The JD Wetherspoon pub chain has made the catering trade’s biggest move yet in the advance of filter coffee. It has put into practice a huge project which involves nine hundred pubs using Lavazza coffee through a brewing and grinding system devised by Bunn, the American specialists in filter brewing equipment.
The coffee trade has long held that filter coffee, as opposed to espresso-based drinks, are a vastly under-used resource in the hospitality trade – the process allows for a greater variety of the world’s best coffees, is a relatively uncomplicated method, and can allow for ‘a nice cup of coffee’ to be served at appreciable speed in a busy site.
“I don’t think such a project over such a big estate has ever been attempted before,” says Barry Kither, sales and marketing director at Lavazza UK. “For Bunn, it’s a phenomenal coup – the installation of a lifetime! For the coffee trade, the important thing is that Wetherspoons have done it the hard way – they’ve gone about this the proper way, putting two Bunn units, a brewer and a grinder, in each site. For the coffee trade, it will be utterly amazing that such a big company has made a decision at senior level that ‘we will do filter coffee properly’.”
The system is an example of the modern advance on the traditional, and much-derided, system in which extremely large batches of filter coffee are brewed and left to stew for hours, leading to lots of complaints about the standard of pub and restaurant coffee over many years.
In the modern version, the Bunn brewing machines use a smart-grinding system, by which the grinder communicates with the brewing machine, automatically adjusting its grind when necessary. (In the coffee trade, the quest for ‘consistency’ in quality has led to several such technological advances, which save the staff having to make their own judgments about how and when to adjust grind and brewing times). The brewed coffee is delivered into the modern kind of vacuum holding flask, which will keep a good coffee in perfectly acceptable condition for a couple of hours.
“This is not ‘bulk brewing’ in the sense that many companies think of it,” remarks Barry Kither. “It is brewed in batches of four litres, which will be good for a couple of hours. The staff can then either dispose of the coffee or give it away, and brew fresh.
“The point of Wetherspoon’s choice is that they haven’t gone for the ‘easy’ way, they’ve gone for the ‘right’ way, which keeps brewed coffee in good condition.”
There is an unexpected operational benefit to the use of filter coffee in high-footfall sites – it is very quick to serve.
“We have been advocating filter coffee to Wetherspoon for a long time, as a queue-buster and as a practical means of serving ‘a good cup of coffee’. They considered the idea very seriously for a couple of years.
“We’re still measuring the take-up, but bar staff like it because it’s easy, and it’s quicker than serving a Coke, and it does what customers want – it produces ‘a good cup of coffee’.”
A curiosity of the Wetherspoon move is its choice of coffee. Lavazza is already the supplier of the pub chain’s espresso coffee, and the new filter machines will use the brand’s Tierra Rainforest Alliance coffee… which was originally conceived for use as an espresso, not a filter coffee.
“It turns out that this comes through wonderfully as a filter coffee, through the Bunn system,” remarks Kither in some surprise. “Many espresso coffees don’t work well as filter, and I had not previously brewed Tierra as a filter coffee myself – but it works very well.
“Whether it will steal any of our espresso business in Wetherspoons, I don’t know, but we’re all budgeting for a general increase in coffee sales across the estate. We think filter coffee in pubs is going to be huge business.”