Careless and casual attitudes towards brewing can be the difference between a great and poor beverage, say tea and coffee suppliers. Ian Boughton reports
The biggest hazard in the serving of great beverages in the hospitality sector is not a lack of good tea or coffee, it is in too casual an attitude towards beverages on the part of the frontline staff, leading to the mistreatment of fine teas and coffees at the very final moment, the point of brewing.
The difference between great beverages and poor ones is blindingly simple, say tea and coffee suppliers. It is the elimination of careless, casual brewing. It is possible to make an appalling job of serving filter coffee, a complete hash of serving leaf tea and an absolute mess of serving a tea bag. There is even a right and a wrong way to serve soluble coffee.
Virtually all beverages are relatively straightforward. Great teas and coffees can be brewed very easily and yet a vast number of hospitality businesses get them wrong because of a lack of training in what are wrongly considered to be basic skills. It is a mistake to assume that everyone knows how to make a pot of tea and the result is that too many catering staff are too casual with their measurements of tea and coffee.
"Get your staff to brew hot beverages carefully instead of casually and your beverage standards go up." says Martin Thorpe, head of Nestlé Professional Beverages Dispense. "Consistency is always the challenge, and inevitably when your core business is catering or hospitality as opposed to just great coffee, consistency is something which can give in your beverages. As the consumer demand for quality increases, the ability to rise to it for a busy general caterer decreases - it's a paradox."
Nestlé Professional's answer to the problem was to create a new kind of beverage - the espresso-style drink from granulated instant coffee, served through the Milano machine.
The concept of "careful brewing" in the general espresso sector is, curiously, quite straightforward. There are accepted parameters - the secret is in persuading staff to stick to those parameters.
The traditional formula is of 7gm ground coffee, 30ml water at about 90-92e_SDgrC, for 20-25 seconds, and if staff are told to watch those measurements, the result will almost certainly be an acceptable espresso.
Taking care means that if the time it takes a shot to flow goes above 25 seconds or under 20, knowing to adjust the grinder. Extra care means playing with the temperature a degree or two one way or the other - the ‘sweet spot' of a house blend may occasionally be found at 89e_SDgrC or even 93e_SDgrC, and in this respect, careful brewing will actually deliver a far better drink.
Elsewhere, brands know that they are at the mercy of catering staff and are not confident that their product is always served to its optimum in hotel and restaurant businesses.
"You may not think you have to train British people to make tea but you do, and anyway, a lot of people serving tea are from other countries which have different tea traditions," says Nick Kilby, the "tea evangelist" at Teapigs. "The key mistakes are in storage - airtight container, certainly not next to the cheese - and portion control.
"Portion control is vital, even in tea bags. A pot of tea for two needs two bags, but most caterers put one in. And then put too much loose tea in pots. You will certainly notice the difference between two spoons of tea and three, and one bag and two.
"The freshness of the water is the most important thing. The dilemma for the caterer is that a kettle is the best thing of all, but takes time. Taking it from a coffee machine gets you hot water, but not fresh. We appreciate that in a food service environment you may have to compromise. At least make sure your staff understand the difference between what you should do and what you may have to do."
Agreement comes from Peter Haigh, brand development manager at Tetley, who adds that the puzzle is made worse by the variable of personal preference. "We all like our tea differently, so the chances of a caterer serving their customer exactly the type of tea they like is probably a thousand to one. Therefore, careful brewing includes careful customer service which involves the final decision being made by the customer - it is the only way to get tea service right.
"So, ensure that there is just the teabag and the water in the cup. Putting milk in first will automatically lower the temperature of the water and will also clog up the teabag, meaning that less flavour can flow through. Now ask the customer how they like their tea, in the same way as you would ask how they like a steak cooked. Once you have determined how they like it, then pass the tea to the customer for them to add their own milk. This is crucial as too much or little milk can ruin an otherwise good cup of tea."
At this point, say suppliers, "careful brewing" means the server saying: "The tea has been brewing in that pot for two minutes - if you like it mild, would you like me to pour it for you now? If you like it a bit stronger, I'd give it another minute or two. The pot on the right is the additional hot water, so when you've poured your first cup, please top up the pot and that'll give you a nice fresh second cup, which will be fine for the next 10 minutes or so."
The additional customer-service point is that by saying this, staff have drilled into the customer's head the concept that they are in a place which brews perfectly and they will remember that.
Respect the tea bag, comes the advice from Mike Osborne, sales director at Café du Monde. "A tea bag is the ultimate portion pack, and it is a simple matter to use it to teach staff the correct ratio of tea to water in this way. What many do not realise is that popular teas contain a lot of "dust", and while this infuses quickly, it is not always of the best quality - a broad generalisation is that staff training should show why better quality teas require longer to infuse. As adding milk arrests the brewing process, the tea should be allowed sufficient time to infuse before milk is added.
The barrier to great filter coffee in catering is almost always portion-control - in this context, "careful brewing" means exactly the right grammage of coffee. There is actually a Speciality Coffee Association Gold Cup ruling on the subject, which goes into extreme technical detail about the extraction of coffee solids, but for everyday staff, the essential point is that "a couple of spoonfuls" will just not do.
Several makers do attempt to force the near-perfect cup, by making it impossible for staff to get the dosage wrong. Café du Monde believes in cafetière-sized portion packs and Bravilor has created the KMD10, a filter brewer featuring a digitally-controlled dispenser for ground coffee - it also works with instant coffee and loose tea.
When transient staff may not be in position long enough to train, you make perfection foolproof, says Chris York, sales director at Marco Beverage Systems.
"The secret to carefully brewing consistently good beverages is to make it simple for staff. Marco bulk brewers have a fixed water temperature, brew-cycle time and brew-batch sizes, so the strength of the coffee and the extraction of the coffee solids are uniform and parallel the Gold Cup standard for filter coffees. Operators cannot accidentally interfere with the brewing process.
"On the new Ecosmart boiler, we introduce variable temperature control - caterers are rapidly beginning to recognise the importance of developing a tea and coffee menu - and that means matching the correct water temperature to individual beverages. The Ecosmart can be set by the operator to deliver water at a predetermined temperature between 60ºC and 98ºC - it takes a touch of a button and only a short time to reach the correct temperature," adds York.
Temperature is so important to careful brewing that the most useful thing to show your waiting staff is a thermometer, says Andrea Stopher, senior customer marketing manager at Twinings. Instead of simply telling staff that a black tea is 95-98ºC, and a green is 70-75ºC, she says, let them experience the difference.
"For delicate teas such as green and white, boiling water is too harsh on the leaf and brings out the bitter tannin, rather than the soft, sweeter character of the leaf. Staff need to understand this - brew them a Twinings Pure Green tea at 90ºC and another at 70ºC and they will quickly understand why a thermometer is an essential piece of catering equipment."
There is a training clue to be gained by looking at the major hotels, says Marco Olmi, director at Drury Tea and Coffee. Not every venue can have a "tea sommelier", but every one can have a "champion" in charge of beverages - and one person with pride in the job will increase brewing standards immediately.
"It is still the case that in many hotels and restaurants, nobody is responsible for beverages - it is just a part of somebody's remit, so it can get lost. In hotels, it gets very difficult to find who is responsible and, sometimes, nobody is. This can lead to a staff attitude of, "oh, do I have to make the tea?", and then you've got trouble. The answer is to find staff who are enthusiastic and develop them to take responsibility for beverages.
"If you just try and find them, you'll be surprised - there will be somebody there. Several times we have seen people suddenly find themselves on the way to producing great coffee, because they've become interested and been given the responsibility. Krispy Kreme did a very successful job in this and they looked across 600 staff. These staff will produce fabulous drinks on the oldest machines, if they're enthusiastic. So find the enthusiastic ones and give them their chance."
The key to careful brewing is in catering managers understanding that great beverage service is a fusion of man, machine and ingredients, says Graham Eveleigh, training director at contract caterer BaxterStorey.
"Our entire operations team, from our managers to service staff, understand that great coffee doesn't just pour out of a machine. They understand the entire journey from coffee bean or tea leaf to the cup.
"It is just as important to empower service staff with the skills and confidence to take that on and engage the customer in the coffee conversation. The person serving must be given the confidence to explain to the customer why their coffee is served the way it is."
In preparing staff for careful brewing, it is even possible to do so with soluble ingredients. Yes, there is a correct way to make instant coffee, arguments about it do exist, and it makes a fine piece of staff training - have them experiment with different dosages of instant coffee, the different effects that hot and cold milk has, the differences when the ingredients are combined in a different order, the hot chocolate method -using a small amount of water first to create a paste - and even the addition of flavoured syrups.
That training, on the most basic of beverages, will encourage them to understand why they brew everything carefully.
the careful brewing of tea bags
Tips from Dinuk Dissanayake, managing director of the London Tea Company
• Choose a tea supplied in a pyramid shaped bag for maximum flavour in the cup. Unlike a flat tea bag, the pyramid shape allows a larger volume of ingredients to be contained within the tea bag. More quality ingredients equal a fuller, more rounded flavour.
• Use only fresh water, bring to the boil and use immediately - if it has previously boiled, or left to stand, then it will have lost a lot of its oxygen and will make an inferior brew.
• For fruit or herbal teas, and white or green teas, avoid scalding the delicate leaves by using water that has just come off the boil.
• Always put the milk in afterwards so you can judge exactly how much milk you need in the cup.
• Measure the brew time carefully. A good quality tea in a pyramid bag needs 3-4 minutes brewing time. For a tea taken without milk, a brewing time of 2-3 minutes is usually sufficient. For a stronger taste, allow 4-5 minutes. Some people leave a green or white tea to brew for up to 10 minutes in order to get the maximum benefit from the antioxidants.
[Café du Monde ](http://www.cafedumonde.co.uk)
[Drury Tea and Coffee Company](http://www.drury.uk.com)
020 7740 1100
[London Tea Company ](http://www.londontea.co.uk)0203-159 5480
[Marco Beverage Systems](http://www.marco-bev.co.uk)
020 7274 4577
020 8568 8989
[Tetley ](http://www.tetleyforcaterers.co.uk)0845 606 6328