Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts ushered
in an era of discriminating consumer coffee
tastes, and because it is a natural companion
to baked products, many bakers
are evaluating their coffee programs.
Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts ushered in an era of discriminating consumer coffee tastes, and because it is a natural companion to baked products, many bakers are evaluating their coffee programs.
“With coffee, you have to be aware that the equipment makes a bit of a statement,” says Mark Patterson, vice president of purchasing and co-founder, Paradise Bakery & Café, Phoenix. “If you have older equipment, some people will have doubts, founded or not, whether it's capable of making a decent cup of coffee.”
This perception is driving many bakers to update their coffee programs. Technology has taken coffee to new levels of automation and precision, and it's difficult to know where to begin.
One way to address a lack of equipment is to use coffee roasters. Many roasters will furnish all of the physical necessities of a coffee program, namely brewers, grinders and pots, in exchange for a predetermined contract on bean purchases. Many roasters also will provide marketing material, training and maintenance. But bakers should have a good understanding of what they want before making any decisions.
“The first thing to determine is how deep you want to dive into a program,” says Tim Cleland, sales manager for G. Gavina & Sons, Vernon, Calif. “Most bakeries offer a good drip program, but more and more are starting to offer full-blown espresso-based programs, including blended drinks.”
To make this choice, bakers have to determine what customers expect and what they are willing to buy. The first step in setting up a coffee program is a dialogue with customers to see what level of sophistication the market will bear.
“A bakery's primary business is to be a bakery, so you can't look at a Starbucks and expect to compete with 10 different varieties of frappes,” Patterson says. “A baker has to pick a handful of the best and most appropriate for the bakery. We thought it was important to have at least one light and one dark roast, then espresso, and in a few markets, flavored coffee.”
Once a plan for product mix has been established, bakers can begin to look at the equipment they will need. The first decision is whether to go with an automatic or overpour variety of coffee maker. More expensive automatic machines are hooked directly to a water source; simpler overpour machines, as the name suggests, requires a user to physically add the water to the top of the coffeemaker. This decision is based on volume and labor, and assuming a coffee program is secondary to the main business of baking, many bakeries begin with the overpour coffee maker.
Traditional drip coffee makers have long been the standard among overpours. They can reliably make very good coffee, but are not as successful at keeping coffee both hot and fresh. Additional heat needs to be added to the coffee via a supporting hot plate, but this evaporates moisture, and coffee quickly loses its freshness. Some bakeries retain coffee freshness by pouring freshly drip-brewed coffee into vacuum servers, which thermally hold heat and rely on a vacuum effect to retain moisture content.
Most new coffee programs, though, make use of airpots. After water is added, coffee is brewed directly into the airpot, where temperature is maintained thermally without an outside heat source. This keeps the coffee hot and fresh for much longer, and without an additional heating element, the airpots are transportable. In most cases, several airpots are grouped together, each containing a different coffee variety. Customers can then make a choice and pump the coffee into a cup directly from the airpot.
“The most important part of picking equipment is to know ahead of time what you are getting and who you are working with,” Patterson says. “Get out there and test it, see how well you are able to use it. Be sure that there will be reliable service available in your area, and be sure you have a good relationship with your supplier.”
Beans make the program
The primary elements of any coffee program are the coffee beans themselves. The proof really is in the pudding, and just as in baking, you have to start with a great product to end up with a great product. Bakers can go in a variety of directions when sourcing coffee beans. Larger bean suppliers have many advantages in terms of equipment and equipment maintenance, and their success is a testament to the quality of their coffee beans.
But when Rick Boone of Rick's Bakery, Fayetteville, Ark., recently implemented a full coffee bar program, he decided to go local when sourcing his bean roaster.
“One of our ideas was to create flavored coffees matched to the pastries that we sell,” Boone says.
Everytime Boone comes up with a new pastry idea he thinks translates well to coffee, he makes a trip to his bean roaster and tinkers with blends until he reaches the right flavor.
“He lets us buy in as small as 10-lb. bags, which is nice because not every flavor takes off,” he adds. Though Boone had to purchase and now maintains his own equipent, he is satisfied with his local coffee bean roaster.
“Depending on the size of the bakery or bakeries, local roasters can be a good idea,” Patterson says. “They likely already have local brand recognition, and they may more accurately reflect certain local or regional preferances.”
Boone also both brews and sells the beans for his proprietary blend, aptly named Rick's Blend.
“One of the reasons we wanted to have our own recipe was to develop a customer following,” he says. “Besides, a house blend sounds generic; this is another way to futher the brand.”
Patterson agrees that the best way to market coffee is to give it a story, give it a background and a personality.
“That way, when asked about the coffee, employees can relate a background, talk about the meticulous process used to roast the beans or show pictures of the plantation that it's grown on,” Patterson says. “You almost have to tell people why they are enjoying the coffee so much. It adds to their experience.”