With the change of seasons, Adam and Stacy Jed, owners of Bluestem Brasserie in San Francisco, test a flight of different coffees, seeking the best match for their restaurant’s seasonal menu.
They sip roasts of coffees from around the world, carefully evaluating nuances of each cup — a tough job, but someone has to do it, says Adam Jed, who is also beverage director for the urban neighborhood restaurant.
“There are so many different likes and roasts and beans and growers and regions, and you have to take into consideration what everyone wants,” Jed says. “It’s an endless cycle to satisfy customers.”
A satisfying cup of coffee is top of mind for today’s customers. Daily coffee consumption, particularly specialty coffee, has been on the rise in the United States, particularly among millennials — and that has been a boon for restaurants.
Packaged Facts reports the foodservice coffee market has increased 14.2 percent over the past four years. And the National Coffee Association’s 2016 National Coffee Drinking Trends reports the following:
- Daily consumption of espresso-based beverages has nearly tripled since 2008.
- Between 2008 and 2016, past-day consumption of gourmet coffee beverages soared from 13 to 36 percent among 18- to 24-year olds, and from 19 to 41 percent for those between the ages of 25 and 39.
- For espresso-based beverages alone, the jumps became 9 to 22 percent for the 18- to 24-year old group and 8 to 29 percent for those 25 to 39.
“People, especially millennials, are looking for more flavorful coffee and more challenge to the palate,” says independent coffee consultant Stephen Schulman.
Restaurant and foodservice operators need to be as knowledgeable, if not more so, than their consumers when it comes to what coffee they choose to offer.
“Coffee can set you apart from competitors,” Schulman says. “When consumers find a coffee they like, they are very loyal to it.”
Here are some coffee basics from Schulman and the NCA:
The Plant: “First and foremost, coffee is a culinary product,” Schulman says. The coffee bean is the seed in the fruit of the coffee tree. When the seed is dried, roasted and ground, it is used to brew coffee.
The Planet: Coffee is grown around the world along the equatorial zone called the “Bean Belt” — between latitudes 25 degrees north and 30 degrees south. This includes such countries as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen, Indonesia, Vietnam and Hawaii. Brazil and Columbia are the largest and second largest producers of coffee, respectively.
Where coffee is grown matters. “Coffee beans are similar to grapes in that the terroir [the type of soil] affects the characteristic of the bean,” Schulman says.
Coffee from Mexico will have a depth of flavor and sharpness that makes it excellent for dark roasts, while coffee from Indonesia will have a rich, full body and mild acidity, according to the NCA.
Elevation also is a factor. Higher quality arabica beans are grown at higher elevations than robusta beans. Coffee plants grow more slowly in the cooler air of higher altitudes, allowing the beans to develop more density, more sugars and starches that can handle roasting better, Schulman says.
The Roast: Harvested beans are stored green. Roasting brings out the aroma and flavor locked inside green coffee beans, the NCA reports.
Roasting beans is both art and science. Different roasts create different results and flavors. In general, there are light roasts, medium roasts, medium dark roasts and dark roasts.
Light: This is usually preferred for milder coffee varieties. The beans are not roasted long enough for oils to break through the surface.
“People often think that light roast means weak and insipid, but that is not true,” Schulman says.
Medium: The roast is medium brown in color with a stronger flavor and non-oily surface. This is usually referred to as the American roast because of its popularity in the United States.
Medium Dark: Rich, dark color with some oil on the surface, this roast will have a slight bittersweet aftertaste.
Dark: This roast is known for shiny black beans with an oily surface and pronounced bitterness. The darker the roast, however, the less acidity will be found in the coffee beverage, the NCA reports.
Roasted beans smell like coffee and once roasted the beans are ready to be ground and brewed.
Schulman suggests that restaurant operators who want to learn more about coffee and find ways to improve their beverage offerings, first talk with their suppliers.
“Start with the people you have relationships with,” he says. “Have a conversation about how they can help you better your business. Find out what they're seeing out there.”