What’s Percolating?

Specialty coffee purveyors keep raising the bar in terms of quality and innovation. That’s not surprising considering customers can get a decent espresso-based drink from just about any café or QSR these days. So coffee specialists are exploring ever-more esoteric heights, roasting green beans (single-estate, sustainably shade-grown, organic and fair trade, naturally), grinding to order and using slow-drip brewers that look like chemistry kits. Meanwhile, baristas have attained celeb status, creating art with crema and foam.

How can you compete? Help is at hand from suppliers. Italian coffee company Illycaffe, for example, has sent its best barista, Giorgio Milos, to work with operators as varied as Spiaggia in Chicago, San Francisco’s Prima Cosa Cafe and Union Square Café in New York. Milos is training baristas on how to pull a better espresso, improve profit margins and develop new coffee drinks and even java-fueled cocktails.

Savvy consumers are interested in more than just a great-tasting cup of coffee, though. As with many agricultural products, they want to know the beans’ provenance–the single-estate, shade-grown, organic and fair trade aspects. In fact, sales of organic coffee in the U.S. rose 4 percent in 2009, topping $1.4 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. More than 93 million pounds of organic coffee were imported into the U.S. and Canada in 2009.

Specialty coffee is a small luxury that most consumers seem reluctant to give up. However, sticker shock at rising coffee prices may wean some away. Bad weather and poor harvests in key growing areas combined with increased competition and a weak dollar have driven up prices of green beans over the past six months. According to the London-based International Coffee Organization, the wholesale price for green beans rose from 46 cents a pound in 2001 to $1.53 per pound in July, 2010. Some experts predict prices could go as high as $2 a pound before the end of the year.

Savor flavor

Purists may scoff but many Americans like extra flavor in their cuppa joe. Two recently launched products can conveniently make that happen. The Coca-Cola Company is now distributing its Georgia Iced Coffee in the U.S. A $1 billion brand globally, Georgia is the number-one RTD iced coffee in the world, claims the company. Available in Vanilla, Mocha, Caramel and Hazelnut flavors, the foodservice concentrate comes in 20-ounce bottles (12-count cases), pre-sweetened and flavored for consistency.

Coffee-Mate boasts over 20 different flavors of coffee creamers. Now, its first seasonal flavor is available to foodservice: Peppermint Mocha. It comes in two shelf-stable formats: liquid pump bottles and liquid creamer singles.

Fresh and Fast

It’s idiot-proof; you can’t make coffee that’s too strong or too weak. The brew never burns and never gets cold,” enthuses Jim Potin, proprietor of the Potin Diner
in Wexburg, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh.

He’s talking about his experience with Douwe Egberts Cafitesse system. Cafitesse is a play on café and vitesse (speed), which means fresh, fast coffee, thanks to a proprietary on-demand system that uses high-quality concentrate. A distributor brought the Cafitesse system to the restaurateur’s attention. “I’d never heard about coffee concentrate before that,” he recalls. “But I tried Douwe Egberts and was very impressed.”

The Cafitesse system has been installed at Potin Diner for nearly a year. Cartons
of the highly concentrated coffee arrive frozen in 0.52-gallon bag-in-box containers, which makes the same number of cups as 50 pots of fresh-brewed coffee. Thawed product is placed in the Cafitesse machine, and a high-tech dispensing nozzle instantly mixes the right proportion of concentrate with hot water for a perfect cup of coffee. “It’s consistent cup after cup,” says Potin, who adds, “customer response has been incredible and as an operator I just love the system because there’s no waste and you can’t screw up.”

Potin also likes the brew-on-demand aspect, so that now he never needs to brew up an entire pot of coffee to satisfy one late-night customer. In addition, Cafitesse has resulted in more takeout coffee orders at the diner. “I plan to exploit that,” he says, “ and develop more takeout business.”