How many times has your five-star dinner been depreciated by mediocre (or even downright terrible) coffee? Have you ever avoided the dessert course when dining out, because you’re afraid that the coffee won’t measure up? And if you’re among the many who don’t like to consume caffeine after a certain time of day, then you’ve probably already discovered that finding a restaurant serving decent decaf coffee is even more challenging.
It is an all too familiar experience for many of us to go to one place for a meal, but ask for the cheque and head elsewhere for coffee. So why do so many top restaurants – which pride themselves on the freshest foods, stellar wine lists, and talented chefs – often not seem to care as much about the coffee they serve? The subject, always a bit of a hot button among coffee experts, has been a popular discussion point lately.
Oliver Strand, who writes about food for the New York Times, Bon Appétit, and Vogue, has written a blog for Sprudge.com about the “restaurant gap” when it comes to specialty coffee. He artfully describes good coffee as “a seamless part of a meal that challenges your expectations while seducing your palate, the final stage of an hours-long pageant.” But when he is out for dinner, he says he usually opts to not order coffee at all, rather than finish off a splendid meal with something less than perfect.
James Hoffman, well-known coffee writer, former World Barista Champion, and co-owner of Square Mile Coffee Roasters, has also offered some insight into this phenomenon – that perhaps coffee simply isn’t that important to restaurants. He says this may be because coffee doesn’t have a great cash margin - when compared to food or other drinks. In addition, Hoffman makes the point that people aren’t booking tables in restaurants because of the coffee. It’s just not their bread and butter, quite literally.
But even accepting the fact that restaurants may not be putting all their efforts into giving coffee top billing, there are things they can do to ensure they put forth a respectable brew that is worthy of their food.
One of the most overlooked points in the brewing process is also one of the easiest to manage – the cleanliness of the spray head, and the area surrounding it. We wrote a whole blog post on how critical this is, and how to ensure this is cleansed thoroughly.
Of course, choosing fresh, high quality, specialty coffees should go without saying. It may be that restaurants actually do get top-quality beans, but then grind the coffee too far in advance, and it becomes stale. Or their grinder may simply be set wrong. When it comes to decaf, restaurateurs need to remember that decaf coffee needs to be of the same caliber as their regular coffee offerings, and treat it with the same respect, quality, and freshness; a subject which was featured in Barista Magazine.
Think about it — often the same customers who drink your regular coffee at lunch will switch to decaf at dinner or after their first cup in the evening. So if the quality doesn’t measure up, they will notice immediately! “What’s important is to not let your customers down by offering lousy coffee when they ask for decaf,” the article stresses. It’s your job to provide great coffee, regardless of the type.
Just as chefs taste the food they are preparing, tasting their own coffee (and that includes decaf!) should be habitual for restaurateurs. But the onus isn’t just on the restaurant. As customers (and we are all customers, at the end of the day) we need to do a better job of letting restaurants know how we feel. If a good decaf option is important to you, say so. If you have a great post-meal coffee experience, let the restaurant know that their efforts of going that extra mile were not made in vain.
And if you have discovered new favorite spots that are doing it right, tell your friends, tweet about it, and let the world know. After all, there is no reason why amazing coffee can’t be one of the reasons people fall in love with that certain little restaurant down the street.