Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Good Cup of Coffee

Do you love coffee? I do. I really love the flavor of coffee and so it matters to me what kind of coffee I am drinking. I'd rather have no coffee than Maxwell House or Folgers. Am I a snob?

Maybe. However, I am convinced you can tell a whole lot about a restaurant by the bread it puts on the table and the cofee it serves. These are two areas that many restaurants ignore, buying on price or convenience, which is a shame. When I go out to eat and finish my meal with a cup of coffee, I want to say, "Wow! Somebody here cares about coffee!"

I am reminded of this because I just rolled in at this miserable hour and first thing, I brewed a pot of our house coffee. It's part ritual and part need. The ritual thing is easy: I'm on autopilot this early in the morning and I do things by rote; a pot of coffee (or increasingly more frequently, tea) just happens.

The need part is more difficult. I don't need the coffee per se, but running on fumes as I am now, that cup of coffee sure helps me get through the previous night's sales numbers more easily. Or so I imagine.

And the term "cup" is disingenuous. I drink my coffee black and straight out of a pint glass from the bar. I'm not too keen on 6 ounce cups of coffee!

By and large, customers love our coffee here at the restaurant. But there are some dedicated Maxwell House lovers who hate our coffee. And that's exactly what I was looking for when I chose the coffee for the restaurant: a coffee that would be memorable, a coffee that would force you to choose sides, not some middle-of-the-road-pleases-nobody coffee.

Years ago, I tasted hundreds of coffee samples over a few weeks in choosing our two coffees. And I bet you thought it was simple matter to pick coffee for a restaurant. Well, it is, unless you want to serve your guests memorable coffee.

For our standard coffee, I went with a blend heavy on Indonesian beans with a very full roast. Our decaf is a high quality, mainly Brazilian light roast that has really good flavor; you'll never know that it is decaf.

I also have two other tricks to ensure good coffee. First, I asked the coffee roaster to give me 2.75-ounce packages of coffee. The industry standard measure for a liter of coffee is 2.5 ounces and a lot of places cheat by using only 2.25 ounces. Also, I tweaked our machine to brew 28 ounces instead of the standard liter (about 34 ounces) about a full cup of coffee short. This ensures that we have a really rich and robust cup of coffee. Sure, it costs me more, but some things are just worth it.

And of the comments I get about the coffee in the dining room, the vast majority are glowing. And the other customers, well they hate it. And that's OK by me: there's no sense in trying to please everyone. My mission is accomplished—nobody is ambivalent about One Block West coffee.

My 14-year old daughter just arrived—her summer job is helping here in the restaurant, one day in the kitchen, one day in the office, one day in the dining room—and asked, "Did you make a pot of coffee yet?" She's always drunk coffee: she started drinking espresso drinks as a toddler. I've created yet another coffee monster.

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