Once upon a time, building out a café was a comparatively simple affair: line up a few commercial-grade automatic coffee makers, ensure there are a few coffee syrups and assorted milk and creamer selections, and install a few cozy places for customers to sit and sip. Today, an increasingly savvy clientele has pushed coffeehouse owners to explore alternative brewing methods, and those machines are showing up in retail sectors, too.
For businesses used to a simple and familiar auto-drip system, integrated single-brew or other less convenient methods might seem daunting. Still, the customer demand is there, and having alternative brewing systems in place is not only a point of interest that could prove useful in promotional work and word-of-mouth advertising, it also gives baristas another opportunity to interact and build rapport with guests. Perhaps most enticing, these artisan coffees command higher price tags; after figuring in initial investments in the actual gadgets themselves and the increased labor costs, the profit margin is still impressive.
On the con side, some of these coffee makers come with a learning curve that requires additional training (although it would likely only take an afternoon to acquaint staff with the new acquisitions), and the cleaning and maintenance of the machines can be tedious. They also require storage and/or display space that may not be readily available.
Ultimately, the decision to add any or all of the alternative brewing systems below is best made on a business-by-business basis, with target demographic, counter space, training commitments and labor requirements all taken into account. Here is some information on a few of the more popular systems to help get the wheels turning.
The name hints at geek, but the product is downright chic, so much so that it’s almost hard to believe that this modern-looking vessel was invented back in 1941. Chemex brewers are sleek glass beakers with a narrow middle (think hourglass minus the sand) that provide the ideal spot to nestle a Chemex-specific filter. The technique is simple: Insert the filter, spoon in ground coffee, and add hot water, first “blooming” the ground coffee with a small amount of water and then adding enough liquid to produce the desired serving size. (There are models that brew anywhere from one to six or more cups.) This is referred to as the “pour over” method, and because the water only stays in contact with the grounds long enough for gravity to pull it through, the coffee itself is never overbrewed, overextracted, or overly bitter.
The French Press
To operate a French press, coffee grounds are measured into the glass beaker-like base, hot water is added, and then the mixture sits. Brew time depends on several factors, such as water temperature, the size of the press and the desired potency, but somewhere in the neighborhood of two to four minutes usually does the trick, meaning the coffee can essentially brew as it’s carried to the guest’s table. To serve, fit the lid to the top of the beaker and slowly press down; the lid doubles as a plunger, filtering out coffee grounds and trapping them against the bottom of the carafe. Unlike auto-drip machines that filter out not just coffee grounds but also the bean’s oils and, some people argue, its flavor, French press machines allow the water and coffee to intermingle for a more aromatic and full-bodied brew. Many cafés and restaurants already use the French press as a way to serve multiple guests or a single guest multiple servings without the need to come back repeatedly with refills. The growing ubiquity of the French press makes it a safe and familiar option for less adventurous guests, and because the brew increases in intensity the longer the water is left to sit in contact with the grounds, the coffee made in a French press is highly customizable, as well.
The Vacuum Pot
Vacuum-style coffee makers were invented in Berlin in the 1830s, and even modern interpretations evoke a decidedly vintage (and perhaps a little mad scientist-y) feel. While this stacked, double-bubble coffee maker is certainly eye-catching, it’s the siphon action drawing water from the bottom chamber up through the coffee-laden top chamber that has everyone buzzing — literally. Proponents claim that vacuum pots make superior coffee because the temperature at which water turns to vapor and initiates the siphoning action is also the ideal temperature for a smooth, rich, tasty cup of joe, and the cloth filters promote a smoother, cleaner mouthfeel as well. This might not be the brewer of choice for every customer, but those patrons who like it love it, and it’s not unusual for them to become loyal to a particular coffeehouse just because it keeps a vacuum pot or two on hand.
The AeroPress consists of a clear tube that’s open at one end and fitted with a filter – easily removable for post-coffee cleaning – on the other. To use, sit the tube on top of a mug, filtered end down, add ground coffee, and fill to one of three clearly marked water lines that correspond to the size and intensity of the coffee desired. When the brew is ready, a plunger is pushed through the tube in a manner very similar to the technique used with a French press, but with the AeroPress, the coffee filters out straight into the drinking vessel. AeroPress coffee is soft, supple and almost buttery due to the preservation of its natural oils, but the biggest selling point here is that the AeroPress filters out coffee grounds far more efficiently and thoroughly than the French press.