Friday, November 24, 2006

A Matter of Convenience

I remember the challenge in the mid-nineties when the coffee roaster I worked for began our blanket conversion to thermal insulated servers for drip coffee in our accounts. It was common to hear customer’s complaints about the coffee not staying hot enough, and the servers being cumbersome and difficult to clean. We performed multiple tests to see how long these new and improved servers would keep coffee hot. It was considered success to find a 160 degree pot of coffee after two full hours of hold time. If the manufacturers kept up their intensive research and development initiatives, well hell, we might be able to keep coffee at a servable temperature for an entire shift! Seems like the next logical step was to provide bigger brewers. How wonderful it was to no longer have to struggle with the overwhelming and complicated process of brewing coffee constantly! And now we will never have to worry about burnt coffee again. Ease of preparation is the cornerstone of any good restaurant, isn’t it? Think of the time and energy (not to mention labor, Sous Chefs are expensive) that could be saved if all of the sauté station dishes at the French Laundry could be prepared ahead of time, heated in some type of instant heating device (someone should invent that), and then be served up hot and semi-fresh for each of the famous restaurant’s patrons gastronomic pleasure. The nominal difference in quality could never be perceived by the average neophyte diner, I would bet.

Okay, you caught me being snarky. My point is this. Why is it such a struggle in the culinary world (and often the coffee house world) to convince many proprietors that coffee is so much more than a condiment? Do they not know, or care? Do some of the best chefs in the world really think all coffee is generally the same? Aren’t all tomatoes the same? Or beef, or wine? As a waiter for many years, I am sure I did not make it any easier on the owners for whom I worked. The server lobby at any decent restaurant is typically a force to reckon with. I think it is item #1 in the general waiter job description:

“Bitch as much as possible in an effort to ease your job whist driving up a customers check and deftly presenting them the bill in such a way they won’t notice tip is already included”. It killed us at a very busy (6M per year) resort restaurant to have a crappy little brewer that never seemed to make enough coffee to get through even the shortest rush without having to brew almost non-stop into those damn little glass carafes. Funny thing though; the coffee was always hot and tasted fresh when we served it. We also had to deal with that pesky coffee grinder each time we wanted to brew a batch. We had to put a filter in the basket, shove it into that spring contraption under the grinder, and wait a full 18 seconds while the coffee ground and filled the filter. It was absolutely unacceptable that we had to wait so long to get a simple cup of coffee served. By God, I had a 26 dollar whole Florida Pompano coming of the grill that I needed to serve right away and filet tableside. I didn’t have time for the inconvenience of such a trivial part of the meal, the last thing that goes into my customers’ mouth before they leave. I had more important things to worry about. Like where we were going drinking after the shift. Maybe liquid coffee was the solution.

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