Chapter 3: The Best Product

We’ve shattered all illusions associated with perfection by now, so I’ll linger on that topic only briefly to say that when dealing with an agricultural product you will have inconsistencies. Perfection is absolutely impossible. What is possible is finding a superior offering than what you competition is providing. This alone will compensate for every other element of the business plan that falls short.

Espresso beverages are the stars of the coffee shop. Not only are they a creative outlet for the coffee artisans you’ve hired, they are also the highest margin item on your menu. Getting these right requires devotion to quality both in the sourcing of the beans and also in their preparation. Since preparation is part of the process of making coffee, we’ll save that for the next chapter. That leaves the beans themselves. And when you are looking for a single thing that will distinguish your coffee shop, the taste and quality of your coffee is king.

I recall reading one business plan for a café that spent 16 pages detailing everything about their mission except

how they were going to source the beans. Ugh. What a waste! How do you blather on around your mission and vision and not go into some level of detail about how you will ensure that your product is in fact the best tasting coffee and espresso?

In fairness, they briefly mentioned that baristas would be trained to properly prepare the coffee. But any coffee connoisseur will correctly point out, if you start with bad beans, you’ll get a bad brew. So sourcing superior beans is critical to getting the best possible product.

There are simple rules for getting superior coffee results. The first is obvious, partner with a good roaster. Most coffee shops bring in beans already roasted. If you are going to make this entirely reasonable decision, you need to work with the best possible roaster in your community. Local counts more than you would expect. The freshness of the roast depends largely on the aroma producing acids and oils in roasted beans. For darker roasts, freshness is more critical because much of those oils and acids have been roasted out to create the deep dark browns and blacks of typical espresso roasts.

Secondly, the beans must arrive at the store whole and be ground on site, just before preparation. The grind of the beans contributes to product quality as well. For espresso drinks, the grind must be very fine. To keep your coffee strong and robust you will need a burr grinder, configured for the finest espresso grind. Larger grounds of coffee, which are fine in your average home drip brewed coffee maker will produce weak, flavorless shots of espresso. And you will have alienated customers immediately.

The next item that must be right to produce consistently quality coffee is the machine itself. Adhering to the rule we

established early on, you do not need a perfect espresso machine. Depending on how you lay out your workstations, you may be able to accommodate just one espresso machine. And I would certainly encourage you to open with just one and adjust as demand requires it. Stick with a machine that has at most two group heads.

Your best bet for a new café is a fully automatic or super automatic espresso machine. The fully automatic will regulate both water temperature and pressure as it passes through the espresso. Super automatic machines will handle all that fully automatic machines do, plus grind and tamp the beans. If high

volume sales of espresso drinks is part of your growth strategy, paying extra for the super automatic may be a good investment. Keep in mind, bells and whistles are worthless if the coffee produced is undrinkable.

No amount of rewards cards, comfortable chairs, free Wi-Fi or cool ambience will repair a customer relationship that begins with bad coffee. That means devotion to the beans, the grind and the machine is essential. If you go the super automatic route, you will keep the product consistent. One caveat, even though the beans will be ground and tamped, as the proprietor you will still need to master the art of the grind and the tamp.

Before we move on to the process, let me caution you about the one big product mistake many new owners make. They focus so intently on getting product right that they invest more on the prep than they do on the store. Good coffee will overcome nearly everything you do poorly, even an unpleasant store design. Find a balance to begin and upgrade your equipment as you go.

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