This is my first post in a while. As stated in my previous post, I was recovering from a terrible virus that caused me to basically be a non-functioning human being for weeks! Having said that, I’m thankful to God and my doctor for a full recovery and I’m excited to be back here posting about coffee!
In this post I’d like to talk about how some coffee shops and coffee catering businesses tend to leverage their employees (baristas) to perform tasks around the business.
The common strategy in any small business is that the owner pushes all employees to know and be able to perform all tasks. Business owners may provide training accordingly to make sure that if one employee is out then the other employee can step in and perform the task at the same level as the first employee. This strategy is a good one in a small business setting as it ensures continuity but it ignores something very important, different people have different strengths!
In a coffee catering business setting, you will typically find that two people are needed for any one event (some events require more). Those two people may not be good at exactly the same tasks and that’s fine. One person can be pretty good at the logistics aspect/tasks of the event/business, tasks such as determining, packing and organizing all the equipments, centerpieces, lighting, etc. needed for the event. The other person’s strength may just be coffee related tasks. Tasks such as tasting the coffee/shot and determining if adjustments are needed, knowing the proper proportions of the different drinks, doing latte art, etc. The first person may take the lead in the logistical part of the event and the second person can take the lead in the serving coffee part of the event.
Doing so doesn’t mean that the first person can’t serve coffee and the second can’t handle the logistics, in fact when one is taking the lead on the task/aspect of the business they are good at, the other person should be helping, but in the event that these two employees need to switch roles, their performance won’t be stellar and business owners shouldn’t be unhappy. Instead, they should celebrate the diverse set of skills they have on their team and use each employee to their strength.
This weekend was a busy one. On Saturday my wife and family celebrated my 32nd birthday and went above and beyond to get me a cake fit for a coffee addict/lover like myself. My wife tricked me into believing that we will be going to my parents house to celebrate my birthday when they were in fact all coming to my house. The biggest surprise of the night, aside from not knowing that people are coming to my house, was the cake. My wife used one of my instagram latte art pictures and worked with the baker to make me a custom-made cake in the shape of a latte mug with latte art. The cake stole the show and people started taking pictures of the cake instead of myself!
On Sunday, we decided to go walk around New Hope in Pennsylvania and pay Sky Roast Coffee a visit. Sky Roast Coffee is a new coffee place located in the newly constructed New Hope Ferry Market. Ferry market is located on Main Street and it’s home to 13 vendors offering different culinary experiences and a wide variety of food and drinks. The owner, Alan Cohen, is an active member of the Home Barista forum and his journey to obtain and open this place is well documented there and I had intended on visiting his place once he was in business. Alan was on premises and so I introduced myself and congratulated him on the shop. I proceeded to order a medium roast coffee from their batch brew and my wife ordered a chai tea. The place has a bar and stools to sit and the seating is facing the beautiful 3-group Victoria Arduino Athena copper.
Alan was working on tweaking the grind for optimal espresso shot extraction and then offered me a double shot and tasted excellent. It was balanced with plenty of body, very different from the usual, more common acidic and floral notes I get at most other specialty coffee places. I then proceeded to check the collection of whole bean coffees for sale and picked a Brazilian blend that promised a lot of chocolate notes and very little acidity, exactly the way I like it. One thing I liked about the package was the easy open tab on the back of the bag. Opening a sealed bag of coffee usually requires scissors or you can try to open it by hand and risk having your expensive freshly roasted beans fly all over your kitchen!
After I went back, Alan offered me their signature drink, a Maple Syrup Cortado! The drink was delicious, the maple syrup balances out the bitterness in the coffee and adds to the sweetness of the steamed milk that makes up 50% or more of the Cortado.
Aside from the espresso and the espresso-based drinks. Batch brews and pour over coffee are also available and by the looks of the pour over station and the smell of the freshly ground coffee, I expect the coffee to taste delicious.
New Hope and its neighbor, Lambertville in New Jersey already have excellent coffee places such as Rojo’s Roastery and the Lambertville Trading Company but Sky Roast Coffee, with its hands on approach by the owner, the excellent coffee selection, freshly roaster beans and excellent location, takes the already excellent coffee scene in Bucks County to a new high. These are great days for specialty coffee and coffee aficionados in and around Bucks County.
The short answer? Not at all! Here’s my logic on this. Currently, the nation is extremely divided and what that means is that if you, as a business, take the left’s position on a social or political issue, you risk alienating the right and if you take the right’s position on a social or political issue, you risk alienating the left.
As a business, especially if you have investors, your job is to make money. Sure, it is important for your business to stand up for something and have a social cause(s) attached to it but there are plenty of neutral social issues (instead of political positions) and ways your business can get involved without alienating anyone. Some examples include:
Breast and other form of cancers
People with disabilities
Obesity and health choices
Children education improvement
Healthier lunch options for schools
Community building and cleaning
These are all issues that the left and right can get behind and won’t risk alienating people on either side. If you, the owner of the business, feel one way or the other on some hot button social or political issues such as immigration or refugees you may want to consider keeping your opinion out of the business. You may use your personal social media accounts or other personal platforms to publish your personalopinions while making sure that your customers understand that those opinions are yours and yours only and do not reflect the views of XYZ Coffee Company.
I understand that if you have a physical location/coffee business it may be tempting to attach your business to the political opinion of your business’s geographical location. An example can be a coffee business located in San Francisco, California, where it is predominantly liberal, taking a liberal position on illegal immigration. The issue with doing this is that you may be limiting your business if you are selling coffee and coffee products online or if you have plans to expand your business beyond your current location. A customer located in a predominantly conservative city/state such as Texas, who loves your freshly roasted coffee, may end up taking their money elsewhere.
The backlash Starbucks received after their decision to hire refugees is a great example as to why businesses shouldn’t dive into politics. This article from Fortune.com talks about the boycott Donald Trump’s supporters have initiated and financial impact on Starbucks as a result.
Staying politically neutral is best for your business.
As someone who’s been working in the coffee catering business for some time, I have the opportunity to experience and observe the business first hands. The 10 to-do things below are things I see all the time and things that I would personally do if I ever start my own coffee catering business. The advice below will make it easier to operate the business smoothly and successfully.
Use 110/120V equipments: this one is a little tricky because most heavy duty commercial machines are 220/240V and catering work requires commercial machines. The good news is you can still buy 110/120V commercial equipment but you will have to look a little harder than if you were buying 220/240V.
Use new equipment whenever possible: used/second hand coffee equipment may seem like a good value at first glance but look deeper. Used equipment, especially ones without service records or invoices for all the work done, can cost you a lot of money in the long run, making any financial benefit of their lower price questionable at best. Think of a scenario like this you find a second hand machine for $2000 and new the same machine goes for $4000. At first, this seems like an excellent deal, a 50% discount off the original brand new price but look deeper. Getting a commercial machine with heat exchanger or a dual boiler professionally descaled can cost upward of $300 (scale buildup in the boiler is common if hard water is used)! Replacing a solenoid valve can cost upward of $150 per group. This number can be $300 or $450 for machines with 2 or 3 groups. Rotary external pumps is another item that can cost upward of $350 with installation. Adding any combination of some of these items together may cost you anywhere between $500 to $750 and this is only for parts and maintenance without taking into consideration any opportunity costs. What opportunity costs you ask? Imagine this, you’re doing an event and you are serving for 2 hours, after one hour and when you’re having a line of people waiting for their drinks, the machine acts up and starts losing pressure. An incident like this may cost you explicitly and implicitly. The lost money/profit you’re making off of the event (or whatever compensation you will offer to the venue or the event manager) is your explicit cost but what about implicit costs such a as damaged brand image and reputation? Adding all this up, you can easily see why buying new is the way to go. Finally, new machines have warranties, so even if something were to go wrong with a new machine, the fix is one service call away. No out of pocket cost for repairs and parts.
Buy your equipment from local, close by vendors: last thing you need, if something were to go wrong with your equipment, is to have to ship your machine or drive for hours to a service center. Shipping will not only cost you a lot of money (machines are heavy), but the reckless way UPS and FedEx handle large, heavy packages/ shipments will likely cause damage to the machine and result in more work for your technician.
Always have a backup machine and grinder in your van: this may seem like a waste of money at first but look deeper. A backup machine and grinder can be the difference between a happy customer and a successful event and miserable customer and a nightmare event. If you’re still not sure where the nightmare will come from, go back to my second point and the part I talk about implicit and explicit costs. The good news here and to save money, your backup machine can be a used one, why? Because a backup machine is just that, a backup machine, it’s only used in case of an emergency. This is not your main work horse and its sole purpose is to help save the day when your main work horse is out in the middle of an event.
Don’t buy machines with 2 or more groups: instead of buying one machine with 2 groups, buy 2 machines with one group each. This may seem like counterintuitive and inefficient at first glance but look deeper. Buying 2 one grouphead machines is better than buying one machine with 2 grouphead for the following reasons: 1) If a machine with 2 groups goes down, that’s 2 groups out. If a machine with one grouphead goes down, no problem use the other one grouphead machine. 2) one grouphead machines are lighter, easier to use and carry. They are also easier and cheaper to maintain 3) many baristas cannot multi task to take advantage of both groups. The end result is one group is used way more than the other.
Your image, your image, your image: I can’t stress that enough! Your business and brand image are critical for your success. If you think showing to an event with a faded black shirt or a shirt missing buttons is not important, think again. If you think showing up with a nasty machine is no big deal, think again. If you think using a 20 year old banged up van is okay, think again. Every little detail matters. Your equipment, shirts, looks, van, etc. say a lot about you. A nasty image give people the perception that you don’t care and no one wants to do business with someone who doesn’t care. Your van is a mobile billboard advertising for your business so make sure it’s clean, in good shape and a good representation of your brand and company.
Don’t hire people who don’t drink coffee or can’t drink it late at night: this may seem obvious but you need to make sure your employees are comfortable drinking coffee late and/or at any time, why? Because your employees must be able to taste the coffee before serving it to the guests. Someone who can’t drink coffee after 5 pm because “it keeps me up at night” won’t be able to dial in the machines and taste the espresso shots/coffee to ensure it’s good for the guests. Going by coffee color, flow and crema is not enough to ensure good tasting coffee, a good Barista must be able to drink coffee before the start and during the event to ensure consistency.
Maintain an exact set of brewing parameters and define your drinks: Ideally, you want repeat customers to taste the same coffee and drink the same beverages. The last thing you want is for a client to hire you for an event and love your coffee then hire you again just to taste different coffee! Imagine how annoyed will you be if you go to McDonalds, order their McMuffin and love it just to go the next day to order another McMuffin and have it taste different, missing ingredients or have ingredients you don’t necessarily like. Consistency is key, not just to maintain clients but also to diagnose issues. If you were hired by a client for an event then the following event you learn that they have hire someone else, having consistent drinks will rule out quality as the reason why you didn’t get the job. It could have been pricing, customer service, presentation, etc. but definitely not the drinks. Also, make sure those parameters are listed on your menu and don’t deviate from them unless explicitly asked by the guest.
Focus your energy on straight espresso orders: pulling straight espresso shots (single or double) is very important since they will not be diluted with milk, syrups, whipped cream, etc. the espresso quality in this case is extremely important. Any bad flavors or weaknesses will be totally exposed. On this topic, always ensure that you do a cooling flush before you pull a shot. Running some water through the grouphead helps stabilize the brewing temperature and clean the shower screen of old grounds from the previous shot.
Fresh coffee makes a huge difference in taste: Ensuring your coffee is fresh for all events is critical as it helps ensure consistency. Don’t store the coffee in its original bag, use a vacuum sealed coffee storage canisters. This won’t eliminate coffee deterioration as time goes by but it will at least slow it down.