On coffee in non-coffee places that serve coffee.
The rest of the food, drink and hospitality business really wants to play ball with the world of good tasting coffee. Unfortunately, the gap looks as big as ever — can the answer lie somewhere in the cooperation between coffee professionals, the hospitality industry and machine manufacturers?
Let’s face it coffee, when it comes to a sales pitch, you have some issues. When asales rep comes in and say «hey guys, we’ll give you a free machine, all you have to do is use our nifty little pods. There is no learning curve, everyone can do it, it doesn’t take long, it will always taste the same if prepared by your maître d’ or your new busboy and the brand comes with a tingle of exclusivity.» — Let’s face it, it’s a pretty easy sell.
Imagine the same pitch from a speciality coffee professional put in comparison. It will probably go something like «hey guys, to get to buy our produce you’re gonna have to buy tens of thousands worth of equipment that will take up a lot of space, make noise, take quit a bit of time to learn (and a long time to master). It will spill ground coffee all over your bar and aprons. And after that, you’re gonna spend a lot of time training every new waiter. And our produce is really pricy. But you’ll be doing the proper thing».
Of course, taste-wise there is no comparison. Fresh produce will always (if a minimum of cleanliness and skill is involved) taste better than what is stuffed in a plastic pod.
And it is — you know — better for the environment.
And it seems like now coffee professionals are patting themselves on the back. Big restaurant names in Scandinavia is making proper coffee. High fives all around. Surely this will trickle down and start a revolution… right?
Sadly, I think it’s gonna be a while before anyone can celebrate the coffee revolution in hotels and restaurants. The machinery that hotelliers and restauranteurs (not to mention the people on the floor) want simply do not exist.
Speciality coffee has had a long and tough road to differentiate itself from the dreaded word «convenience». Coffee is not convenient. It’s not a push of a button. It’s an art. A skill. A barista is more chef than sommelier — maybe more like a bartender if you have to compare it — thank you very much. But a restaurant can’t have a barista on hand. Not even Noma can foot the cost of a dedicated barista, and they have a pretty high ratio of staff-to-guest. So for coffee in hotels and restaurants to be feasible, a non-barista has to make it.
In a medium-sized restaurant, with a two-group espresso machine and a good grinder, a party of 12 ordering a selection of espresso-based drinks will probably grind the service for that station to a screeching halt for a good 10 minutes.
See the problem of the restaurant manager when the artisan roaster comes knocking with their coffee bar-solutions? It usually does not translate to the rhythm and flow of a restaurant — which most coffee professionals are often painfully oblivious to.
The problem is that not one party can change this situation. The perfect solution for coffee in a restaurant does not (yet)exist and can — as far as I can see — not be found in either realm of the coffee or hotels/restaurants. Somehow, someone need to sit down with the cleverest minds from each field in a room, lock the door and throw away the key until a solution is found.
The restaurant industry need to be clear about what they need to invest their time and money on a (superior) product to make it feasible in their setting. The coffee industry need to be open to a different set of rules than what they do on their «home turf» in this alien setting. And at the table a capable and future-thinking machine manufacturer will need the guts to listen to both and be innovative and make this middle ground and produce it in the best manner possible.
I’m pretty sure the first one to introduce such a device will get stupendously rich.
Low entry cost, or sponsorship deals to restaurants. Global distribution. Small footprint. Cleanliness. The ability to make several drinks at once (larger tables all want their coffee at the same time, and all of them hot). Ease of use and learning. Control over parameters.
I’m not sure if it’s possible at all. But it’s worth thinking about. And all parties in this broken relationship would be happier off if everyone tried to see the problem from the others point of view, rather than focusing on the obstacles and lack of will.
Who knows, maybe the fruit of such a labour could be a big leap forward for everyone.