Brewing coffee at quantity over a long service is time-consuming for even the most skilled barista, so operators are turning to the latest batch-brewing machines, where litres of quality coffee can be held at a perfect temperature for hours
The concept of ‘batch-brew’ coffee is still a mystery to the wider catering trade – and yet it is the big secret to serving truly good filter coffee across long periods of service.
The long-held image of filter coffee is a bad one, coming from the days of the notorious hotplate and jug, in which coffee quickly stewed and became stale. In recent years, filter coffee had a renaissance among hip and cool baristas in their ‘brew bars’, and although they served great coffee, they took far too long showing off their skills to make it practical for a catering application.
Now technology and craft have come together and it is possible to brew and hold a quantity of high-quality coffee to last perfectly well for the period of breakfast or dinner service, as well as being less labour-intensive to make. The concept is so acceptable that even the cool coffee shops are using batch-brew to deliver their filter coffee.
“The real story of batch-brew has yet to be told to the trade, and it shows that filter coffee has not stood still,” says Angus McKenzie of the Brew-It Group, whose filter brewers are the Fetco brand. “We all agree that the image of ‘filter coffee’ is one we have to lose, and batch-brew is a simple way of bringing the magic of coffee to your customers. And this is important to the trade – I asked a contract caterer what would happen if his coffee offer was upgraded from ‘OK’ to ‘awesome’, and he replied with: ‘We would not lose so many contracts’!”
A better beverage
But this is not just marketing speak, agree all the big brands. Rebecca Parker, marketing manager at Jacobs Douwe Egberts, says: “Consumers are buying into premium coffee at home and in coffee shops and from gourmet vending machines. They reject poor quality, and coffee that is below par will reflect badly on the rest of your offer.”
You can’t afford to get coffee wrong, agrees Naomi Parsons, channel manager at Tchibo, because the quality of coffee served at conferences and seminars now influences delegates’ impression of the whole event and venue. The right approach, she says, is to consider the time frame of the coffee service, which influences your decision of brewer and holding vessel, and indeed your choice of coffee – a brew from better-quality beans can be held for longer without flavour breakdown. “Get your time and volume right, and you won’t go wrong,” says Tchibo, which offers Bravilor machines.
Wyatt Cavalier, founder of the new Bibium website, a review-based platform to purchase coffee machines, offering an unrivalled selection of commercial machines backed by thousands of independent reviews, also highlights the Bravilor range: “The technology is perfect for batch-brewing – it includes radio frequency identification cards, which allow users to copy settings from one machine to the next. This is a huge time saver if you’ve got a number of machines and such features are becoming popular.”
One principle is correct, all suppliers agree: successful batch-brewing depends on correctly judging your footfall, demand, and length of service period.
“We are certainly seeing a huge rise in the number of our clients using batch-brew, and the feedback from their customers is positive,” says Scott Russell, director at Paddy & Scott’s. “It is now perfectly possible to brew a batch of coffee, keep it at the right temperature for two to three hours, and to retain that ‘just-brewed’ freshness. You don’t need to employ a skilled barista, the cost of the equipment is coming down, it speeds up service, it’s a fantastic queue-buster, and you can still play around with flavour profiles to achieve the taste you want.”
Drewry Pearson, chief executive of Marco Beverage Systems in Dublin, has been working on the science of brewing for years and recently introduced the Jet systems. He says that the old image of filter coffee prevents some caterers seeing major technological advances.
“Batch brew will now give the best filter coffee available, provided your coffee is good and the correct principles of coffee brewing are applied,” he says.
“The bad reputation of brewing and holding coffee comes from the ‘pour and serve’ jug-and-hotplate brewers which appeared through companies selling a ‘value for money’ package of a free brewer if the client bought their coffee. One such manufacturer decided that the ‘taste’ of coffee could be extended further if the temperature was maximised to excessively high, if the coffee was roasted to carbon and ground to dust and if it was brewed at a low dosage.
“The lowest dosage for filter is 60 grams per litre of good-quality coffee, but I know of a tender recently won with the claim that 26 grams a litre will provide the same taste – so it is no wonder filter coffee has a name for being over-extracted and weak. It has been a race to the bottom for quality!
“The big change came when engineers invented a new brewer for six-litre brews, brewing into a very efficient thermos, which kept the coffee hot for very long periods with a heat loss of only one degree an hour. This retained the coffee quality.
“The market has been slow to move back to batch-brew coffee because of the old reputation – but now, a batch brew of a good bean, well roasted at 50-plus grams per litre, ground correctly and brewed into a proper thermal container, will give your customers the best coffee available.”
On the pulse
New technology even meets the brewing specifications of the European Coffee Brewing Centre and the Speciality Coffee Association Gold Cup standard, says Alex Kragiopoulos at North Star Coffee. He supplies the Moccamaster machines.
“Hot-plate coffee accelerated the ageing process and caused sourness and bitterness in under 30 minutes – it was a horrendously quick journey to stale brown liquid. But today, if you want to make filter coffee to a higher quality than even most coffee shops, and do so with effortless repeatability, you use batch brew.”
He highlights the Moccamaster for its regulated pulse brewing. Pulse brewing refers to the way water is distributed over the coffee in short bursts during a set brewing cycle, as opposed to simply being sloshed on to it all at once. There is science backing this, and several manufacturers have adopted pulse brew.
What the coffee then goes into is equally important. “A modern thermos can keep your coffee at an ideal serving temperature [80°C-85°C] for over three hours, and the delicate flavours and aromas of speciality-grade coffee, the aspects that age the quickest and leave brewed coffee the earliest, will not be lost.”
Angus McKenzie at Brew-It says: “We now have a new term: ‘barista technology’, which means we are seeing technology used with personal skill to make for a faster workflow.
“For catering use, the big word is ‘scaleable’, which means technology that allows you to do with a machine what a barista was doing with a manual brewer, but with greater accuracy and consistency than ever before. Your skill is still needed in deciding on the parameters of your ideal brew, but once you have your recipe, you can brew a litre or in industrial quantities.
“We know this is realistic because we now see top coffee houses brewing high-class filter coffee in batches of maybe two litres, which gives them speed of service but guarantees the freshness that they’re known for.”
Crucially, says McKenzie, operators should consider the economics. More people are now drinking coffee black, partly for health reasons and partly because the emergence of top-quality coffee has made them aware that black coffee is not the coarse, bitter drink it used to be.
“Many top cafés now sell their black filter coffee for the same price as their latte – £2.50 upwards is not unrealistic, and of course you have no milk cost. And if you present it nicely, you can charge a better price. Some filter brewing machines look ‘industrial’, but the best new machines offer a choice of holding pots, and it is good to have something attractive to dispense from.
“One recent fashion is to dispense the coffee into a nice carafe – this is not to keep the coffee hot, it’s to create a good impression.
The customer sees that they can then pour their own refill, which suggests they’re getting something more in return for their money – they have the impression that they have got a better deal.”
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Jacobs Douwe Egberts
Marco Beverage Systems
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Paddy & Scott’s
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