As I talk with more restaurant owners, I am learning that coffee is often a required menu item that does not get much forethought. In the old days, it was typical to have a simple “Bunn” style coffee brewer and glass carafe pots warmed on a heating element and refilled as needed. This has led to a “McDonaldification” of coffee, where the standard has been set so low that anything hot, brown and bitter is considered acceptable if it’s served in a mug and comes with plenty of cream and sugar. That pedestrian beverage has been acceptable for a long time, but this is becoming less so. Specialty coffee has captured the imaginations and palettes of Americans everywhere. If coffee is not a big seller in your restaurant, it might be because the quality simply not good enough to be bothered with. Fortunately, you can do something about it.
The secret to quality is in choosing a great coffee, and proper brewing. Commercial coffee brewers today run the spectrum from simplicity to complexity. The traditional brewers simply spray a set amount of hot water on a basket of coffee grounds filtered through paper. Some machines are designed for a quick brew cycle, around 3.5 minutes, and between the speed and spray pattern, the extraction of coffee is inconsistent, sometimes even leaving dry coffee in the basket. The more complex brewers have a “pulse” feature that adds a little water, waits for it to soak in, then adds a little more water and pauses until all of the grounds are soaked before starting the full brew cycle. This feature greatly increases the extraction of the coffee. From my tests, a brewer with this feature can extract as much as 50% more coffee from the grounds, creating a stronger, smoother cup without adding bite or bitterness. The most sophisticated brewers even allow you to pre-program brew cycles for different types of coffee, and save those settings to a flash drive for programming additional brewers. Who would have thought commercial coffee brewing would get so complex?
Understandably, in a restaurant, you want consistency and quality with less hassle. Any kitchen staff member has to be able to brew coffee without fuss. If you want to brew the best possible coffee, consider upgrading your commercial brewer to one of the programmable “pulse” models. These start at around $600 for a basic airpot brewer. Then use a coffee supplier who will come in and calibrate your brewer AND your coffee so that you can be provided with pre-measured pre-ground portions that are calibrated to brew a “gold cup” as prescribed by the Specialty Coffee Association. If your coffee supplier is not willing to do this, they’re probably not selling you specialty grade coffee.
If upgrading equipment is not an issue and you are stuck with a simple commercial brewer, there is still hope. I have found that manually pre-wetting the grounds before brewing dramatically improves the strength of brewed coffee in any basic brewer. The process is simple. After adding the grounds to your filter basket. slowly pour in about 3 oz. of hot water, and mix as you would a dough for scones. Once the grounds are thoroughly wet, brew as usual. You will find that the taste of your coffee is considerably stronger, with a higher extraction and a much more flavorful cup.