I work in a very busy farm to table restaurant called Woodberry Kitchen. I run a full-time coffee program, have competed, have traveled to origin, have written for Barista Mag, hold weekly coffee cuppings, train on all things coffee, and have build a team of kind-hearted, focused and amazingly talented Baristas. So, I can't help but feel a bit annoyed and maybe slightly hurt over this particularly one-sided conversation, because there really are places in the world doing coffee right. So, in defense of restaurant coffee, lets point out some of the exceptions and maybe open up the conversation to the reality of restaurants and their inner workings. First things first, you can't make good coffee from bad beans, that much we can probably all agree on. And yes, chef/owners generally don't know or even care enough to scrutinize coffee with the same focus that a Barista might. So, in many ways, restaurants are very behind in the coffee world, but the same could be argued when it comes to the average cafe's approach to food and hospitality. But, I truly believe that this is changing. Chefs are becoming more and more intrigued and curious about coffee and it's multifarious nature...and with this curiosity, they are challenging the notion of what is acceptable coffee service within their own establishment. It's a slow process, but we as an industry need to support and nurture this desire in those who do want to change, rather then give up on restaurant coffee as a whole...because that would be just too easy. Restaurants are a truly untapped market within the coffee industry. Sure, no roaster wants to see that their beans are 2 months out of the roast, over-extracted, and pulled on an ancient and dirty espresso machine; but, in order to effect change within the system, you need to educate people on why they should care. Nobody just starts caring, there has to be a lightbulb moment. As an industry, we should be aware of that, aware of our own paths that we took in coffee, accept that sometimes it is slow, and truly highlight what is good. Education is key. Thats how you get people to care. Not by scolding an entire industry because they are slower to the game then you, but by nurturing positive reinforcement, whether that is in serving a beautifully crafted cup of coffee to someone or gently letting them know that a good chemical clean will do their espresso right. Yes, in a best case scenario, you need a barista or at least someone who deeply cares for the craft. Most times, this is where the labor cost issue arises. Truthfully, labor costs are a difficult agenda to tackle no matter what. But, if you can sell the coffee, you can hire a barista. Now, thats a gross over simplification of the matter. But really, if you establish a program, an good check average versus a great check average for your waitstaff can be completely swayed on whether or not you get coffee on that table. In order to do that, you must educate your staff. It goes way beyond convincing your Chef/Owner.
I think that's a lot of it, I think it's also a matter of "customer's don't know the difference." But even if we're talking the VERY high end in restaurants (the $100-$200 a plate type), I suspect you won't find the shots all that much better. As we all know here, espresso is a full-time specialty unto its own. Knowing the equipment, operating it, keeping your beans at proper age, properly dialed in, etc. What restaurant has the resources, physical space, and staff available to have dedicated people and floor space just for the espresso portion, which few will even purchase.
I'd be amazed if, even in Italy, restaurant shots were on par with dedicated cafe shots. I doubt it's "a US thing" at all. Most restaurants offer espresso "as a service" pulled on a super-automatic. A GOOD cafe gets great shots both by great equipment (read: large equipment that needs a small kitchen of its own), highly trained individuals pulling the shots, good bean inventory management, and constantly adjusting grind, maybe temp (or flush times on an HX during low turnover periods), cleaned equipment, etc. based on results during the day. Even if we were to assume a restaurant had the space, cash, and demand to install a full espresso bar, and hire a full-time trained barista, do you suspect they'd have the high volume sales to maintain bean inventory and have continuously dialed and fine-tuned settings, and non-stale grinds in the grinder chute?
Yes. Yes. Yes. YES! This is all possible. Especially, Especially, Especially if they had the space, cash, demand to install a full espresso bar, and have hired a full time highly trained barista. Why wouldn't it be? No, seriously. Why wouldn't it be possible to maintain high volume sales, bean inventory, and have continuously dialed in fresh coffee?
"Are there restaurants doing it right? Absolutely -- Danny Meyer's elegantly understated New York City spot Gramercy Tavern serves coffee roasted by San Francisco's fantastic Blue Bottle Coffee Company; Bon Appétit's top 10 Best Restaurant winner Woodberry Kitchen (full disclosure: a Counter Culture account) saw its coffee ace Allie Caran place fifth in the Mid-Atlantic regional barista competition this year -- practically unheard of for an eatery. And more are joining the fray all the time."
There are also amazing places like Sorellas (NYC), Open City (DC), and renowned chefs who have taken to the challenge of tackling this giant misconception of "offensive espresso and thoughtless coffee service"...chefs like— Gray Kunz, Jean-Marie Lacroix, Daniel Boulud, Alain Ducasse, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, John Des Rosiers. The restaurant world is shifting rapidly towards quality coffee. Lets hope the coffee industry is ready for what could be a beautiful merger.
I love the idea of capping an awesome meal with a great espresso and dessert, but I rarely see restaurants that care much about their coffee, and even when I do I rarely feel like having espresso. A few months ago we went to a nice restaurant that focuses on local and seasonal products. I noticed a Super Jolly and a decent Gaggia machine, so I asked them about their coffee. They said they roast some of their own beans, but also get delivery once a week from a known reputable roaster. Along with the rest of the menu, they put an emphases on quality and freshness. Even though I was confident I'd get a good shot, I was enjoying the last of my wine too much to have an espresso. Maybe next time.
I work in a very busy farm to table restaurant called Woodberry Kitchen. I run a full-time coffee program, have competed, have traveled to origin, have written for Barista Mag, hold weekly coffee cuppings, train on all things coffee, and have build a team of kind-hearted, focused and amazingly talented Baristas. So, I can't help but feel a bit annoyed and maybe slightly hurt over this particularly one-sided conversation, because there really are places in the world doing coffee right . . . .
Allie, welcome to CoffeeGeek! It is good to read your post and to know that someone with your passion and caring does feel "a bit annoyed and slightly hurt." It's a completely understandable reaction to what has been written here. But if you feel "a bit annoyed and slightly hurt," think about how the rest of us feel having to try truly crappy espresso in 999 establishments just to find the ONE that is doing things right! (OK, maybe it isn't 1 in a thousand; maybe it's only 1 in 500. But you must admit the sort of restaurant that actually has someone like you working in it is a rare thing indeed . . . )
As with many things, the coffee trade is -- today -- where the wine trade was some 35-40 years ago. There is an excitement afoot with lots of new, micro-roasters bring great quality beans to market . . . new, "third wave" cafés are looking to coffee with a passion and dedication heretofore unknown, and providing all forms of coffee preparation to an increasingly curious and dedicated segment of the market . . . and perhaps -- just perhaps -- more places will be like Woodberry Kitchen and find that coffee, just like wine or tea, is worthy of dedicated preparation with an eye on quality commensurate with the rest of the kitchen, not to mention staff training and service . . .
A lot of it is that nobody cares. How many times do you see the manager or owner of a restaurant run over to the espresso machine to pour a shot? If they don't, they might not see how poorly the bar has been run. At my restaurant, the owner walks with a cane and usually has me make him drinks and his wife almost never drinks the espresso. If I take a few days off, I come back to a machine that is so dirty that the portafilter baskets don't seat right. I can imagine that my restaurant is not the only one with this problem.
This problem wont be there for long though, I was promoted to manager and am working on some training materials on how to properly clean the machine. I am also working on training a few of the waiters. Thankfully, there are three of us that have a passion for good coffee, and they are the only ones who will be allowed to use the machine.
Interesting phrasing for only your second post on this website, Fred . . . why wouldn't you call it espresso? What would you have them call it?? What legal authority would you invoke in an attempt to prevent *$ from calling it espresso???
There is no "guarantee of quality" associated with the use of the term "espresso," no minimum legal standards one needs to meet. But there is also no doubt that what *$ makes IS espresso -- it may be "bad" espresso . . . it may not be to your liking (or to mine), but -- again -- there is no doubt that it IS espresso by the very definition of the term. And, FWIW, no doubt it's better than a number of drinks I've had in US restaurants (of the type we are discussion here).
I'm just a caveman. I fell on some ice and was later thawed by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me. Sometimes when I fly to Europe I wonder, am I inside some sort of giant bird? Am I gonna be digested? I don't know, because I'm a caveman, and that's the way I think. When I'm courtside at a Knicks game, I wonder if the ball is some sort of food they're fighting over. When I see my image on the security camera at the country club, I wonder, are they stealing my soul? I get so upset, I hop out of my Range Rover, and run across the fairway to to the clubhouse, where I get Carlos to make me one of those martinis he's so famous for, to soothe my primitive caveman brain. But whatever world you're from, I do know one thing, the bitter tar like substance they hand me when I ask for espresso at Starbucks and the sweet nectar I am served at the local cafe, are not one and the same.
Hmmmm . . . is "Fred" a common name for a caveman? Who knew? Well, if you want to engage in a genuine conversation, let me know -- but I wouldn't want to tax that little caveman brain. But, OTOH, if a worldly human being by the name of Fred wants to participate on a site like CG, I say "welcome."
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