Coffee, espresso and cappuccino are steeped in tradition–but even tradition must yield, or at least adapt, to such business needs as lower labor costs, space efficiency, ease of use, longer holding times, product consistency and speed of service.
The middle ground, like the products themselves, has become a careful blend.
Decades-old tradition combined with cutting-edge technologies have made coffee and specialty drinks more profitable and easier to serve than before. When it comes to espresso and cappuccino, the micro-chip has made the subtle art of brewing, as one manufacturer put it, “idiot-proof.”
While price tags can get steep–the newest “super-automatic” espresso/cappuccino machines can reach $25,000–all but the most adamant traditionalists view them as the wave of the future. And with prospects good for their prices eventually coming down, the benefits of such machines quickly become even clearer.
Americans clamor for freshly brewed coffee. Whether made in bottle brewers or urns, the basics of coffee making remain the same: hot water is sprayed over a bed of ground coffee in a filter, drawing flavor from the grounds. “There is nothing really new in coffee brewing equipment,” says Gary Jacob, national sales manager for Portland, OR-based Boyd Coffee’s Italiadoro (espresso) division. “Air pot brewing systems are increasing in popularity and becoming more accepted in the industry.” Nearly ideal for labor-saving self service, the units brew into an insulated thermos-like container that retains heat and eliminates exposure to oxygen and deteriorating direct heat.
Urns offer two advantages over brewers: longer holding and adjustable controls which operators can use to control the strength of the coffee by adjusting the amount of water passing through the coffee. Brewers generally make 12 cups at a time, while urns range from 75 to 500 cups. Specialized high-speed systems brew, hold and dispense up to 9,000 cups an hour.
But there are disadvantages as well. John Hagan, general manager at Manhattan’s Post House, says he got fed up with the 144-seat restaurant’s old tank-style coffee urns. “The coffee seemed to get stale after a couple of hours.” He has since switched to smaller units.
Greg Fisher, manager of new product development for Bunn-O-Matic in Springfield, IL, says his newest product brews coffee and holds it on what execs call “soft heat. Instead of having the direct heat that you’d have with a regular warmer, basically you spread the heat out like a blanket, and then you only give the coffee heat when it needs it.” Temperatures are thermostatically controlled with heat pulses without overheating the coffee. “So it’s an intelligent system that really treats the coffee correctly,” he says.
Bunn’s insulated Soft Heat Servers combine heat retention technology with an indirect internal heating system to keep gourmet coffee at its optimum flavor. The units feature a temperature sensing system to ensure that every cup served will be at 175