Special brew: 10 ways to apply indie principles to coffee

By Hannah Thompson

- Last updated on GMT

Special brew: 10 ways to apply indie principles to coffee

Related tags Coffee Franco manca

Restaurant groups up and down the country are turning to indie inspiration for ways to boost their coffee offer. We consider their top ten tips

1. Grind to order

Freshly ground coffee beans are integral to the final cup, and should be ground just before the actual coffee is served, says Daniel Land, co-founder of 15-strong Italian restaurant group Coco di Mama (pictured).

“You want to hear the whir of the grinder, not the click of a dispenser or, worse, the sound of coffee being spooned out of a packet,” he explains. “Freshly grinding coffee is one of the most important stages of the process.”

2. Source fresh and well-roasted beans

Land explains that the beans themselves are one of the key aspects to getting coffee right, with factors such as freshness and roasting techniques paramount.

“There are no shortcuts to good coffee,” he says. “There are several important steps and, if you miss one, the coffee won’t be good.”

3. Focus on equipment quality and consistency

Another key focus should be your equipment, which will need significant investment and upkeep if it is to continue producing excellent espresso. Coco di Mama considers its equipment to be just as important as sourcing, roasting, and training.

“There’s the equipment and how you look after it…you need controls for every single one,” explains Land.


Italian restaurant group Coco di Mama has 15 sites (Photo: Coco di Mama)

4. Nail communication with customers

Restaurants serving good coffee differ from specialist coffee shops in that their clientele is rarely as happy to “geek out” about specific beans or brews, such as “the latest washed Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia”. Restaurants cater to a wider base.

“We let the coffee do the talking,” says Land, whose loyalty scheme also helps to boost Coco di Mama’s coffee sales to incredible levels – representing a significant around 25 to 30 per cent of its turnover.

5. Boost your baristas

Coffee wouldn’t be coffee without well-trained the baristas serving it. Land cites “the skill of the barista” as one of the key steps in making great coffee, and the group invests heavily in training.

The Boston Tea Party, the 20-site café chain that describes itself as a “stepping stone to speciality coffee”, also sees staff training as vital, with each of its 60 baristas taking the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe qualification, alongside two full-time coffee trainers.

Similarly, staff at 30-plus sourdough pizza group Franco Manca attend a one-day coffee training course simply to learn the best way to make espresso – the only coffee option on the menu.

6. Know your customers’ choices

For all the talk of single-origin, specialist beans, it’s important to match your blend to the customers who will actually be drinking it. Whether they can’t get enough espressos, or prefer big milky lattes, it’s important to tailor your choice of bean to customers’ choice of cup.

“I see in the industry a never-ending move towards really high acidity, sour coffees,” says managing director of The Boston Tea Party, Sam Roberts. “But when you mix them with milk you get quite an acidic winey flavour. At least half our customers are having a 12oz of milk or above in their coffee, so you need a nutty, chocolatey coffee that punches through.”


Franco Manca only offers one coffee option - the simple espresso (Photo: Franco Manca) 

7. Simplify your offer

From this knowledge of its clientele, Boston Tea Party can also enjoy economies of scale, in that its slimmed-down range means it can buy in bigger volumes, saving up to £5 per kg compared to the price paid by higher-end coffee shops, even for top quality beans.  

Similarly, companies such as sourdough pizza group Franco Manca offer only one coffee option, in the pursuit of quality – the espresso –, which means that staff are afforded the space to make it extremely well.

8. Choose your suppliers wisely

Giuseppe Mascoli, co-founder of Franco Manca, explains that his coffee supplier – Gianna Frasi in Verona – roasts in a year what Lavazza roasts in a couple of hours, thanks to its highly-controlled selection process that only uses “the cream of the crop” from small estates, and its commitment to roasting over an open flame in a 1950s style.

Mascoli says: “He buys coffee from Haiti, Ethiopia, Yemen, Timor, India, and each batch varies, so he has to adjust and make decisions about how much he roasts.”


The original Shoreditch Grind, from co-founders David Abrahamovitch and Kaz James (Photo: The Grind)

9. Control your roast

Coffee specialists, however, know it’s all about your own roast. Grind launched its own roastery and wholesale business last year. Roasting half a tonne of beans a week, this in-house process has helped improve quality and consistency, and saved money across the group, especially as it expands.

The director of Liverpool brunch and coffee specialist Moose Coffee, Nick van Breeman, agrees that setting up his own roastery would not only bring cost benefits, but also added flexibility and control.  

“Setting up a roaster is a big investment,” he says. “[But] we’re getting through 100kg of beans a week and we pay around £9/kg. If we were buying raw we would pay less than half that.”  

10. Honour coffee’s importance

Although his business is arguably pizza, Mascoli is pretty evangelical about espresso, offering the best – and perhaps most grandiose ‒ argument we’ve yet heard for investing properly.

“It’s the last thing you taste when you have a meal,” he says. “Coffee is a basic human right.”


Adapted from an original article by Patrick McGuigan, in the February 2017 issue of Restaurant Magazine, out now

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