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What’s brewing?

Customers raised on Starbucks expect to be able to order specialty coffees any place they patronize. The challenge for the restaurant operator is how to offer a range of coffee drinks without burdening a stretched-thin staff. Fortunately, there are a number of automatic or semi-automatic coffee machines that can virtually duplicate the coffeehouse experience.

Grounds for change

While the traditional “pour-over” brewers with heating elements (the mainstay of the old-style coffee shop) are still available, there are sophisticated brewers today that use ground—or even whole bean—coffee to upgrade choices.

Concordia Coffee Systems’ new Integrated Beverage System 6+ grinds fresh whole bean coffee to brew regular coffee, lattes, mochas and cappuccinos. Its on-board refrigerator holds two one-gallon milk containers; it also has room for up to six bag-in-box Torani syrups to make flavored beverages. Starbucks’ Verismo Touch is a fully automatic, whole-bean espresso machine programmed with proprietary Starbucks recipes. The machine features a milk heating system and front panel interface to walk users through the beverage-making process.

The advantages to using ground or whole bean coffee are that it’s always available, easy to purchase and store and comparatively less expensive. The downside—bulk bags of coffee can easily be spilled and the disposal of spent grounds can be a messy.

What’s in the box?

In-box coffee systems start with either highly concentrated liquid coffee or coffee extract, packed in a sealed box. Once fitted into the machine, the boxes dispense the coffee concentrate, which is then mixed with hot water on demand.

The Douwe Egberts C-60 Specialty Coffee Brewer uses a frozen concentrate of 100 percent Arabica coffee. The machine also has a port for a proprietary frozen milk product; this can produce regular coffee as well as lattes and cappuccinos. The LCA-2 dispenser from Bunn holds an ambient-temperature coffee extract product. Internal technology monitors the extract-to-water ratio for consistency.

In-box systems are convenient; it’s a snap to replace boxes in the brewer and there are no beans or grounds to deal with. However, boxed coffee can be expensive and storage space (particularly for the frozen concentrate) may be an issue.

Pod casting

For operations that don’t do a high-volume coffee business, a pod system may be the answer. These space-saving machines use disposable pods or capsules filled with coffee. At the touch of a button, water flows through the pod and brews a cup of hot coffee.

The Nespresso Gemini CS is a double-head brewing system that allows two separate cups of coffee to be brewed at once. To make lattes and cappuccinos, the CS 220 model also features a thermos attachment to keep milk cold up to eight hours. Bunn’s AutoPOD brewer accepts a variety of pods in different sizes. It also clears out and stores the used pods.

With pod systems, it’s easy to stock many types of coffee and brew on demand. Pod brewers also have a small footprint. But not all machines have automatic disposal or water line connections, so their on-board water tanks may need refilling during rush periods.

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