We get asked a lot, ‘what's the best espresso for a coffee shop?’ To which we reply, ‘what do you think is best?’ Of course taste comes first, then price, and also being ‘easy to use’ day in and day out. But there are a few other factors to think about: supply chain, ethics of sourcing, support from a roaster and the capabilities of your equipment to name a few. Also, it will be helpful to consider whether you are looking to rotate the offer often, or are you looking for consistency in flavour as the seasons change?
To help you select the right espresso, we’ve taken a break from painting our new roastery to detail some of our thoughts below!
Blend or singles?
This depends on the style of coffee shop you’re going for. If you’re looking for the high end of the scale and wanting to showcase very premium coffees, weighing your espresso dry dose and weighing out the liquid espresso, then I would go with singles - as most likely you’ll be rotating the coffees often. Although, alongside this you would want a very high caliber of a team (which, as deserved, comes at higher staff costs) in your business, especially each day that you’re not working - so you know your offer is in safe hands.
Too often, blends get a bad rep. We’d rather have a blend of coffees with full traceability than a single origin that just says ‘Brazil’. You can fit Europe inside of Brazil people!
For us, blends are the best for 95% of coffee outlets. They offer everything you need. Let's look at the main factors to consider when choosing a coffee.
Taste - Blends allow roasters to create the perfect flavour profile that customers love. Generally customers like a coffee that's clean with chocolate, caramel, nutty and sometimes even some delicate fruit tones. It's pretty hard to find a coffee that does that all year round, and even year after year, so it will come at a premium price.
Ease of use (consistent) - Blends are more forgiving when it comes to making drinks. You’ll get a wider extraction window (sweet spot) and if you have a good grinder you can trust that's been dialled in and you’ll be in the right ballpark to keep that coffee popping! If you have higher staff turnover or lots of different people on shift, a blend will help you keep things consistent. Although you should be teaching everyone to work the same way in an ideal world and good roasters would support this training program.
Price - is perception. It depends on what you're comparing it to. If you look at blends filled with cheap robusta and coffees with no traceability or ethics down the local wholesale supermarket you’ll probably get a cheap kilo price but the quality and ethics behind it is rubbish. The UK coffee market is growing rapidly and so is consumer knowledge and taste. People know the difference between good and bad coffee.
Working with ethical speciality coffee roasters means you will be sourcing a premium product that deserves to be paid a fair price for, as that supports the farmers and supply chain far more. Good roasters know what they’re doing when it comes to buying green coffee. It's a serious skill not to be underestimated. Don’t ask for the world and expect to pay below market.
Ethics - We’ve mentioned ethics a few times now. It's pretty important to us that we source specialty coffee from dedicated growers around the world and pay a premium price for the love and attention that goes into growing and nurturing each coffee plant. A good roaster will work with farmers who match their values in taking care of their staff and also who work holistically within the environment in which they farm.
You should make sure that your coffee is traceable and that a premium has been paid. Along with this, share the story of the farmer as well as the roaster you work with. After all the farmer did the most important part of the process by growing fantastic coffee to start with! You could even speak with your roaster about starting a seed fund in which you can support the farmer. Now that's a beautiful story to share with your customers!
Roast level - Look at the market around you. What do you know about the most popular drinks in the area? If everyone drinks smaller milk drinks (flat whites etc.) you can use lighter roasts (but those will be lost in those bigger drinks), and lighter roasts generally have more acidity so can be unbalanced in americanos.
We’d suggest going with a medium roast for your house espresso. It's going to help with those lattes, americanos and tasty flat whites which will be your core 3 drinks.
Support - Some coffee shops are lone wolves who’re more than confident in managing their coffee program in house and they may even buy from a selection of roasters across the world. Sometimes you’ll need a helping hand on training. No shame in that and it's very common! We wouldn't let anyone open without training! If you’re working with a roaster for house coffee and you need training, make sure they offer it and it should be free. Work with them to get the best out of their time. Culture is top down so as an owner you should be invested in training yourselves so you know how to correct any issues in your coffee offer.
At the end of the day it's a partnership and your goal should be to make amazing coffee as a team and convert customers from the big 3 to support the indy market!
Equipment - Nothing like putting a high altitude, dense, light roast washed Ethiopian coffee through an old grinder with blunt burrs or through an old machine that's full of scale - that's a recipe for a sour lemon bonbon. Trust your roaster's advice. They want you to get the best out of the coffee and for you to succeed. At the end of the day, the more coffee you sell the more the roaster does as well. If your equipment isn’t quite up to the job of the floral and bright coffees, work with your roaster to choose the best coffee for the job or ask for their help in getting your equipment up to a decent standard.
Medium roast and 2 or 3 origin blends FOR THE WIN! Hopefully that helps anyone wondering what to do. Now back to painting!...