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All systems go: capitalizing on the coffee drink craze requires the right coffee equipment.

Restaurant operators today are brewing up a wide array of coffee drinks--from classic espressos and iced lattes to the latest libations where coffee or espresso and spirits marry to create balanced signature cocktails. Customers crave flavor, richness and variety, and are willing to pay a premium for it. All that's needed to satisfy them is the right recipe--today's baristas and mixologists are definitely on it--and, of course, the right systems and brewers to turn out these profitable drinks.


Consistency, precision portioning to prevent waste, outstanding servicing and convenience are top criteria operators cite when selecting coffee systems.

"The right equipment is important, but how systems are set up and adjusted is even more so," says Bob Lightman, owner of Mio Gelato, an Italian gelateria and espresso bar that also serves grilled panini in Portland, Ore. "We serve Illy coffee and use La Marzocco espresso machines. Our distributor comes in and regulates the temperature of the water, keeps the spray heads clean and sets up the pressure properly," he says. "That's how you keep coffee drinks consistently good."

La Marzocco, based in Florence, Italy, "is the Cadillac of espresso machines," Lightman says. Its dual-boiler system--one for hot water and the other for steam--"maintains separate pressures and temperatures; the steam doesn't interfere with the espresso. That's important in a high volume operation like ours."

The most popular drink at Mio Gelato is the latte; proportions for the espresso and steamed milk vary, but most popular is two shots of espresso, he says. Other top selling drinks are the Caffe di Granita, made with espresso, milk and sugar, and a specialty, Gelato Affogato, which plunges a scoop or two of gelato in a cup of espresso.


Mule, a casual cafe and wine bar in Brooklyn, N.Y., also uses La Marzocco espresso machines to make a host of classic drinks, including cappuccino and lattes, as well as a few signature drinks. These include the Balboa, a latte incorporating part breve (cream or half and half) and part soy, with a touch of chocolate and raspberry. The Jack Dempsey is a breve latte with four shots of espresso; the drink is a reflection of owner Hil Sherman's Italian/Irish family heritage.


For coffee drinks, he focuses on several areas: ensuring that the grind is properly adjusted for the bean type and humidity, correctly tamping and pulling the shots (to ensure they are not overpacked or allowed to brew beyond the peak cream point) and steaming the milk to perfection.

Mule also uses Cecilware BC2 coffee brewers--"a modern version of the original silo brewers that they began constructing decades ago; this unit is about as simple as it gets," says Sherman.

While simple often works well, to satisfy operators demanding quality and consistency, several vendors now offer state-of-the-art systems and products. Nestle's Nespresso, for example, provides operators with a comprehensive coffee solution program focusing on a high level of customer service, six different coffees and state-of-the-art machines. Its latest line, Gemini Generation, blends stylish design with convenient features. The Cappuccinatore, for example, incorporates a fresh milk feature to heat and froth milk for espresso, while features on other models include double-head brewing systems.

Last month, Coca-Cola Foodservice and the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia partnered to launch a high-yield, shelf stable liquid coffee system under the Juan Valdez cafeReale name. The joint venture is a bundled coffee, brewing equipment and service package, delivered as a turn-key system, says Michael Hubert, senior strategy and development manager, Coca-Cola North America. "We're propositioning this as a hassle-free coffee execution, as it requires no filters or grounds and reduces waste. A two-liter package of the coffee produces a bit over 400 12-oz. cups of coffee," he says.

While the right equipment is paramount, so is finding just the right coffee and espresso products. Suppliers such as Illy Cafe, offer products to service various sizes and styles of restaurant operators. Illy's formats for its 100 percent Arabica espresso range from three-kilogram tins to 250-gram cans, to its "easy serving espresso" pods. The individual, premeasured pods that are ready in 30 seconds offer high consistency and are becoming increasingly popular among operators, according to the company.

Central 214 in Dallas, which opened last September, uses Illy espresso pods to make drinks that include its Dallas Morning cocktail ($12). "We use Illy pods for the consistency. Baristas won't be putting in too much or too little, and that saves waste; also there's no mess or clean up and it's quick," says Greg Francis, director of operations for Central 214 parent company Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, midwest.

Some operators go beyond the expected. Coffee aficionado Daniel Levy, executive chef at Aix Brasserie in New York City, says his love of coffee started during his honeymoon in Costa Rica, and he has since brought coffee and espresso not only to cups, but to his cuisine as well. He developed a cocoa coffee sauce to accompany venison and created a frozen creme espresso souffle dessert with banana espresso. He uses a La Cimbali M29 espresso machine that he calls "traditional and basic," along with Lavazza Arabica espresso. "Lavazza has great distribution and pricing," he says.

Lavazza also has three cafes, located in downtown Chicago, which entice guests with a variety of espresso-based drinks. Caffe Shakerato ($3.29) is the cafe's signature iced espresso; the Espresso Crema Shakerato (also $3.29) adds a layer of cold milk to iced coffee, which is then frothed in a shaker; chocolate or hazelnut flavors are optional. Lavazza Cafes use Facma E-98 President espresso machines and Fetco CBS-2052E coffee brewers. The cafes have been getting a lot of buzz for their "espesso" (a play on "spesso," the Italian word for thick), a coffee beverage with a mousse-like consistency. It is served cold with a spoon, either black or mixed with milk.


Operators are using their favorite beans to create fun, innovative coffee-based cocktails today as well. At Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bars in Atlantic City, N.J. and Philadelphia, a popular signature drink is the Cafe Cuba Libre. This Cuban coffee is topped with steamed coconut milk. The restaurants use Olstoria espresso machines and Bunn drip coffee machines and grind Kona and Ethiopian beans to order.

For a little theater, a popular flaming drink, the Coffee Diablo, is served at El Gaucho, a three-location steakhouse concept in the northwest, owned by Seattle-based Mackay Restaurants. The drink blends Cafe Vita coffee and espresso for a strong mix, says owner Paul Mackay. Orange peel is studded with cloves and then a mix of orange curacao, triple sec and brandy is poured over the peel.

In addition to hot drinks, a trend of cold coffee libations is emerging. Kimptons' Francis explains: "Hot coffee in cocktails has been around for a long time--coffee with Bailey's, Irish whiskey or Kahlua come to mind. But today, we're seeing cold refreshing cocktails with coffee in them." The key to these, he says, as in any other cocktails or food items for that matter, is in balancing the ingredients.

"At Central 214, our Dallas Morning contains vanilla vodka, and this balances the bitterness of the espresso." The drink, which also contains Kahlua and simple syrup, is part of a cocktail menu created by consulting bar chef Jacques Bezuidenhout.

Martinis with espresso and vodka, often vanilla flavored, seem to be catching on, and are being menued at a variety of operations, including Tulio Ristorante in Seattle. There, the Espresso Martini mixes vanilla vodka with a shot of espresso, plus splashes of Frangelico, Godiva Chocolate Liqueur and half and half, strained into a cocktail glass.

Zach Shelton, Tulio's general manager, says he uses La San Marco 85-16M-2 espresso machine, saying it's "a great machine, that when taken care of properly pulls a wonderfully consistent shot." He sources organic beans, both regular and decaf, from Cafe Vita in Seattle.

Taggia, located at the FireSky Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., offers a house specialty, the Macaroon Martini ($13), shaken with Grey Goose Vodka, Dark Chocolate Liqueur, espresso and Amaretto. The drink is garnished with coconut and espresso beans. Franke espresso machines are in use; manager Joe Slane says they deliver on his main goal of consistency by dispensing "perfect portions" each time. Because the system is fully automated, espresso and milk waste is reduced.

Another trend is "latte art." Mio Gela-to's Lightman says, "Our servers create a heart or rosette on top of the drink with the milk pourers. It looks beautiful, but the milk has to be the perfect consistency to get the design right. We even have competitions. It takes a lot of staff training, but it's worth it."

Latte art is also practiced at Mule. There, baristas whip up such images as mule heads, spider webs and rosettes.

Flavors are also gaining popularity in coffee drinks, although not among "purist" patrons, operators say. While Lightman says his customers are "mostly traditional Italian espresso-based drinkers," he does offer flavored syrups. "The nut flavors are especially popular, as are vanilla and caramel. We changed recently to Monin, because we wanted to improve our offerings.

Kimptons' Francis is a bit more skeptical. "I'm not sure [flavors] will catch on the way you've seen it with iced teas. People who drink coffee like the flavor, and adding flavors changes the taste."

Flavored or not, Americans' love of coffee-based drinks is not showing any signs of slowing down. With that in mind, upgrading coffee offerings and equipment just makes good sense.
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Author:Van Savage, Ellie
Article Type:Company overview
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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