Article

Crema of the Crop

Hot drink selection looking a bit fatigued? A perked up java offering can make all the difference. Wake up and smell the profits, says Clinton Cawood, running out of coffee clichés.


The cherry on top. The coup de grâce. Except that it’s often burnt, or a bit stale. As anyone in coffee is quick to point out, a cup of the dark stuff is usually the last thing a customer experiences – the taste they leave with – but it’s often an afterthought, undoing all your efforts in the rest of your offering.

Done right, though, coffee not only enhances a customer’s experience, but offers some potentially very good news for your bottom line, with dramatic margins, and for what can sometimes be a small amount of investment.

This is certainly the case at Portobello Star, for example, where coffee has become a more important part of the offering than it is for most bars, particularly when Portobello Market is in full swing. ‘We did 230 coffees on Saturday,’ says owner Jake Burger. ‘Sometimes it’s more like a coffee shop in here. Between that and a new food offering, it’s significant added income. And with the low margins, it’s almost all profit.’

Head of quality for Illy, Marco Arrigo, backs this up. ‘Each cup costs around 12p to make, which you sell for about £2. That’s good money compared to other soft drinks, unless you’re using post-mix.’

‘Each cup costs around 12p to make, which yousell for
about £2. That’s good money’ - Marco Arrigo, Illy

One of the first challenges, however, is choosing the right offering for your venue. In the world of coffee, there is no shortage of choice. Paddy Bishopp, co-founder of Paddy & Scott’s, talks about an array of options, from push-button bean-to-cup solutions, to more traditional machines.

‘If you’re a high-end restaurant with single-estate coffees then you have to have the traditional machine. And if you do have a machine like that, then you must have it on show – it puts coffee in people’s minds,’ says Bishopp. United Coffee’s Elaine Higginson agrees: ‘For those that can afford a full-time barista, a traditional machine will add a sense of theatre to the offer.’

But if you’re not after that café culture atmosphere, and just want to serve decent coffee, then you have more choice. Bean-to-cup machines are a viable option, according to Bishopp. ‘Thanks to technological advances in bean-to-cup equipment’, adds Higginson, ‘any outlet has the potential to serve great speciality coffee.’ Another option is a pod machine, a solution that is ‘good, and reliable, but an expensive way of serving coffee’, says Bishopp. Plus, with its excessive packaging it isn’t necessarily the greenest option.

ESPRESSO NATION
There’s also another alternative entirely. ‘The main problem we have in the UK is that we’re obsessed with espresso,’ says Tristan Stephenson from London bar Purl and a finalist in the 2009 UK Barista Championship. ‘We think it’s the be-all and end-all of coffee, because it’s Italian. But we need to start looking at other options – drip, cafetiere, siphon, cloth filter...’

For Stephenson, these means of brewing coffee are not only more practical, but make a coffee that’s more versatile. ‘They produce incredibly clean and natural cups of coffee,’ he says. ‘Brewed coffee is more like wine – a longer drink and not quite as intense – while espresso is more like spirits.’

Square Mile Coffee director (and 2007 World Barista Champion), James Hoffmann, agrees. ‘I think you can go without espresso. We supply Trinity restaurant in London which successfully replaced its espresso machine with a cafetiere-only service, offering a choice of coffees,’ he says, adding: ‘Espresso is incredibly difficult and rarely works with the flow of a restaurant or bar.’

Brewed coffee is also more forgiving. ‘Espresso is like a magnifying glass,’ says Stephenson. ‘It shows any flaw with the beans, or how they’ve been roasted, as well as any errors from the barista themselves.’

This has an implication when it comes to training, too. ‘A lot of the time waiting staff will make the coffee at the end of the meal. With espresso, that’s like a novice being handed a Formula One car. It’s more sensible to give them a pushbike – a cafetiere. They still need to think about factors like brewing time and temperature, but there’s less margin for error.’

There’s an obvious cost implication here – the cost of a few cafetieres is noticeably less than the thousands of pounds that a new espresso machine will set you back. You’ll still need a decent grinder though. ‘A good grinder will cost you anywhere between £400 to well over a grand,’ says Stephenson. For Arrigo, ‘the grinder’s the real brains of the operation. The machine’s just a donkey.’

Training staff is another critical element, regardless of what kind of coffee you’re serving. ‘The best coffee in the world in the hands of the wrong person can become the worst coffee,’ says Bishopp. For Hoffmann, most of the problems in coffee service ‘are down to a lack of investment in training, and a lack of demand for quality’.

Coffee suppliers will usually be able to help out with training, or at least point you in the right direction. Illy, for example, has set up a coffee academy in London. Three-hour training sessions start at either 9am or 2pm, with a maximum of six pupils per session, and at a cost of £100 per person.

Arrigo, who teaches these sessions, summarises the curriculum: ‘The three most important things you need to learn are how to clean the machine, how to adjust the grind, and how to froth milk.’

Bishopp also offers advice on equipment to his customers. ‘It’s about how many coffees you’re doing, but also whether it’s one hour per day of intense use, for example,’ he says. The right machine is critical. As Arrigo puts it: ‘So many bars have £3,000 machines for 20 cups a day.’

Higginson agrees: ‘Operators need to consider the volume of drinks being served, space available, style and whether they have resources for a full-time barista.’
The opportunity is clearly there to dramatically improve this part of the offering in the on-trade. There’s certainly room for improvement, as part of the problem seems to be a lack of interest.

‘In a restaurant you can spend a third of your time making tea and coffee,’ says Stephenson. ‘You can embrace that or not. I know guys who pretend that they’re cleaning the machine to avoid using it. If you don’t have passion, it just seems like a hassle,’ he admits. ‘Once you get the passion though, it’s a different story.’ Encourage that, then, and the mocha-flavoured profits are yours for the taking. 

TOP TIPS FROM THE PROS
Get some freshly-ground advice from those in the know – Marco Arrigo, Illy; Paddy Bishopp, Paddy & Scott’s; James Hoffmann, Square Mile Coffee and Tristan Stephenson, Purl

RAW MATERIALS

It’s not just about the quality of the bean, but also about getting the right bean for the outlet. The hotel trade, for example, needs a coffee that’s good for breakfast and lunch, and can also hold its own later in the evening.’ Bishopp

You don’t want to stock a lot of coffees – I don’t know many coffee shops that keep more than three. You don’t really want to use coffee more than two weeks after it’s been roasted.’ Stephenson

Just get one coffee that suits your business. We went to a hotel once that had seven different coffees, and they were all stale.’ Bishopp

If you’re using a cafetiere, the best thing is to brew single-origin coffee. Like single-malt whisky, it gives you a single characteristic.’ Stephenson

Coffee should be ground to order, and used as soon as possible. After a short period of time there is a big reduction in quality. There’s nothing you can do to stop this – fridges/freezers are of no use to ground coffee.’ Hoffmann

GRIND

A grind more like flour will be slower, one more like sugar will be faster.’ Arrigo
If the grind’s too fine, it can make a bitter-tasting coffee.’ Bishopp

For a cafetiere, you’re using about 60g of coffee per litre, so you want to calibrate the grinder so that in the course of the three minutes the coffee is brewing, you extract all the components – fruit acids, bitter caramel flavours, sweetness – in equal amounts. It takes practice.’ Stephenson

Clean the grinder by running a cup of white rice through it. But use good rice, like arborio. It doesn’t work with Uncle Ben’s. Similarly, you can descale the machine with vinegar.’ Arrigo

The world barista champion will change his grind three or four times a day.’ Bishopp

MAKING THE COFFEE

It takes 18-23 seconds to make a perfect espresso.’ Bishopp

For a cafetiere, you want to use water that’s less than boiling – in the early 90s Celsius.’ Stephenson

EXTRAS

Use brown sugar in filter coffee to give it flavour, but you should only be using liquid or caster sugar in espresso-based drinks. This is primarily for temperature. When a sugar cube hits a ristretto it loses 10 degrees straight away, then you put a cold spoon into it...’ Arrigo

When making a macchiato, sprinkle some chocolate onto the espresso before adding the foam. It makes the white of the foam stand out.’ Arrigo

AND FINALLY

My favourite trick is serving coffee with grappa. You down the espresso, put a bit of sugar in the cup that you stir with the remnants, then pour the grappa into that.’ Bishopp

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – March/April 2011

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