There is currently a big revival in high-quality filter coffee, which is good news for hoteliers and restaurateurs, because serving truly great coffee by the cup can make a significant difference to your pricing. Ian Boughton reports.
The big new trend in coffee service began cautiously a year ago, intensified in recent months, and is now probably unstoppable. And astonishingly, it can be handled with very low-cost equipment. It is the rediscovery of high-quality filter coffee.
Starbucks has long had it as a back-bar option and the Speciality Coffee Association has long had a Gold Standard certification for the preparation of it. But enthusiasm for it has risen to such a degree that even the UK's first-ever world barista champion, James Hoffmann, has opened a new coffee house to serve only filter coffee.
The appeal of it comes from a new understanding that many of the world's coffees do not lend themselves to espresso brewing - the true features of the world's rarest and most wonderful coffees come through only in the filter process.
At Union Hand Roasted, founder Jeremy Torz is relieved to see the trend finally take hold.
"We've been banging on about this for years," he says. "The coffee bar trend brought a lot of benefits, but also blinkers - if you don't drink flat white, you're not a sophisticate.
"A trend back to simplicity has already happened in food, and it will be just the same in coffee. It was with filter coffee that we ourselves first realised way back that a Costa Rica tastes different from a Sumatra."
There is good business in this, he says. "It's good news for the hotelier and restaurateur, because serving truly great coffee by the cup can make a huge difference to your pricing. If your cappuccino is £2.75 and your everyday filter coffee is £1.10, you can now close the gap. The pricing strategy of ‘by the cup' filter is very similar to the principle of wine by the glass."
He is not alone in this view. At First Choice Coffee, director of coffee Dale Harris says that filter coffee can really open up the true taste of a coffee, and will give customers a new appreciation of the drink.
a small menu
"There is a lot to be said for carrying a small filter menu, such as one house coffee and one more interesting option. This is enough to attract interest, but not too much to give you freshness issues in your stockholding," he explains.
The same trend is behind the arrival in the food service sector of Grumpy Mule, previously a brand for delis and speciality food shops, from Bolling Coffee of Yorkshire.
"The hospitality market has lost the ability to appreciate really great coffees because they simply haven't been available," says managing director Ian Balmforth.
"With a move back to filter, we can now show off coffees in which you can taste the greatness. I believe the restaurant trade almost has a duty to say: ‘these are such great coffees, you must taste them'.
"Getting a decent cappuccino or latte is almost impossible in a pub environment - concentrating on great quality filter coffee is going to make a big difference to food pubs."
Getting the benefit will mean a change in habits, says Torz. One big issue will be batch size. "I know hotels who brew a batch of 20 litres in the morning, and it's still being served at 3pm," he says. "That will not win you any business. However, with the right kit, you can brew in small batches - a small thermos airpot will keep two litres of a great coffee in good condition for two hours, and even then it will still taste 10 times better than the usual filter coffee in the hospitality trade.
"With small bulk brewers using pulse brew (a system in which the coffee is brewed in stages) filter brewing is going through an industrial revolution."
the right dose
There will have to be a new understanding of dosing, says David Cooper, managing director of Cooper's Coffee in Huddersfield.
"Under-dosing is a false economy. Too many operators use 40-57g per two litres of water, but this is not enough to give a full flavour. Our filter coffee is packed for 60-70g per serving, which gives a much rounder and stronger flavour."
This aside, filter brewing of great coffees is delightfully cheap. True, the small bulk-brewers which Union Hand Roasted approves of can cost £1,000. And there have been wildly expensive high-tech introductions such as the Clover, an American machine that allowed single-cup brewing at precisely the correct temperature and water volume to hit the "sweet spot" of any individual coffee. It cost $11,000, and disappeared from the hospitality market when Starbucks bought the factory.
high tech boiler
More reasonably-priced high technology has come from the Dublin water-boiler specialist Marco, whose Uber Boiler was created last year. It looks like a simple tap - in fact, it dispenses water at a remarkably precise temperature to within tenths of a degree, into any brewing vessel
The American filter maker Bunn is now to launch the Trifecta, in which every stage of brewing is programmable, even the turbulence of the water during brewing, to the second.
This is not over the top, says Bunn director Lina Chiodo: "This is the mood of the times. I believe that an interesting effect of the recession is that instead of four average coffees a day, people have turned to buying two cups of really great coffee - and will pay for it, which is why I recently paid £2.75 for a filter coffee in London." (In specialist coffee shops, £3 for one good filter coffee is not unusual).
A start in high-quality filter coffee can be made in equipment which is a petty-cash purchase - although much of the coffee trade warns that this does not include the cafetière. This item may have been the most popular hotel system for ages, but staff treat the equipment harshly, damaging the filter mechanism.
"Too many operators use the wrong grind of coffee in a cafetière, producing sediment in the cup," says Mike Osborne, director at Café du Monde, "although, if you treat it properly, the cafetière gives you little waste, allows for offering a variety of coffees, and for some theatre."
By contrast, the Aeropress, available from Cream Supplies at around £22, is such a hero of the modern coffee trade that a world championship has just been created around it.
cafetiere with a difference
The Aeropress is a modern cafetière - it is a plunger mechanism, but with a small paper disc instead of a mesh filter. The result is generally described as cleaner and fresher than a cafetière, so much so that some specialist coffee houses have built Aeropress Stations, with three or four of them mounted side by side, all for single-cup service.
Similarly, the Chemex, typically available from Has Bean of Stafford at around £26-£36, also receives rave reports from the speciality coffee world, while being the simplest brewer on the market. It is a one-piece hourglass-shaped vessel made of heat-resistant glass, with an unusually heavy paper cone filter in the top. The simple difference over other methods is that glass is chemically inert and does not absorb odour or residue, and the heavier filter removes more acids, fats, oils and bitter elements than others: as a result, great coffees come out in remarkably pure form.
It may be thought that all this is too much care over a simple cup of coffee - but Lavazza has recently found that only 14% of restaurant-goers think the coffee served is up to the standard of the rest of their meal, and that 55% of customers say hospitality-trade coffee is noticeably poorer than in coffee shops.
"When today's customer is so interested in the detail of their food and wine, why assume they aren't as interested in their coffee?" asks Simon Wakefield of DR Wakefield, the noted green-bean importer.
"If you are prepared to brew a better filter coffee, you will benefit from a better-educated, more discerning customer who is willing to pay for it. You would be daft not to do it."
Bolling Coffee 01484 852601
â- Bunn01908 241222
â- http://www.unionroasted.com" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">Café du Monde](http://www.cafedumonde.co.uk) 01322 284804
â- [Cooper's Coffee ](http://www.cooperscoffee.co.uk)0800 298 2802
â- Cream Supplies 0845 226 3024
â- DR Wakefield020 7202 2620
â- [First Choice Coffee](http://www.firstchoicecoffee.com) 01908 275520
â- [Grumpy Mule ](http://www.grumpymule.co.uk)01484 852601
â- [Has Bean ](http://www.hasbean.co.uk)0845 202 2326
â- [Lavazza](http://www.lavazza.com) 01895 203750
â- [Marco ](http://www.marco.ie)020 7274 4577
â- [Speciality Coffee Association of Europe ](http://www.scae.com)01245 426060
â- [Union Hand Roasted020 7474 8990