This is a study of the operational side of single-serve filter in a commercial context, using facts and figures gained over 18 months of operational experience. I would like to ask the question; is current methodology sustainable, viable or even what the consumer is looking for?
I will start with a definition of what the term “Brewed Coffee” has come to mean. Loosely defined, it represents coffee made using equipment other than espresso machines, yielding predominately a single serve. More broadly it means using a range of brewers such as: V60, Aeropress, Chemex, Woodneck and Syphon utilizing a relatively high degree of care, precision and control to yield a consistently palatable beverage. This attempt to create a consistently good quality product using such brewing equipment is no mean feat, and has given rise to a highly scientific approach controlling and regulating all the variables; it has become a very hands-on scientific way of brewing a single serving of coffee.
The control of these variables has come to define this whole style of coffee:
- Amount of coffee (g): Controlled by using scales with an accuracy of .1 of a gram and hand weighed.
- Water temperature (c): Controlled by using an uber-boiler, temperature-probing boiling water from an espresso machine, countertop boiler or kettle.
- Water volume (ml): Controlled predominantly by placing the equipment on top of scales during use to regulate the total volume by eye, assuming + 1 gram on the scales will mean + 1ml has been added.
- Grind size: Controlled by using grinders designed to produce the smallest spectrum of particle size (basically the most even ground possible).
- Ambient equipment temperature: Controlled by pre-heating equipment to prevent loss in brew temperature.
- 6. Water turbulence/speed: Controlled by using a precision kettle with a fine spout and/or a bamboo stick.
- Contact time: Controlled differently for each method but usually involves watching a timer
Controlling these variables with a recipe or a list of parameters will ensure a consistent resulting solution or a constant level of dissolved solids, which theoretically, providing the coffee is stored, aged and rotated correctly should result in the Holy Grail that is a consistently tasty beverage. The above has come to be accepted as the puritanical method and the only way to make coffee if you wish to convey that you take coffee seriously.
We have better tasting and more consistent filter than ever before with a whole range of marvellous and extraordinary equipment to support this; from boilers that control temperature and dose to an unbelievably accurate level, grinders held together with magnets to programmed refractometers to tell us we are on the right track. So we have arrived…or have we?
Somewhere along the line, have we been forgetting something? Has something been over looked? I would say I am a pretty normal bloke and not to far removed from reality, even after spending the majority of my adult life living and working in W1. But I can say I am a convert; my coffee of choice is now V60. If I am a convert then there must be hundreds of thousands of people just waiting to do the same. So what is the limiting factor? What is holding them back? Why is the queue full of flat whites, espressos and Americanos? Why has it not taken off?
Generally, there are 4 parts to our industry:
If we all agree the product is right then the intrinsic flaw must lie with one of the other 3.
Promotion, in this case, is about price; are we trying to charge too much? Does it represent good value for money? After all, in terms of the raw ingredients, a V60 brewed coffee is very cheap to put together. How can we justify twice the market price for this product? My conclusion is, we can’t. If we want to take this product to the customer with any degree of success, they should be able to pay a competitive price for it. The customer is being punished by our prices, which we feel are justified given the time and effort required for method and production, and they are voting with their feet.
Service, in this case, is about speed; On a good day it will take a barista 10 minutes to produce 1 cup of brewed coffee, from taking an order to cleaning down and resetting, if the puritanical method is followed to the letter of the law. Just take a glance at your watch next time you order. In London, time is often more valuable than money and 10 minutes for a coffee is a price too many people cannot justify.
So if the people who can afford the price, can’t afford the time, and the people who can afford the time, can’t justify the price, what has happened to the size of our market? Brewed coffee is the feather in the speciality coffee industry’s cap so why are we making such a poor representation of ourselves by not making it more accessible and showcasing to as many people as possible why we are different? How did we forget the customer?
Here is a revolutionary idea: Let’s give our customers the best possible product we can and sell it at a competitive price and within an average coffee waiting time. Yes, something has to give, but if we invested half as much time into reducing waiting time as we currently do on quality control, it would have a greater affect on positive customer response, and therefore sales.
There will be some that feel that there is nothing wrong with making coffee the puritanical way; people will just have to wait. Let me explain why this is not viable with a cost analysis of the puritanical method.
Ingredients per serving: 500ml of water at 0.5p/Coffee at around 27p = total 27.5p
Labour per serving: 10 min at £8 an hour + Employer’s NI = total £1.50
Consumables per serving: 1x Paper Filter at 4p/Paper cup at 3p = total 7p
Equipment depreciation: £3000 to £4000 of equipment (boiler,grinder,brewers etc.) at 20- 25% per annum = £900, per week= £17.30 / 150 cups per week = total 11p per cup,
Ingredient wastage per serving: Approx. 10% = total 3p
VAT per serving = 20% of £2.50 sale price = total tax 42p.
Total cost to produce £2.41
Sale price £2.50
Profit margin = 9p.
So the queue is not ringing to the tune of filter and the profits stink, something has to change, fast.
We have arrived at a cross roads with two options open to us.
Option One; Charge around £6 per cup. This will secure a profit margin that is viable and support the business, justifying its inclusion to product offering. However, it will alienate the mass market and vastly limit the exposure and volume sales of such a fantastic product to just a fraction of a percent of the market as a whole. It will just be a sideshow to the serious business of selling lunch and espresso, never really paying its way.
Option Two; Modify the methodology to bring customer service into the equation at the calculated cost of best brewing practice. This will allow us to produce brewed coffee in 3 minutes. The knock on affect to labour costs will make the same product viable at a sale price of £2 and open up the market to everyone.
I chose the latter.
Easier said than done. So we have identified that speed is the name of the game, the limiting factor, if you will. Let us go back to those key variables and start by listing them by volatility (in descending order):
- Amount of coffee (dose)
- Grind size
- Contact time
- Water temperature (c)
- Water turbulence/speed
- Water volume (ml)
- Ambient equipment temperature
Basically, the higher in the list, the smaller the tolerated discrepancy before there is a large resulting effect on the end product.
So how are we going to go about controlling these variables without spending as much time doing so? Let’s start by saying the first 3 are so volatile they must be flawlessly controlled, but can we still save time by being smart? Here are my suggestions:
- Pre-dose the required amount of coffee per serve before shift or during quit times into little air-tight pots. This will save weighing the dose to order and drastically reduce the time it takes to dose to seconds, just opening a lid and turning a grinder on. This will have no tangible effect on the resulting solution.
That’s about the limit of what we can do with the first 3, before we fundamentally change the end product. So let’s move on to the last 4 where there is a little more room for us to work, for instance:
- Temperature: The time spent regulating the temperature to + or – .25 of a degree is a waste. If we purchase our equipment with the idea of regulating this to + or – 1 degree and focus on speed of water output and down time (heating time) – we will save minutes per serve and effect the end product minimally, if at all.
- Water: Stacking whole brewed coffee assembly precariously on top of a set of scales is not a practical way of regulating water volume, let alone a fast way. If we are all using Hario pouring kettles, why not just dose the correct volume into the kettle and empty it, as they retain no water? Granted, it’s not as accurate as the scales but I think 10ml or 4% in such an un-volatile variable is not worth all the extra fuss.
- Economy of movement: Our brew bars need to be designed so the barista has to perform the smallest of hand/ foot movements to interact with all their tools and equipment.
- Touch Efficiency: The brew process needs to be simplified to reduce the number of gestures to as little as possible. Baristas should never touch something more that they absolutely have to.
The above points will have a resounding affect on speed but very little affect on product quality
Some people will dismiss this argument on the basis that my labour coatings are incorrect, so before I go on, here are some more numbers.
In summary, we are currently using this method in our new store, 114 Tottenham Court Road, and have seen amazing results. Currently V60 coffee is the 4th highest selling product ,only preceded by lattes, flat whites and cappuccinos; it’s delicious, affordable, profitable, and you don’t have to wait very long for it.
We need to work our way from the bottom to the top; start with what the vast majority of our customers want and work our way back using this information as a guide. We should give them the best possible product we can, at a cost they are willing to spend in pounds shillings and pence and more importantly in this day and age, time.
The whole reason the speciality industry has taken off in the past 5 years is on the basis that we are able to produce a vastly superior product than our apathetic market leaders at no extra cost to the consumer.
So why should the consumer pay the price for our inefficiency? After all we don’t weigh every basket of grounds, temperature probe our steamed milk and time and weigh every espresso yield. I’m not saying there is no place for such practice, I’m just saying there should be an entry level, a first rung on the ladder that everyone can enjoy. Let’s make people interested not scare them off.