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I always cringe when that is the first question from a restaurateur, and my
response is always the same - "Is price more important than taste"? Consider the
following - restaurants usually sell a cup of coffee for about one dollar. And
when they pay $6.00 per pound for coffee, their cost per cup is about ten cents,
(which means their profit is ninety cents). So the difference in their profit
between $6.00 per pound and $3.00 per pound is the incredible sum of five cents
per cup. However, the real difference will be in the taste of the coffee. The
taste difference is even greater with coffee brewed in an espresso machine since
an espresso machine is an amplifier. It will highlight a really good coffee, but
conversely, it will also amplify any faults with that coffee. Remember,
espresso is not a type of bean, but is a method of brewing coffee. Espresso
coffee is tightly packed (7 grams), through which hot water (198 degrees F) is
forced at high mechanical pressure (132 psi). The resultant one and a half fluid
ounces is the elixir known as espresso, and many countries could be conquered
before 9:00 am if their population were to be deprived of this magic "elixir"! A
commonly mistaken thought is that coffee used in espresso machines should be
dark roasted - WRONG! When beans are darkly over-roasted, all the oils come to
the surface giving the impression that the roasted coffee has been coated with
grease. These oils contain much of the flavour of the coffee and when brought to
the surface by over-roasting, they will be lost when handled, stored, and of
course, when they are ground. Since coffee is really "cooked" three times, (the
first during roasting; second when ground since the grinder creates heat; and
thirdly when brewed), over-roasting will produce a bitter/burnt taste when
brewed as an espresso. Let me return to my original point as to why better
coffee beans cost more. Coffee beans are an agrarian product, and like all crops
they are subject to climate, soil, and growing and harvesting methods. Coffee
plants that are treated better will produce a better crop. Coffee harvested by
hand will produce a higher quality product. A mechanical harvester only goes
through once plucking ripe and unripe berries simultaneously. Manual harvesting
takes place over a period of time and the pickers only pluck the ripe fruit,
avoiding the unripe berries.Sorting takes place at the plantation AND at the
roaster. The better the sorting, the better the coffee. This process begins with
the removal of stones (which can ruin your grinder), branches, leaves, poisonous
spiders, (just joking, I think), and continues with the removal of broken,
misshapen, and bad beans. This is critical since a broken or misshapen piece
could roast quicker than the other beans, and will affect the quality of the
finished batch. Blending must take place after roasting. Different batches of
beans from different plantations and countries will roast at different times and
temperatures. Throwing different green beans together will result in some beans
being under-roasted while others are burnt. Expert blending (or cupping as it is
known) of roasted beans will ensure the best and most consistent flavour. Packing
the perfectly roasted and blended beans will ensure that you are sold the
product in peak condition. Coffee begins to oxidize and lose its flavour and
aroma as soon as the roasting process is finished. It's essential that the
coffee is packed in lightproof and airproof bags that have been nitrogen flushed
and/or vacuum packed. The bag should also have a unilateral valve to allow
carbon dioxide to escape. From the rambling monologue above, it's easy to see
that short-cuts can be made to the coffee preparation process, but quality will
only cost a few pennies more per cup. And remember - your coffee may be the last
item that your customer tastes before leaving your restaurant.