Coffee, tea and espresso

Coffee, tea

An indepth review of the latest in coffee, tea, and espresso equipment customers care about the coffee you serve in your operation. The good reputation of many restaurants has been made or lost by the quality of the coffee served. But what makes a good cup of coffee? The equipment you use and how you use it plays a part in determining the end product quality.

​Coffeemakers range from the small "pour over" models to huge machines capable of serving large banquet rooms. Espresso machines vary widely from the most basic models requiring an individual's skill to render a good cup to the sleek, sophisticated models capable of pouring a perfect portioned espresso with a single touch of a button. Below are some of the equipment related factor. That go into making a good product and some of the things that can be done to ensure you serve the best coffee products in town.

​Coffee equipment

Coffeemakers for brewed coffee range in size from a single gallon decanter unit to 80 gallon and larger banquet urns. The small decanter or bottle brewers have been around for decades and are designed for use in smaller settings. An alternative many smaller operations use are shuttles, which are insulated, transport well and dispense product easily through a faucet. These shuttles are great for moveable buffets.

​Another popular coffee dispensing equipment option is airpots. Airpots are completely sealed and insulated like a thermos and, according to one manufacturer, can hold temperature and quality up to eight hours. Airpots are attractive and easy for customers to operate for convenient self-service. They are ideal for serving a variety of specialty or flavored coffees since a group of airpots can be held on a rack making merchandising easy. Even when offering a variety of different coffees, airpot users have little waste because the batches are relatively small, usually either two or three liters. Since the airpot is independent of the brewer, unlike an urn, many varieties of coffee can be made and replenished as needed.

​Pressed or French-pressed coffee is another coffee style gaining in popularity. Many operators like the individual pots served tableside because they can make a show of the presentation and get top dollar for the product. Customers feel like they are getting extra personalized service and a fresh pot of coffee.

​For high volume coffee use, especially in banquet situations, coffee urn machines are the prefered option. The typical size is a double three gallon urn used in many medium to large size operations. There are six and ten gallon and some larger urns and few manufacturers make smaller urns, but the most popular is the twin three gallon. A common purchasing mistake made by operators is to buy too large a coffeemaker. A twin three-gallon urn can make enough for more than 600 cups of coffee per hour and a single brew in one urn can generally serve one seating for a 100 seat operation. One drawback: An urn does not allow a small operation to deal effectively with decaf coffee or any other special blends or flavored coffees.

​If you serve coffee made from freeze dried and frozen concentrate coffee products, there is special equipment available to mix and dispense instant coffees. Coffee can be dispensed "fresh" by the cup or in a nearly continuous flow depending on demand. There is mixed opinion on the quality of the product although many agree taste has improved in recent years.

Iced tea brewers

Freshly brewed iced tea has traditionally been made using hot brewed tea that is chilled and held in an urn. Instant, concentrate or powdered teas have become popular, but automatic fresh tea brewers are on the rise. The automatic tea brewer is easy to operate and makes a quality product. The units work like a coffee brewer pouring hot water over tea leaves to steep out the flavor. A concentrated hot tea is brewed and then the addition of cold water chills the mixture for holding. Tea is dispensed at room temperature to minimize ice melting when served rather than serving hot tea which then gets watered down with melting ice.

​Some manufacturers sell machines that can be used for both iced tea and coffee. It's as simple as changing the brewing funnel. With an accessory iced tea dispenser, also available on many of the makers, iced tea can be held while coffee is freshly made in a smaller volume operation.

​Espresso equipment

A good cup of espresso or cappuccino 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, as well as drinks like latte and card au lait, are streaming up sales in foodservice 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. Traditional espresso makers are classified by the degree of automation. There are manual, semi-automatic and automatic machines. Manual machines rely on a hand pump to achieve the necessary high pressure that creates espresso-based drinks. Semi-automatic machines have pumps to achieve the water pressure, but lack volume controls to adjust the strength of the brew.

​Automatic machines also have pumps and a volumetric control to ensure a consistent cup for each brew. Automatic machines still rely on the operator to measure the proper ground coffee dosage and tap the mixture into the brewing chamber, leaving a lot to the operator's experience.

​Experienced baristas can make excellent coffee but, unless you have someone with the proper training, it is difficult to ensure consistent quality. Making good espresso with one of the less automated machines can be challenging. Skill is needed but once the procedure is mastered, good coffee can be produced each and every cup. An automatic machine is recommended if those operating the device have not been trained properly.

​Espresso machine size is defined by the number of "groups" the piece of equipment has. The brewing head assembly where espresso is made is called a group. A single-group machine is one with a single head to make one or two cups of espresso at the same time. As a rule of thumb, a one-group machine can produce up to 70 or 80 cups of espresso per hour for an efficient operator. The production rate will be lower if cappuccinos and other specialty coffees are also being made. A good barista can use a two group machine while the three-and four-group units are usually designed to be operated by two people simultaneously. Most espresso machines also have one or two steaming wands for steaming milk for cappuccinos.

​One thing to remember with espresso machines is that many, especially the less automated machines, tend to be temperamental. That means expect to have a fair amount of maintenance and service performed on the equipment. It is especially important to consider and choose reliable local service support when purchasing a machine. Machine users are often stuck waiting days or even weeks for parts shipped from Europe.

​A special coffee grinder is a necessary accessory for making good espresso. It has been said that freshly ground beans are mandatory for a good cup. The grind must be extremely fine, much finer than regular coffee, so it is important to use a specialized grinder. Remember to leave space next to your machine for the grinder since you will be grinding often, but in very small amounts. There are also a number of coffee suppliers that supply a pre-ground espresso grind which is good for some operations. A few coffee suppliers now provide pre-portioned espresso "pods" which eliminate a lot of mess and provide a more consistent strength espresso. The 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.

​Another option is the super-automatic machines, which are relatively new to the market and often very expensive. They do, however, produce a consistent high-quality espresso with minimum waste and little chance for operator error. The super-automatic 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 automatically cleaned and the used grounds stored or flushed down the drain. A number of manufacturers now make a machine that has a refrigerated milk compartment and automatically steams and mixes the milk for a quality cappuccino. These machines are ideal where there will be many operators and training each on a traditional machine would be difficult. There are also machine varieties for the self-service market, such as snack bars or cafeterias.

​Producing a good cup of coffee or espresso is practically expected these days. Making a good cup is not difficult when the right machinery is in place. Good coffee and espresso can mean satisfied customers and high profit for most any operation.

​Brewing the perfect cup

There are a number of factors you can control to influence the quality of your coffee, some related to the equipment and some related to product handling. Some factors controlled by equipment adjustment are:

​Temperature of the brewing water

​Holding temperature of the finished product

​Proper agitation of the finished brew for consistent strength

​Uniform extraction from the ground coffee determined by the volume and way brewing water is sprayed over the grounds and the depth of coffee in the brew basket

​Very important is the proper cleaning of the equipment to prevent off tastes

​(Do not use soap or abrasives, except on decanters).

​Additional factors which influence final product outcome, not specific to the equipment include:

​Uniformity and type of grind of the coffee

​Quality of the water, the mineral content and taste

​Type, freshness, and quality of the coffee being brewed

​Quality and uniformity of the filter paper used for brewing

​By: Bendall, Dan, Restaurant Hospitality