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Espresso and institutional sales.

Espresso and institutional sales

Imagine this . . . you are in an expensive restaurant and you have just had a wonderful meal. It cost a fortune but you consider it money well spent because the service was great, the food was exquisite and all you need to complete the meal is a good cup of coffee. Everyone at the table orders one of the gourmet coffees listed on the menu except you and you order espresso. You saw the large, ornate copper espresso machine as you made your way to your table and you can't wait to try one.

The freshly brewed gourmet coffee is brought to the table in a thermos, your guests are served and then the waiter places your small demitasse cup of espresso in front of you. Everyone raves about the quality of the brewed coffee and you are sure your espresso will taste just as good.

You raise the cup to your lips and smile in anticipation of your enjoyment of the delightful elixir, but wait - the beautiful crema and wonderful aroma you have been accustomed to experiencing from the espresso served in your favorite coffee houses is missing. You sip the espresso warily and it tastes very bitter, almost burnt. You don't make a fuss, you don't complain to the waiter, but you push the cup to the side and vow never to repeat the same bad experience by ordering espresso in this restaurant again.

Is this fact or fantasy? You might be surprised how often this scene occurs in some of the nicest restaurants in America.

For the past year I have been working within a specialized segment of institutional sales called foodservice. As a specialty coffee consultant to one of the country's largest private label roasters, I develop gourmet coffee programs suitable to the unique needs of large foodservice accounts. A trend within these accounts that is taking hold and growing is the move to incorporate gourmet coffee into their existing coffee programs.

It is in a direct response to the consuming public's demand for better quality coffee that these major institutional accounts are upgrading their coffee programs this way. Working with these accounts to upgrade their programs are suppliers to the foodservice industry. These suppliers are doing an admirable job in providing the means to brew and serve gourmet coffees in the large quantities needed to accommodate this new line of coffee.

Major roasters, responding to this trend, are now making excellent quality, cost-competitive, gourmet coffee available to institutional accounts in whole bean and ground fractional packages. Equipment manufacturers are beginning to produce attractive brewers to prepare and hold gourmet coffee in the larger quantities needed for foodservice. Some suppliers even provide point of sale merchandising materials to create excitement for the new gourmet coffee products being offered.

As with many areas of the gourmet coffee industry, institutional sales of gourmet coffee are relatively new, so no real and pertinent statistics are available at this time to illustrate gourmet's growth within this segment. However, my close involvement with this segment of the coffee industry affords me personal knowledge of the development of this trend in institutional sales.

As gourmet coffee sales improve and dollars are generated, many large foodservice accounts are also beginning to see espresso as a compatible addition within their gourmet program. Espresso is accurately perceived by them as an upscale beverage that can add more bottom line dollar contribution to any coffee program. While I applaud their interest, I ALSO URGE CAUTION because espresso is an entirely different beverage from brewed coffee. Preparing and serving good espresso on a foodservice level requires a particular type of training, dedication, equipment, and most of all, blend of coffee.

Most Americans have never experienced the rich, satisfying taste of a true espresso since the American versions are usually poor imitations. This delightful coffee elixir should offer a delectable aroma contained in a rich, golden crema. The taste should be rich and satisfying without bitterness, and should coat the mouth in a celebration of sensations. This wonderful little jewel of coffee flavor should be savored during an afternoon coffee break or enjoyed like good brandy after a fine meal.

Espresso is a concentrated coffee beverage with a strong flavor and aroma and is prepared in individual servings upon request. Beans should be ground as needed and approximately 6-7 grams of coffee is used to extract approximately 1 1/4-2 1/2 ounces of espresso. (A true serving of espresso is small and therefore served in the tiny demitasse cup.) Each cup of traditional espresso has roughly a 25 percent concentration of coffee substances (soluble solids) but only 40 mg of caffeine (as compared to 70 mg in a cup of regular coffee).

Four distinct factors work in combination to produce the perfect cup. Espresso as a system is affected by the blend of coffee and its grind and freshness, the type of equipment and the maintenance of the equipment.

Equally important is the operator, whose job it is to adjust and maintain the equipment.

The best blend of coffee will not produce a quality espresso if it is not stored properly, or if the grind is not correct or if the machine's water temperature and boiler pressure are not maintained within recommended specifications. The operator's responsibility is to taste the espresso on a daily basis and adjust the machinery and grind as needed. In addition, the coffee must be stored carefully (away from moisture, light, and above all oxygen) and ground only as needed to prepare each cup.

In theory, when a foodservice account decides to purchase an espresso machine, the equipment salesman should guide the choice to the right equipment and then train employees on the operation and maintenance of the system. With so many good quality commercial espresso machines available now in the U.S., it is interesting to note that buying the right espresso machine will be easier than finding the right blend of coffee to produce a perfect cup of espresso.

Creating a truly flavorful blend of coffee for espresso is an art undiscovered by the major American roasters who supply the foodservice industry but this art is being studied and learned in America by the growing number of independent specialty roasters. The beverage's long standing popularity in Europe enabled major European roasters to apply themselves successfully to the development of excellent quality blends for espresso.

Large American roasters however are accustomed to supplying the cost sensitive institutional market and the cost per pound these accounts pay for coffee is critical. Because institutional roasters work with such a cost sensitive market, bean selection and roast yield become controlling factors in maintaining the cost-competitive prices that attract and retain large institutional coffee accounts. Large roasters work within industry standards of roast colors, and coffee is roasted just along enough to cover flaws yet still yield maximum weight. Since yield is such a critical factor, beans are not necessarily roasted the optimum length of time to bring out the best taste qualities of the particular type of coffee. Dark roasted coffee results in lower yield and a higher per pound cost so espresso becomes an expensive proposition to roast, much less blend.

Accounts supplied by large roasters expect to pay a low cost per pound for espresso even though it is much more expensive to produce. This somewhat ties the hands of their suppliers to produce a quality espresso blend. Espresso costs more than regular institutional coffee to produce, and institutional accounts are generally unwilling to pay a higher cost. Because of this, espresso coffee at an institutional level is usually produced as cheaply as possible using low grade beans and roasting them very dark. The general consensus seems to be since it is going to be roasted so dark, why waste high grade beans.

Espresso roast was developed in Northern Italy as a quality food item, and it is not another term for Italian roast coffee. Here in America, Italian roast coffee is thought to be a generic term for espresso and this is simply untrue. Blending and roasting coffee for espresso, when properly done, is a much costlier and labor intensive endeavor than just roasting coffee to a dark Italian roast. In Italy where espresso is king, many large commercial roast houses devote themselves exclusively to espresso and they carefully roast and blend the coffee for taste rather than cost. They are well aware there is much more involved in producing espresso than just dark roasting coffee.

In America, this espresso roasting and blending tradition is slowly being adopted by a growing number of independent roasters. Their flexibility allows them more leeway in experimenting with roast degrees and blends to create the "perfect" cup of espresso. Independent roasters who choose to produce a high quality espresso are usually afficianados of espresso and have a personal interest in the beverage produced. As do the Italian roasters, they roast and blend more for taste than cost.

Espresso coffee is best when composed of a blend of beans from several growing regions because no one variety of coffee bean has the full range of the taste characteristics that are desirable in espresso. A good blend of coffee for espresso should have body, acidity, flavor and aroma. It takes a relatively large amount of beans to make a cup of espresso (50 to 70) and one bad bean can affect the taste. Each bean must be perfect and combinated with beans that complement each others characteristics.

The next critical factor after the blend is the roast which makes the green coffee bean give up its taste secrets. For espresso, the roast should be dark with approximately 16 to 24 percent weight loss depending on roast time and equipment. A dark roast is favored because this improves the flavor, and the coffee becomes fuller bodied. The roast has to be dark enough to bring out the desired flavor characteristics but not dark enough to become carbonized or burned. Espresso is best prepared from dark roasted coffee, not burned coffee beans.

Roasting and blending quality espresso coffee is neither simple nor cheap. Institutional users of coffee are accustomed to paying a certain price per pound for coffee and so are generally unwilling to pay the higher cost for quality espresso. This forces the major roasters who supply this market to sell lower grade, dark roasted coffee at an inexpensive price.

Consumers who try poor quality espresso at large foodservice operations may never drink it again. They don't know that the bitter brew they are consuming is not representative of a true espresso prepared from a high quality blend. Institutional purveyors of espresso coffee are costing themselves new and repeat business because they want to buy espresso coffee cheaply. If they paid more for a high quality espresso blend, they could charge more per cup and enjoy more repeat business because the end beverage would taste better.

In view of these circumstances, specialized coffee shops, smaller roast houses and individually owned larger roast houses where quality rather than quantity is emphasized represent the future of high quality espresso in America. Institutional roasters supplying a price sensitive market cannot charge enough to warrant the production of the more expensive, quality blend of coffee that is required to make a truly good cup of espresso.

Institutional users of coffee who have successfully incorporated gourmet coffee into their programs will have to learn that espresso coffee is not to be confused with regular brewed coffee. The method is different. If they use a quality blend, espresso sold to customers will taste better and therefore generate repeat business; the increased sales will more than cover the additional bean cost.

Consumers are responsible for htis trend toward quality gourmet coffee in foodservice. They have shown their support for gourmet coffee by requesting it at the foodservice level and they must provide this same support for quality espresso. By refusing to buy and drink inferior espresso and insisting on a quality produce, they will help upgrade the espresso served at the foodservice level. In general, you get what you pay for in the coffee industry and the truly satisfying and smooth coffee elixer known as espresso is worth the cost.

Shea Sturdivant is associate director of he Roastery Development Group, providing educational consulting services to the coffee industry and is based in San Francisco and New Orleans. She is also resident of Coffee Roasters of New Orleans, Inc., a roasting firm specializing in flavored coffees.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Sturdivant, Shea
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1989
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