I think that just about every coffee enthusiast has visited one of their favorite restaurants, seen a gorgeous machine and grinder sitting discretely on a counter, then ordered a post-dinner espresso only to be presented with a terrible sink shot that ruins an otherwise perfect meal. I don’t understand how a business can invest such a substantial amount of money in a product, only to fall short in the execution. Beside being a coffee lover and a bit of a foodie, I’ve spent most of my life working in the restaurant industry. I started working in the family restaurant at 13 years old, then I moved on to various positions at other restaurants, meeting great people who were passionate about their products at every step along the way. It hurts to see other restaurateurs who are obviously passionate about their food unknowingly serve sub par espresso or coffee. So I guess that this is a bit of an open letter to restaurants considering serving espresso in their business. Some suggestions:
1. Don’t skimp on the training. If you can drop a couple thousand on a commercial machine and a grinder, you should be able find the money to hire a professional barista to train you and your staff. Don’t tape a set of laminated instructions to the side of the machine and hope for the best.
2. Fresh beans. Grind to order. You can’t order pre-ground, and you should not be grinding a days worth of beans all at once in the morning.
3. Keep things clean and well maintained. Nothing turns off customers like a milk-encrusted steam wand or a rusty machine. Stress the importance of cleaning to staff, especially to servers who are likely to be running around and cutting corners after making drinks.
4. Either order through a quality roaster online, or find a local roaster capable of producing a consistent, high quality bean. Be wary of black, oily “espresso roast” beans. Don’t go through the same supplier who brings in your food every day. You want to know the roast date of your beans and you don’t want too much product on hand. Plus, it is a good opportunity to create some business for a local coffee roaster, and for them to generate some business for you. Maybe even host some events together if you go local.
5. Consider offering pairings of espresso and desserts or meals. It is the kind of move that can bring foodies into the growing third wave coffee movement, and can let coffee snobs know that you are taking your coffee seriously. Many people, myself included, have learned to avoid risking restaurant coffee, it is up to you to win them back. Get nerdy about coffee. Learn about the flavors and origins of your beans.