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In search of the 21st Century brewer.

The secrets of great wine are in the bottle. Providing that reasonable care is taken with the bottle, the wine, when poured, will present the consumer with exactly what the vintner intended in the way of bouquet, body, color, and taste. The secrets of great coffee are found in the art of the cafeterias, the patience of the cupper, and the skill of the roast-master. Yet often, the secrets of a great coffee's year long journey from flower to cup are buried by the poor brewing practices of foodservice operators only minutes before they reach the consumer.

A cup of good coffee is more than great beans. It is the particular care that must be taken in the preparation of the beverage.

Kitchen personnel were a very special breed in the early 1960's when I apprenticed. The coffeeman, usually above busboy rank in a fine dining place, was a professional in the true sense. He looked after the care and feeding of his urn, and was responsible for the polish of the jacket, and the squeaky cleanliness of the glass liner. He rinsed and stored the muslin filter sacks and tended to the replacement of faucet washers, gauge glasses, and the like.

In the great vaulted and brightly lit file food hall that was the kitchen of New York's famed Astor Hotel, I saw him, there at his post, in his starched whites, every Tuesday morning. By my 8:00 AM arrival, he had already seen to the burnish on the heavy hotel plate silver hollow ware, and the chilling and filling of the cream pitchers (with real heavy cream).

The coffee brewing itself was a delicate manual art; holding the gallon measure high above the urn bag and pouring exactly 1.77 gallons of the scalding hot water - that had been drawn from the water boiler - over the pound of grounds evenly, in a circular motion. Missed drops hissed and danced off the fire hot stainless steel. The whole operation was accompanied by the undercurrent breath of the gas flames licking at the bottom of the holding tanks and boiler of the urn battery.

The coffeeman saw to it that everything was in order, and that every pot of liquid rubies that went into the dining room was piping hot and freshly drawn. Woe be it to the miscreant waiter that touched that urn without the coffeeman's permission.

Everything was wonderful. Everything was perfect. Everything was under control. "Coffee should be uniformly excellent from day to day," the hotel's Mr. Chadwick had said, and so it was. Except on the day that the coffeeman was late, had a fight with his wife, was out sick, or on vacation. Then the coffee was a catch-as-catch-can proposition in terms of recipe, and freshness.

Into my coffee world, at about this time, came a new technology: the automatic brewer. These marvelous toys represented a quantum leap forward for the foodservice operator. Disposable paper filters replaced the smell of improperly cared for urn bags. There was no chance of scalding. The old fragile glass liners were gone, replaced by strong stainless steel. Automatic operation took the art out of brewing and brought science into the food-service coffee station. A uniform cup, brew after brew after brew. The age of the foodservice coffeeman was over.

The technology of the 1960's - with a few wrinkles like solid-state circuitry and movable satellites - is still the primary equipment of the, 1990's. The development of storing coffee in a thermos goes back to the 1930s and the Sunday trials of cold weather football spectators. The primary innovation of my coffee generation to the art of American coffee service was the adoption of this football coffee technology in the form of the pump airpot for longer term storage of beverage coffee.

There are a myriad of equipment sources making well-designed brewers today. I like them and am comfortable with them. They are the brewers that I grew up with, and that have grown up with me. I understand that adaptable technology exists today to design and build any kind of coffee hardware we can dream of. The desirability of a new technology brewer, and what obstacles there are in bringing it to market are worth exploring. Doing so may enlighten us as to why we do not see more entrepreneurial experiments in brewing technology. It may also fire the imagination of some to go out and fill the void.

Lets take a moment to review the bare necessities in the preparation of a cup of good coffee. Water and coffee must be fresh and properly measured. The bed of coffee must be of the correct depth for the volume of water that will pass through it. The grind must be appropriate to the brew method and filtering device. The heated pure fresh drawn water (190-200[degrees]F.) must be evenly spread atop the grounds. Surgical steel filters are preferred to paper (ecologists like that too), though paper (preferably oxygen whitened rather than bleached) will do. There should be automatic disposal of spent grounds right after the brew cycle is completed. The completed brew should be stirred prior to service. Spent grounds must be discarded. Brew chamber and filter must be cleansed before the next cycle. Fresh coffee should not be brewed "on top" of old coffee. Decanting coffee in thermal carafes to retain freshness is important if the brew is not being consumed at one sitting.

The ideal beverage has been brewed from fresh 100% Arabica coffee, and has been extracted to 1.25% soluble solids in solution. This is a brew ratio of about 2.25 gallons of water per pound of coffee in American style coffee, or a yield of about 43/six-ounce servings per pound. All these technical innovations can be incorporated in equipment now. To date, no one has implemented all of them in one automatic brewing system.

The ideal coffeemaker should produce exquisite tasting coffee. It should be sturdy, reliable, easy to clean and maintain, and be as small as possible for its function. It should be electrically powered, automated, "intelligent," economical to purchase, operate, and maintain.

The ideal brewer adjusts to fit the call for regular and decaf beverage throughout the day. It is heavy duty enough to take the strain at peak hours without requiring secondary lighter equipment for use during light demand hours.

The coffee brewer is the most used and abused piece of foodservice equipment. Brewing equipment is only as good as its last brew cycle. Down equipment frustrates the foodservice operator and strains his relationship with his coffee distributor. Coffee accompanies almost every out-of-home breakfast and dinner meal, and is no slouch in sales at luncheon and snack times either. Being without coffee is tantamount to being out of business to many operators. For the coffee distributors, it means placing equipment that is reliable. It may break down anyway, so having an emergency maintenance program to get that unit up and running in the simplest, easiest, least expensive way possible is essential.

The best equipment is made with the best materials. Its design is simplicity itself. Its form follows its function. It incorporates solid state, snap-in snap-out panels, lots of stainless, and little traditional plastic. There is easy accessibility for on-sight maintenance. The most difficult repair should be able to be handled on-sight in less than one hour. Ideally, the average repair should take 15 minutes and all needed parts should be available from the local five & dime or hardware store.
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Title Annotation:part 1
Author:Schoenholt, Donald N.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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