1- Back to black: a move away from milk in coffee
The days of baristas having to wince inwardly as customers slosh milk into a carefully brewed pourover may soon be over. London-based coffee and restaurant business Caravan reports a gradual rise in black coffee sales, driven by veganism and a desire to experience the taste of high-quality coffee unmasked by cow’s milk or plant-based alternatives and made viable by the rise of more lightly roasted, fruity coffees. “Clearly milk-based drinks still massively outnumber black coffee sales, especially when it comes to espresso-based products,” says Caravan co-founder Chris Ammermann. “Filter coffee is the norm in the US but it’s struggled to get traction in the UK, which seems to be quite wedded to the chain coffee experience. But it now feels like we’re at least headed in the right direction. At Caravan, we try to push people towards filter because we think it’s a better product, and it’s also far quicker to serve.”
2 - Kit that stops ‘barista’s wrist’ and other RSI-reducing gizmos
Performing the same actions – tamping, twisting in groupheads – day in, day out can take its toll on baristas. Employers that don’t take steps to reduce their staff’s risk of damaged tendons, ligaments and nerves could face legal action. Ways to reduce the chances of the dreaded ‘barista’s wrist’ and other repetitive strain injuries associated with cranking out hundreds of flat whites a day include correct training, an ergonomic space in which to work and cleverly designed equipment. Recent innovations in the latter category include La Marzocco ‘Swift’ self-tamping grinder and La Marzocco’s KB90 espresso machine, which features ‘straight-in’ portafilters that don’t need to be twisted into place.
3 - Foam on demand
One of the most time-consuming aspects of making espresso-based drinks is the foaming of the milk. Foaming milk by hand takes at least 30 seconds and – while quicker – automated foaming systems are far from instant. To speed things up, an Australian company has developed a machine that creates and holds ready-to-pour steamed milk. Baristas simply fill their jug from the Ubermilk and get to work. A single machine can create enough foamed milk for 250 drinks per hour and can run all day with minimal user intervention required. “One of our biggest challenges for Caravan is to match the speed of the big chains,” says Chris Ammermann. “The Ubermilk is not cheap, but it offers a huge time saving for our team.”
4 - Emerging regions
According to Mintel, 79% of coffee drinkers are keen to try new varieties. With this in mind, Nespresso Professional is widening its search for new and interesting coffee styles by focusing on less obvious regions, including Kenya, Zimbabwe and Peru. Last month the capsule company launched Peru Organic exclusively for the on-trade as part of a revamp of its single country of origin range, which is billed as a sophisticated range of coffees that ‘evoke the land and traditions of the countries in which they are grown’. Peru Organic is described as a ‘fruity coffee with distinct green vegetable notes’.
5 - Grinders with inbuilt weighing scales
Baristas that take their espresso seriously weigh each and every grind to ensure they are putting exactly the right amount of coffee in the portafilter and are therefore getting exactly the right level of extraction. Given how much time weighing coffee takes, it’s surprising how long grinder manufacturers have taken to build scales into their products (the measure of coffee a grinder gives is traditionally set by the length of the grind, which is far less accurate than weighing). But they have now arrived and are expected to go mainstream this year.
6 - Hyper-local sourcing
Local sourcing and coffee are traditionally thought of as being incompatible: coffee beans can only be grown in the tropics after all. But Brighton Coffee Festival founder and 640 East head barista Daniel White believes sourcing from local roasters can reduce coffee’s carbon footprint. “Beans are shipped over from coffee-producing countries by boat, which carries a low carbon footprint. By buying local you can reduce your environmental impact and support the local economy. Some of our roasters even deliver by bicycle,” he says.
7 - Cold foam
More creative cold coffee serves are seeing a rise in demand for cold foam, which – according to Caffeine Limited – is a tricky product to get right even for experienced baristas. “It’s hard to achieve the right texture consistently,” says managing director Justin Stockwell. “That’s why Schaerer developed its Best Foam technology, which is available with its Coffee Soul espresso machine. Best Foam can be finely tuned to create a whole variety of different foams, both hot and cold, with absolute consistency.”
8 - Disposable coffee cups being ditched altogether
We’ve had the ‘latte levy’ and discounts to encourage people to bring their own cup, but now some venues are taking the difficult decision to not offer takeaway hot drinks unless customers provide or buy a reusable receptacle. Thanks to Brighton & Hove’s Cup Neutral campaign, there are now at least half a dozen venues in the south coast city that have gone reusable takeaway cups-only and more are believed to be looking to follow suit. Anyone desperately missing paper cups should check out Tafelstern’s new Coffee Tasting white porcelain range, which playfully references disposable coffee cups in its design. Available exclusively from Artis, the multi-functional collection features matching cups and high-lipped saucers, handleless cupping bowls, plates, cereal bowls and hot chocolate mugs.
9 - Snapchilling
Don’t worry, this isn’t a new social media craze that’ll baffle anyone over the age of 16, rather a new method of making coffee to be consumed cold. Coldbrew – which has gained some traction here but is far bigger in the States – sees ground coffee steeped in water over long periods. Noting that cold water doesn’t do nearly as good a job of extracting flavour as hot water, MIT alumnus David Dussault has developed a ‘superior’ cold brew-like process that brews coffee hot then cools it down quickly, which he says preserves and enhances flavours. The US-based Elemental Beverage Co offers three types of snapchilled coffee, including Ethiopian Kolla Bolcha, which has watermelon, lavender, and honey notes. A Snapchiller machine that turns hot coffee into smooth, chilled cups at a rate of 350ml per minute can be bought for around £5,000.
10 - More creative cocktails
2020 will be the year that restaurants and bars discover there’s more to coffee cocktails than espresso martinis. The drink pretty much single-handedly created the coffee cocktail category but there’s far more to explore, including black Russians, coffee negronis, nitro-dispensed coffee cocktails, and cold-brew based numbers. “Lavazza has observed the demand for more unique experiences at restaurants,” says Lavazza brand ambassador David Cutler-Colclough. “We’ve been working closely with our mixologists, chefs and baristas to create bespoke recipes, using innovative techniques, that elevate the consumer’s coffee experience. Our Coffeetails include Café Negroni, Nuvola Spritz and a grown-up twist on a espresso martini with crème de mûre and Pimento Dram.”
11 - Automation marches on
The gap between coffee produced by a skilled barista and that produced by a fully automated machine continues to narrow. “The coffee world is always changing, but automation in coffee equipment is certainly the future. Operators now, more than ever, are looking to automation to bolster productivity and profitability. For higher-volume hotel or restaurant operators we often recommend automatic or semi-automatic machines. Automatic equipment offers consistency at scale, with less investment needed on specialist coffee training than manual espresso equipment,” says UCC Coffee UK & Ireland head of category and insight Phil Smith, who notes that operators are increasingly receptive when it comes to discussions about automated machines. UCC recently launched the Black&White4 coffee machine, which is made by Swiss company Thermoplan. Key features include ThermoShot for ‘unrivalled extraction consistency’ and ThermoConnect, which offers ‘complete estate management and performance visibility managed’. Baristas won’t need to hang up their aprons just yet, however. Automation is also being used to make manual and semi-manual machines more accurate. “There will always be a role for hand-crafted coffee, but technology will enable new coffee equipment to be smarter, empowering the barista to provide a better product,” writes Allegra Strategies’ Jeffrey Young in UCC’s The Future of Automation report.
This article first appeared in the February 2020 issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector, subscribe to Restaurant magazine here.