Written by: The Grounds Roastery Head Roaster, Nick Ferguson
This article was first published in Cafe Culture Magazine.

It’s no secret that delivering high quality coffee to your customers is a sure-fire way to drive repeat business and increase your sales. Whether you’re just starting out with your own cafe, looking to upgrade your setup, or wanting to invest in improving your coffee quality, it can be tricky knowing what you’re missing.

From the fit-out of your equipment and workflow, through to the quality of coffee you’re working with, here are my key tips for setting yourself up for success.

1. EQUIPMENT

When choosing equipment for your cafe, it pays to invest. While costs upfront can be steep, achieving consistent, high-quality results with your coffee will repay the investment tenfold.

Here are the essential items you need for your setup, and what to look for:

  • Espresso Machine

Higher quality machines give you the ability to achieve a more consistent product with better useability and generally have higher quality components. The key capabilities to look for are temperature stability (dual boilers and multi boilers offer this), steam performance and reliability. Ensure it’s well supported by technicians in your area for parts & services. When selecting the number of group heads, consider the space you need around your machine to work and the volume of coffees you need to produce.

  • Grinder

I consider the grinder to be one of the most critical pieces of equipment in achieving quality results. While coffee machine technology is highly advanced, grinder technology is still catching up – this is where it pays to do your research.

Key capabilities should include reliability, consistency & quality. Spend time researching before you make a decision; trial them, borrow them or even take your coffee to the manufacturer if you need to. Keep in mind that just because a grinder is consistent when you trial it, it doesn’t mean it will be during peak service periods.

TIP: Be mindful of the volume of coffees you’re producing when choosing a grinder and invest in equipment that won’t overheat or breakdown during your peak times.

  • Setup

During the design stage of your venue, think about space and workflow of the bar. While some machines are better suited to work with a left to right workflow, others work the opposite. Efficiency is key in a busy environment and it pays to be mindful of this from the very beginning.

TIP: If you’re unsure of where to start with your equipment setup, visit your favourite cafe and chat to them about what they’re doing. When in doubt, keep it simple.

2. MAINTENANCE

Be preventative, not reactive! Talk to your coffee machine technician before you start trading about a preventative maintenance schedule for your equipment. Down time due to equipment failure can be incredibly expensive, not to mention damaging to your business. Failing to change grinder burrs and water filters can also be very detrimental to the quality of your coffee.

  • Internal processes

The basics of daily cleaning procedures should be extremely thorough and closely monitored. Further to that, a more in depth clean (including your ginders and burrs) should be implemented on a weekly basis. Depending on the volume of coffees you’re producing, plan strict burr changes to be on top of any issues before they have a chance to affect performance or quality.

Tip: Set yourself calendar reminders for your weekly and quarterly cleans or changes to ensure you don’t miss your deadlines and let your schedule run over.

  • External supplier relationships

If you’re working with external suppliers, implement a preventative schedule with them too. The money invested here will far outweigh the inconvenience of down time.

TIP: Be nice to your tech guy! They’re in high demand and when you need urgent assistance, it pays to have a good relationship.

3. WATER

Water makes up over 90% of the ingredients in a cup of coffee yet is one of the most overlooked elements. If you’re feeling confident with your setup but facing coffee quality issues, the problem may lie in your water quality.

Water quality varies dramatically throughout world, it can even vary from suburb to suburb or street to street. Poor water quality not only negatively affects your equipment (scale build up can cause a multitude of problems), it also affects the solubility, extraction and flavour of the coffee itself.

It’s important to find out the basic mineral makeup of the water in your area.

Here’s how you can find out about your water:

  • Buy a simple TDS tester and dip it in your water – this will tell you in a very basic way whether your water is relatively soft (<80ppm) or relatively hard (>150ppm)
  • Chat to your local coffee roaster to understand what filtration they use for their own quality assurance practices as they will be calibrating their roast profiles according to this. Try to simply match what they are doing – this is one of the reasons it pays to go local.
  • Invest in a water test from your water filter provider – they can then curate the best solution for your water

Depending on your water quality, there are a few solutions you can look to implement:

  • Carbon block filtration – this prevents scale build up and removes sediment, chlorine and odours but essentially won’t change the mineral content (TDS) of your water
  • Mineral Enriching Filtration – these filters remove sediment and odour just as a carbon block filter does although they also add small amounts of flavour carrying minerals such as magnesium and calcium
  • Reverse Osmosis with remineralisation – this is the most expensive method of filtration but it can be very necessary if you’re in an area with ‘hard’ water. This method strips out most of the minerals in the water – you can then put the minerals that you want back in via remin cartridges.
4. WORKFLOW

To deliver your customers their coffee quicker and with better quality, look at the setup and systems your staff are working with. Each step in the coffee making process should flow into the next without unnecessary obstruction so the processes you have in place should be a result of constant problem solving and improvements.

TIP: Don’t persist with things that don’t work. If you recognise a problem in your workflow improve it to ensure it’s as streamlined & efficient as possible.

5. COFFEE

When it comes to choosing the right coffee for your venue, look for both quality and support from a roaster. To learn more about your local roasters, attend cuppings and taste as many coffees as you can. This presents an opportunity to find out more about their offerings, whether they’re transparent and open about the coffees they buy, and what kind of support they can offer you as a partner. The training and guidance they can offer you through a partnership can be invaluable to your long-term business growth.

As you’re making your decision, be mindful that the majority of our market are drinking espresso based milk drinks. Try to be as objective as possible and get a spread of opinion for the right coffee for your venue but also trust your own palette for what you enjoy drinking.

Tip: You get what you pay for! Specialty coffee is more expensive, but the quality is assured and in most cases your money will be going back into initiatives that help the sustainability of the supply chain in some sort of way, whether directly or indirectly. Not to mention your customers will notice the difference!

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