The crimes operators commit against high quality coffee service are well documented,as innocent as serving an espresso in a thin black demitasse and as wicked as leaving brewed American Joe simmering on a burner until the liquid turns thick and tarry. But some operators pride themselves on their ability to eliminate such misdeeds in their establishments. These coffee-service specialists effectively attend to the fine points that help put the special back in specialty coffee service.
“Feel this,” says David Levy as he returns from his espresso machine with a white porcelain bowl-shaped mug. “Just feel it.” The cup, stored atop the espresso machine, has absorbed its warmth. “That’s how cups should feel right before you fill them with coffee or espresso,” he explains. “Not cold.”
Olive Garden’s coffee service highlights the luxurious side of the beverage
Levy is a man for whom correct coffee service is a mission. Before quitting his job as a C.P.A. in Los Angeles and opening Java N Jazz in Manhattan, he traveled the US, observing coffee preparation and service at small and large operations. He watched baristas make cappuccinos on unkempt espresso machines. He saw coffee pots sitting on burners for hours on end. He ate at expensive restaurants where waiters suggested he go elsewhere for coffee and dessert. And he observed endless stacks of paper filters filled with ground coffee aerating for hours before being brewed.
“No matter how rushed you may be, don’t grind coffee until you’re ready to use it,” he repeats, like a mantra. And don’t let it sit eternally. At Java N Jazz, each thermos is equipped with a timer that rings when the coffee is likely ready for replacement, that is, if the steady stream of customers hasn’t already prompted re-brewing. Levy also tastes his own coffees several times each day to make sure all are up to his standards.
As Levy and others know, specializing in special coffee service is a must for most operators competing in today’s market, as coffee saturated as a biscotti left soaking in a cappuccino over night.
“The coffee revolution is similar to wine over the last 10 years,” says Paul Daly, food and beverage director of the new Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago. “People are looking for quality. They know the difference between fresh-brewed coffee and quality beans versus consumer shelf coffee.”
A dollop of whipped cream adds pizzaz to coffee service.
Indeed, customer expectation is one of the prime motivations for coffee-service initiatives at the 460-unit Olive Garden chain, based in Orlando, FL. “With the influx of coffee shops across America, people want something special. They are more educated to the options,” says Bill Edwards, director of beverage marketing for the restaurant group. “From a philosophical standpoint, one thing that should be given to guests is a perfect cappuccino.” At the Olive Garden, frothy cappuccinos arrive at tables in cups hand painted with a traditional Italian motif, accompanied by small biscotti and topped with cinnamon or cocoa if requested.
FULL COURT PRESS
At the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, managers signaled their desire to make the hotel a coffee service specialist when they moved to include cappuccino and latte in every restaurant and bar within the hotel as well as with room service. Previously, coffee service at the Fairmont consisted mostly of American brew, with specialty drinks confined to the fine and main dining rooms.
Additionally, one of the most successful aspects of the Fairmont’s coffee service upgrades, says Gregory Day, executive director of food and beverage, is the new French press program. Customers can choose among gourmet blends from different regions, including Kenya, Java and Brazil, to be brewed tableside in a French press and presented with an array of accompaniments–fresh whipped cream, Fairmont silver spoons dipped in white and dark chocolate and petits fours. The hotel initiated the press in its catering program a few months ago, serving the fresh-brewed blends to 400 Mexican General Motors distributors at a banquet. “We were hoping to start out small,” laughs Day, “but it went over very well.” The hotel adds $5 per person to the price of the event to cover the French-press coffee service.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
While the French press invigorates coffee service at the Fairmont, the Olive Garden hopes the addition of a new espresso machine may accomplish the same task. Edwards, who frequently travels to Italy in search of items to invigorate coffee service, is currently testing the qualities of superautomatic espresso machines in 40 locations. The machines steam milk, grind, dose and tamp the coffee beans and brew espresso to programmed standards with the push of a button. “The challenge we have is to brew a perfect cappuccino every time in every one of the chain’s restaurants,” says Edwards. “Once our execution is faster, we can take further steps to promote cappuccinos with confidence.”
Whether it’s with a French press, Moka espresso or macchinetta, tableside service can bring sparkle to your coffee program.
Another aspect of Olive Garden’s attempts to make service special is pairing coffee with desserts and liqueurs. Cordials ordered with coffee come in individual sidecar glasses so customers can sip them separately or add to their specialty coffee as they see fit. Popular liqueur pairings include Baileys, Frangelico and amaretto.
At Perks, the gourmet coffee shop located in the concourse connecting the 800-room hotel with the McCormick Convention Center, estate-grown beans and espresso based beverages tempt travelers. Says food and beverage director Daly, freshness is key to providing high-quality coffee service to guests. “We don’t brew more than three gallons of coffee at one time. Customers always want fresh, and we make sure they aren’t drinking coffee that’s been sitting for two or three hours.”
To add something extra special to service at Perks, Daly creates signature drinks to appeal to the sundry conventions that pass through his domain. Perks recently featured an Alpha Kappa Alpha latte specially made for the sorority’s members who were meeting at the convention center. Topped with whipped cream and drizzled with raspberry syrup (representing one of the group’s colors), the drink was an instant success and another example of specializing in coffee service.
At the New Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, Chicago, fresh coffee is key to satisfying the many convention-goers.
But perhaps one of the more crucial roles in stand-out service, agree operators, is played by the staff. “We encourage everyone to welcome guests with a smile,” says Levy of Java N Jazz. “New York might be big, but it’s still a village.” And, as Levy well knows, the best way to shine, even in a hamlet the size of Manhattan, is to attend to the little things that make coffee service special.
Maja Wolf knows beans about coffee service, as the former editor of coffee trade magazine Fresh Cup. This is her first article for Cheers.
A ROASTER TALKS ABOUT HIS BEANS
True roastmasters tend to their coffee beans as the prized prodigies they are. They study the nature of coffee from specific regions of the world to elicit the best of the bean in their roast. They hunt for the foremost green beans to toast into beloved blends. The last thing master roasters want to witness is someone nonchalantly destroying their creation.
James Ferrara says he has seen some retailers treating beans in ways that make his skin crawl. An electrician by trade, Ferrara began roasting coffee nearly two decades ago after rewiring a roasting plant that had burned down. The company’s owner saw his potential and spirited him away from the electricians union to work as his plant manager. There, the passion for cooking coffee chomped down hard on Ferrara and refused to let go. He is now “in control of his own destiny” as the owner of a small-batch roastery, Unique Coffee Inc., on Staten Island, NY.
Throughout his career, Ferrara has been privy to the coffee-storage habits of many cafes and restaurants. He’s seen kitchens with their coffee beans stored above hot refrigeration units, noticed others that keep coffee in loosely wrapped packages, and some that let their ground coffee sit for weeks before brewing.
Ferrara offers some simple methods retailers can use to ensure that once they purchase high-quality coffee, the beans remain that way. “Keep coffee in an airtight bag in a dry, cool location–even the fridge or the freezer,” he says. And even when people manage to get their coffee into the refrigerator, he’s sometimes seen them leave the wrapping too loose. “Coffee is like a sponge,” says Ferrara. “It will suck in anything next to it–pepper, parsley, anything.” To make certain your coffee flavor of the day is vanilla nut and not curry, keep distance between your beans and spices.
Ferrara extends another morsel of advice: “Don’t keep coffee after grinding for more than seven days,” says the man who relies on his taste buds for truth. “The moment a bean is ground, it starts to lose freshness. You will begin to notice a change–not a tremendous change, but you will taste it.” And if you can taste it, he suggests, so can your customers. –M.W.