Posted Thu Feb 6, 2014, 9:15pm Subject: Restaurant Espresso Advice
So I work in a restaurant in Chicago, relatively high-end with a demanding clientele and a creative, seasonal and well executed menu. Without elaborating too much, we are a very good restaurant with (in my opinion, haha) very sub-par coffee service. For drip, we serve Juilius Meinl, which is good but not great. Fine. However, lately, we have been encountering complaints (mostly from non-americans, god figure) about our espresso based beverages. Namely espresso, cappucino, latte and macchiato.
We use a Rancillio Epoca with a pressurized porta-filter and Julius Meinl pods. After having an Americano sent back tonight and after tasting (for the first time ever) the espresso myself, I now know why. Now I am 100% sure that our machine has not been descaled or backflushed since the machine was bought which I assume was when we opened 4 years ago. These tasks are number one on my personal to do list this month. My question, however, is this...what can we do, if anything, to improve our beverage program short of switching to a non-pressurized PF, buying a grinder etc.... That step is absolutely out of the question as our bar-staff, who operates the machine, isn't trained for it and just doesn't have the time for all that when busy.
Does anyone have experience with getting the most out of pod systems? What are some of the better pods?
Our bartenders pull each pod too long, but when I played with it, the color, even at the start of the shot, is already terrible. They pull double sized shot from one pod, but even when pulling ~1.5oz from a pod, it still just tastes like bitter, super strong coffee.
Are you really looking for advice or just forgiveness? It sounds like you're saving money by believing that you can't hire sufficient staff to train/be trained to make espresso, so you are serving stale pods through a pressurized portafilter. Assuming that at least half the customers pay for their drink and don't complain, someone is probably making money. If you don't feel guilty, then it must be okay. Do you drink the stuff yourself? Do you at least warn the people who order it that it's not very good and let them know that they don't have to pay if they don't like it? If a customer orders a steak when the staff are busy, do they sometimes just get a hamburger? Yeah, you're right. Now I'm just being petty. We've all been ripped off by places that simply couldn't do any better. Mediocrity is the new "We are a very good restaurant "In my opinion". Short of improving the espresso, warning "Mediocre espresso" on the menu or lowering the price of espresso based drinks to less than a dollar, there's not much you can do to be fair to your customers. Maybe you should just have it taken off the menu. There, that's the actual advice.
Good espresso requires good beans; good water; clean (for heaven's sake!!!), well-maintained, good equipment; and good skills. Nothing less. Period. Full stop.
If management refuses to provide EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THOSE THINGS during service, then the establishment should not offer espresso.
If espresso is made at the bar, but the bartenders lack the beans, equipment, training and time to do a good job of pulling a shot and steaming a little milk, you can't blame the chef. The problem lies with FOH management.
Also, unlike espresso, good drip/filter coffee is incredibly easy and not all that expensive. As you know, Chicago is home to some of the best artisanal roasters in the country and but management buys Meinl??! You say it's a good restaurant, yet its "regular" coffee service falls short of what a decent diner would provide with a $1K Bunn setup and a twice a week trip to somewhere good -- Bow Truss for instance. What's management's excuse for that one?
Jeremy, all credit to you for working to make FOH better. But Shame, Shame on management.
Sorry, I too must say do it correctly or don't do it. I have had too many poor espresso drinks at what were supposed to be good restaurants to ever order a drink there again.
Pods will NEVER give the quality of properly prepared espresso. Perhaps, on the menu they should list next to the espresso, prepared with pods, not fresh coffee. At least the diner is getting a heads up on what the truth is and they then have more information to make a better choice from.
In real life, my name is Wayne P. Anything I post is personal opinion and is only worth as much as anyone else's personal opinion. YMMV!
Feed the newbs, starve the trolls and above all enjoy what you drink!
How could you on guys be in Chicago and buying crap coffee? Or Pods? Chicago is covered in some of the best roasters around, like Metropolis. When I'm up there even non-fancy places are serving various roasters from there.
There's nothing you can do if they won't buy a grinder and fresh beans. Pods + stale coffee + pressurized portafiltes is a horrible combo for a restaurant located in a coffee based area like Chicago, I'd rather drink McDs coffee over that. Will never make espresso nor good espresso based beverages. Sounds like typical owner/mngt that doesn't know what their doing and just told a vendor "we want coffee". Tell them to go to Metropolis, Bowtruss, Gaslamp etc (bunch of others). I know Metropolis will and pretty sure others will train if you contract with them for equipment/beans. Julius Meinl is just a big manufacturer/distributor of bottom rung crap coffee lol.
So I work in a restaurant in Chicago, relatively high-end with a demanding clientele and a creative, seasonal and well executed menu. Without elaborating too much, we are a very good restaurant with (in my opinion, haha) very sub-par coffee service.
No surpise there, not in any way shape or form. You've just describe just about every high end restaurant I've ever been to in (insert city name here). Even the nicest Italian restaurants fall far short of good in prepping their espresso. Search the board, and you'll find several threads from the consumer side complaining about the exact same experience. Sadly, I don't see this ever changing, except in a few places where the MANAGEMENT cares enough to make it happen.
The solution...at least as a consumer...stop ordering coffee after a nice meal. When desparate, I prepare myself to be dissatisfied...and almost always regret it. Occasionally, I leave my machine on before we go out, planning on making our coffee at home when we return, but more often than not, the desire is gone by the time we get home.
As others have indicated, there's no quick substitution for proper training on good equipment...and (as you well know) you need to be using good quality, fresh beans.
. Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
Given what you've got to work with, under the conditions you've stipulated, it ain't gonna happen.
If management doesn't feel that good coffee is worth the time, trouble, expense and training, it ain't gonna happen.
If the barmen aren't coffee guys themselves, and/or willing to learn the skills, it ain't gonna happen.
If there's no commitment to sourcing excellent beans, it ain't gonna happen.
Short of a commercial espresso machine and grinder, great beans and at least one proper barista, you'd actually be better off convincing the management to invest in a commercial level super-auto (Quick Mill Monza, Unic Tango, etc.) that someone, probably you, could keep well maintained. This would at least give you a substantial quality boost over pods, as you could focus on getting quality coffee beans to work with. It won't be third wave, but it'll be better.
Former WBC Champ James Hoffmann (JimSeven) addressed this issue on his blog. The main problem is coffee isn't a big priority for top restaurants.
I, too, think it's better to not serve espresso at all, if you're not going to do it right. It would be simpler, and better if restaurants focused on serving quality drip coffee, instead of a poor espresso experience.
So just to clarify, I'm a server in this restaurant. Not the owner, not management. I'm trying to get the best product out of what I've been given to work with. If it's not possible...it's not possible. And yes, if people ask how our espresso is, I tell them it's a Pod-System and will not be the best espresso they've ever had. But thanks for everyone's feedback...in hindsight I should have known how this post would turn out. haha.
There's a great restaurant in CHicago called North Pond, they just got their first Michelin Star, and they have a barista on staff that gets tipped out just like the bar staff and support staff. Really cool. If I know anything about our owner...and I think I do...solid espresso service is not in our future.
However, that being said, if I pitched a step forward to him, do you think the Rancillio Epoca single group would do the job with a new PF and a solid grinder?
After re-reading some posts, I rescind the above post. HA. You're all absolutely. Why do we serve Julius Meinl? I have no idea... I was in a new restaurant that serve FP tableside, and when it was dropped off to us, no clue was given as to how much brew time was left, or when to drink. We ended up drinking the brown warm water. I have to go to work now and serve crappy coffee with awesome dessert, but I wanna talk more about the sorry state of coffee in food-service establishments!
LOL Pithy, but 'cuts to the chase'. Seriously, JerDGold, you are the boy in the 'Emperors New Clothes'. So you work in a resaurant in Chicago. What do you do? An accountant could be aware of the comped coffees, as could the host, a waiter, or via the grapvine, a line cook or a valet. Edit:read the above, thank you. I mention this because it informs my response to your question or confession (qv. above). Your only choice is silence or volunteer to make a daily supply of concentrated cold brew and lay it up daily. Instruct yourself and then the bartenders on how to reconstitute it for drinks. You will have some control on adjusting the bitter/acidic tone of the result. in this way you might be able to sidestep the impossible task of getting management to change the coffee supply. You will save the bartenders a bit of work and they might even like you for it. As far as the gratitude of the management, since you work in a restaurant, that is unlikely, but possible. See various posts about cold brewing on this forum. Since our search function is about as good as your coffee, I suggest using google. Type in 'site:coffeegeek.com' plus 'cold brewing' or just the words concentrated, cold, brew. Also try site:Home-Barista.com.
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