Investing in Coffee Technology to Keep Improving

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Background

At Baltzersen’s we have never claimed to be a specialty coffee shop and we have been comfortable offering the best coffee we can brew with the equipment at our disposable.  We’re a cafe that has always relied on our scratch baking, homemade food with a Scandi twist and friendly knowledgeable service to complement our overall offer.

Those caveats in place we do recognise coffee is a huge part of our business that represents roughly 30% of our turnover.  Not only that, it’s one of the products that brings people back through our doors again and again. It allows us to sell our food and treats alongside it, increasing overall spend per head and creating a sustainable business that coffee usually cannot deliver on its own.

Many cafe owners (and we do make a specific distinction between cafe and coffee shops here) would likely say that their guests enjoy the coffee they serve and may not be so focussed on investing to improve what they do.

If you’re a cafe it’s tempting to think that improving the coffee by 5% or 10% may not be a big deal – people won’t be bothered.  You may initially be right, your guests may not notice.  If you choose to neglect your coffee technology year after year and don’t keep up with your peers this becomes problematic.  Other areas of the market are investing heavily in coffee (McDonalds, Greggs); competition from both chains and other independents is high.  It is worth carefully considering the impact of serving really good coffee.

Improving Coffee Technology at Baltzersen’s

In 2018 we have invested a five figure sum in coffee technology that should future-proof our operation for the next 5 years.  To be clear we are leasing this equipment so it’s not the massive upfront cost that would be out of the question for many small businesses, us included.

We were looking for improvements firstly to the taste in the cup for guests.  Many of our guests won’t necessarily notice a massive difference (many won’t notice anything at all), but we are confident if nothing else that there will be significantly fewer ‘bad’ cups of coffee served.  As a business these improvements signal our intent to guests, and internally to the team, that striving to improve what we do and offering better value and consistency for our guests is important.

Taste and consistency is the first target.  Secondary aims are to improve workflow for the front of house team and therefore speed of service for guests.  A reduction in wastage is another side benefit and that could be in badly dosed coffee grounds, the amount of coffee required to dial-in on a daily basis, being efficient with milk and many other areas.

For the first 5 years of business we used the La Spaziale S5 (2 Group) which was a real workhorse, super reliable and really competitively priced.  Towards the end of last year it just wasn’t coping any more. The espresso wasn’t good enough and it didn’t have the steam capacity for a business like ours that gets through upwards of 30kg of coffee per week and critically serves large drinks up to 16oz (that’s a lot of milk to steam).

With the help of our roasters North Star, based in Leeds, we selected the La Marzocco PB to be a worthy replacement.  Some of the features on this machine deliver a significant leap forward in the quality of coffee we brew and adding technology really takes some of the pressure off the baristas.  Anecdotally we’re confident that consistency is through the roof.

Coffee-Machine

Next in line for a replacement based on its performance under significant pressure was our Mahlkonig K30 grinder.  As it heated up during service the dose would become very inconsistent and as a result the espresso was negatively affected.  This has now been moved to become our decaf grinder whilst the Anfim SPII takes over as the main grinder.

Grinders-and-Puqpress

Over the last few years more focus has come onto the long-term effects, from an ergonomic perspective, of being a barista.  Repetitive strain injury (RSI) from tamping is real thing and there have been numerous developments in how this can be reduced.  One way is by getting something else that can do the tamping for you and we have purchased the Puqpress for our bar.

Cost

If you’re wondering what this kind of thing can cost we’re paying in the region of £289 ex VAT per month (over a 36 month term) for our machine.  With the exception of a documentation fee that’s an all in price and we’ll own the equipment following a final payment at the the end of the scheme.

Summary

Making coffee can involve lots of kit, some of it quite complicated and often expensive.  Our coffee sales continue to increase so the volume of coffee we prepare also rises. Without taking steps to improve what we do and how we do it our quality would inevitably drop and that would affect the whole business negatively.

Upfront cost would be high but if your business can afford a lease agreement then upgrading your equipment is worth considering.   If your kit is really old you may well find you save staff time, create less waste and can serve guests quicker.

We’ve now got the coffee technology that we feel is appropriate for our operation.  The next thing to focus on is investing in ongoing training for the team, because the person that makes the coffee is almost always more important than the machine they use.

Paul

If you have any questions about this post do post them in the comments or get in touch direct, I’d be happy to answer them.

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