mind? Alcohol? Maybe gasoline? How about milk? Well… okay, so milk will not burst into flames when it comes into contact with a lit cigarette, but it is far less stable than most would suspect.

Regardless of whether you serve skim, 2% or anything in-between for your cappuccinos and café lattes, milk should always be stored away from sunlight at the optimum temperature of 35 deg F. It is of critical importance that you use a properly calibrated commercial refrigerator as you may be surprised to learn that an otherwise seemingly trivial 2 deg F increase in storage temperature will cut the shelf life of your product in HALF. Likewise, it is not advisable to store milk in glass show case as ultraviolet light is proven to have similar adverse affects. Although storage below 35 deg F is not a direct health risk, freezing will dramatically affect the chemical structure of the liquid and limit your success at proper frothing.

The re-steaming or reheating of milk for a specialty coffee beverage is the single worst coffee-felony that is seen with frightening regularity; doing this will not only hurt the taste of your beverage, but will also place your customers health at risk. How often have you witnessed a milk pitcher steamed, then placed on the counter only to be reheated for the next use a minute or ten later? Even once is too often. When your milk is aerated and heated to a serving temperature of 155 deg F, as with freezing, the chemical structure of the liquid has changed permanently and cannot be recovered to make a smooth even froth or ‘sheen’. Even if you ignore the health risks of bacteria happily doubling every few minutes at room temperature, the resulting taste of your beverage will suffer. FYI- When reading an analog thermometer while heating a pitcher of milk, don’t forget that that temperature reading will lag behind a excellent half second; always stop heating as the indicator needle passes about 120-130 deg F.

Use only smallest sized pitchers of fresh, cold milk that can accommodate your normal business volume (usually 20oz to 33oz for one or two beverages). Discard any excess milk, clean and rinse thoroughly between uses.

If in doubt, throw it out. Although more a policy of customer service than actual beverage preparation issue, remember that as a coffee shop your success is tied directly to the consistency and quality of beverages you serve. In the heat of a morning rush, it is sometimes simple to overlook the importance of every single drink, which is why we recommend that if there is even a hint of any problem with the beverage you are about to serve to a customer, dump it first and question questions later. Crema missing? Dump it. Extraction too slow or quick, down the drain it should go.
For the extra material cost you will absorb on a discarded drink, your customers will repay you with their repeat business for the consistently excellent beverages you serve.

These are, of course, not all of the steps that you will need to follow to serve a fantastic espresso beverage, but follow them and you will be conservatively ahead of at least 90% of your competition.

Andrew Hetzel is the president and founder of Cafemakers, a specialty coffee business consultancy based in Hawaii. Cafemakers shows restaurants, hospitality businesses and coffee shops in North America and worldwide how to improve customer satisfaction and profitability by serving better quality coffee. Information is available online at cafemakers.com cafemakers.com or by calling (808) 443-0290.

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