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11/14/2022

Five Key Elements for Quality Coffee

Ensure your beverages maximize their flavor potential to keep customers coming back.
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Hot coffee can be found almost everywhere, so how can your beverage stand out in the crowd?

Merchandising will help capture the first sale, but only flavor quality will keep your customers returning. Following the five key elements for coffee quality will ensure your beverages maximize their flavor potential and maintain your position as a coffee destination.

Specialty coffee cafes are singularly focused on quality and offering an elevated coffee experience. Knowing how they manage brew quality can help convenience store operators compete, attract more customers, and sell more coffee.

A reputation as a coffee destination is achievable by executing these five key elements for coffee quality in the same way that specialty coffee businesses do:  

1. Cleanliness

The simplest way to improve coffee quality is to clean the brewing and serving equipment. Natural coffee oils and fine coffee particles will coat the surfaces. Over time, they will burn and turn rancid, causing bitter and sour flavors in freshly brewed coffee.  

Best practices for cleanliness are to bring the brewers and servers to like-new condition every shift. Coffee equipment should be cleaned and maintained with the same rigor as all other foodservice equipment. Shift cleaning should include flushing grinders and cleaning bean hoppers, brewer spray heads, brew baskets, glass pots and thermal carafes with a quality foodservice cleaning solution specifically designed for coffee equipment.

2. Freshness

Roasted coffee is highly perishable and must be treated with care. After packages are opened, whole bean products will stay at optimum flavor for up to two weeks, but ground coffee will remain fresh for only about an hour. The significantly shorter time for ground coffee is due to the small particle size, which increases the surface area.

Best practices for freshness are to store coffee in a cool, dry place away from light, heat and moisture. First-in-first-out inventory control will ensure coffees are brewed before their shelf life expires. When coffee ages, it loses aromatics, sweetness and flavor complexity, and will develop malt, paper, cereal and wood characteristics.

3. Grind

Grinding coffee reduces the particle size and increase the surface area, which makes both staling and brewing faster. Flavor quality is dependent on matching the grind level to your brewing process. Fast brew cycles like espresso and bean-to-cup equipment require a finer grind, while slower brew cycles in automatic drip and large-capacity brewers use a courser grind.

Too course a grind allows the water to flow too quickly, producing an under-extracted, thin and weak brew. Too fine a grind and the coffee will be over extracted, astringent and bitter with a dangerous risk of hot water overflowing from the brew basket if it cannot flow through the grounds.

Best practices for grind size are to confirm an actual grind sample with your roaster or equipment supplier at least twice annually. Over time, grinding equipment will begin to produce course, larger particles, reducing the strength and intensity of the coffee beverage’s flavor.

4. Water

Coffee beverages are about 99 percent water, making water quality, quantity and temperature critical elements. The Specialty Coffee Association recommends water quality to be flavor neutral and odorless with no perceptible chlorine or sodium flavor. Filtration equipment should be used to maintain total hardness between 50-175 ppm CaCO3, with alkalinity of between 40-70 ppm CaCO3, and a pH target of 7.0 ± 1.0.

Matching water quantity with coffee dosage at the right grind level is important for beverage consistency and coffee strength. The temperature for brewing should be 200°F ± 5°F (93.3°C ± 3°C) to ensure all the sweet aromatics and complex flavors are extracted from the coffee.

Cool water for brewing will produce a thin, astringent and weak brew, while water too hot will burn the grounds and produce a flat, bitter brew. Best practices are to confirm water quality annually, and confirm quantity and temperature once per month.

5. Service  

Brewed coffee beverages change flavor quality over time. Holding times are to manage flavor acceptability, not temperature.

Active heat from connected carafes and warming plates will maintain temperature while continuing to cook the coffee. Open top carafes allow evaporation, which concentrates the coffee strength. Both will reduce aromatics, sweetness and flavor complexity, and develop sour, bitter and astringent flavors.

The best practice for holding and serving brewed coffee in an open glass pot or carafe is no longer than 30 minutes, and in a closed insulated pot or carafe no longer than 90 minutes.

Providing staff training on these five key elements will increase your coffee quality and consistency, enhance your company’s reputation as a coffee destination, and increase your average cups per day, while building a following of loyal and repeat customers.

Spencer Turer is vice president of Coffee Enterprises, an independent testing laboratory and consultancy for coffee and tea. He can be reached at [email protected] or (802) 864-5760.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News