Chef Ray, a self-proclaimed coffee addict, discusses the coffee culture within restaurants and restaurant kitchens.
Ask any chef what keeps them going during a 16 hour, back breaking, heart attack inducing shift and pretty much all of them will tell you…. Coffee, lots and lots of coffee. I confess, I am a coffee addict. After finishing culinary school, I was holding 3 jobs, working 20-hour days and fuelled primarily on 12 cups of perfectly brewed espresso a day. I would disapprove of inadequately poured espresso shots pulled by an inexperienced barista if the taste was a little too bitter, the crema a little too thin. Espresso really is a testament to great coffee. The product of genuine craft. Water temperature, pressure, timing and exact measurements, all play a role in the perfectly pulled espresso.
However, when it comes to the restaurant industry, coffee is one of those proverbial thorns in the side. The coffee and food world are (sometimes frustratingly) separate, even though they hold the same beliefs and techniques, the same passion for quality produce and innovation. The reality though, is that quality coffee can be an investment of time and money that doesn’t bear all that much in returns for a restaurant.
There is a golden rule, long cherished in the business, for determining whether an establishment is viable: make your rent in four days, break even in a week; if you haven’t made the rent within 3 weeks, close. The logistics of selling only the finest, single origin, locally roasted coffee are sadly unrealistic. You could serve 400 cups of coffee in one day and still not make enough to cover your wages for the day. If you start overcharging for coffee, you might as well get ready to join the witness protection program and flee the country. Australian Chef Shannon Bennett was heavily criticized recently when an article was published about his $10 coffee. The article went viral and people started abusing him on social media and in the streets. Someone even threw a $10 bill in his face. Only the subject of coffee could create such anarchy. Yet the average coffee drinker can be known to nurse his cappuccino for upwards of 30 minutes. Don’t get me started on people with laptops that occupy a table literally all day, making their lukewarm latte last for hours. When you only have 20 tables, all these things make a big difference to the bottom line.
Coffee nerd consensus has long held the belief that restaurant coffee is generally lousy. It is a sad truth that a lot of restaurants worldwide don’t pay attention to coffee because it just doesn’t make money. Ultimately, I believe in top quality produce throughout my kitchen so why not for coffee too? It is common sense that a restaurant should consider every aspect of a meal, which can be ruined by a bitter, pungent, watery concoction. I feel that coffee should be an extension of the dining experience and not just an afterthought.
So yes, coffee can be fussy and coffee people can be pretentious. Yes, you will pay more for good coffee. Yes there are lots of reasons to say no to the cost and work involved, give up and drink Diet Coke for that daily caffeine fix.
But then again the same can be said about food.