A recent experience in a cafe reminded me of an ongoing discussion within the specialty coffee community, and quite an important one too; that of batch brew filter coffee. The questions asked are usually based around improving brews, but I want to broaden that discussion to a more practical cafe focused discussion.
As batch brewers increase in quality and efficiency, moving in line with the exponential rise in boundary pushing espresso machines, a larger number of cafes are now integrating batch brew into their coffee menus. Sometimes as a lone filter option, and often side by side as a cheaper alternative to a manual brew option.
So, using my recent experience at a well known, highly regarded London cafe, I'll lay the groundwork for my view that we should all be ordering batch brew, and perhaps more importantly, why cafes that aren't offering it as a stand alone filter option, should be.
As I walked into said cafe the scene was familiar; hordes of people waiting for takeaways, baristas rushed off their feet and piles of dishes visible in the distance. I looked at the menu - I only wanted filter, as is my preference in the morning, and saw that they offered batch brew and for a higher price, a v60.
Considering the busy-ness of the cafe at that time, I opted for the batch brew as I didn't want a v60 made by somebody in a rush with 100 other things to do.
My coffee was presented to me instantly in a beautiful ceramic mug, and I sat down to enjoy one of the best filter coffees in recent memory; sweet, juicy and exceptionally floral, showcasing the best of this particular Ethiopian coffee.
This got me thinking, why are so many places offering manual brews and batch brew side by side at different price points? It seems to be regrettably common. This instantly tells the customer that one is better than the other, but if a cafe is carefully dialling in and replacing its batch brew frequently, it really shouldn't be.
The truth is that it is so much easier to consistently make great filter by batch brew, provided that your coffee and grinder of a good standard. I've lost count of the amount of bad pour overs I've had by enthusiastic baristas. The consistency issue especially applies to v60 and Kalita as every drop of hot water poured on to the coffee is crucial and is applied differently person to person. It applies to Aeropress and Clever Dripper less due to the immersion method, but there is still room for error amongst different staff members even here.
There are drawbacks of course. Firstly, although I think this is on the mend, is the look of these batch brewers. They've never looked good, but companies such as Marco, 3temp and Wilfa are certainly making amends here. There's no reason why the public should need to see the brewer, I can think of a few cafes who have been creative regarding this issue and managed to put their brewers away, saving space. Not every space will have this privilege, so we're going to have to wait for companies to catch up regarding the looks of these machines.
Secondly is public opinion. Due to the decade old association of ashy, weak diner-style coffee, most people understandably are not willing to try a batch brew. I totally get that. It is up to baristas to justify the batch brew by making it taste great, offer out free tasters and chat with customers. Considering the brew is essentially already made, there's some time here to talk with people.
I do however understand that the way you choose to make your filter depends hugely on a couple of factors, your budget and your footfall. If you only have 4 or 5 people asking for filter everyday, batch brew isn't really going to work for you. Likewise if money is tight then a plastic v60 cone and some filter papers will do the job. But if your footfall is high and your demand is anywhere from reasonable to high, it would be logical to invest in a brew method that is consistent amongst baristas, foolproof, delicious and easy to make. You can get great batch brewers like the Wilfa Svart for a very reasonable price, or spend more on a 3temp brewer with seemingly endless options.
By just removing the stress of stopping everything in a busy environment to focus on an unreliable brew method, we give the barista the chance to offer an equally delicious coffee 5 times faster. Therefore the customer gets their coffee quicker and we lighten the workload of the barista. This gives them a more relaxed time frame to talk with the customer about the coffee they're drinking, plus the feeling of security that it definitely tastes great. Happier barista + happier customer = smiles all round!
Let me make this clear though; I love manual brews, but only really at home. I love experimenting. I love the ritual and the process. Every time I need coffee at home, I'll choose a v60 for its delicate body and even extraction. Ideally, we would maintain perfect consistency among every manual brew by having a dedicated barista sat on a brew bar all day, tweaking recipes daily accounting for different coffees and ageing roast dates, but I just cant see this happening.
I could cover numerous points pertinent to this area, such as how countries with higher living standards can perhaps afford to employ a barista dedicated to a brew bar, how the numerous batch brewers are different, how much you should spend and what you can do to make your brews tastier. But my main aim with this post is to ask cafes to value their batch brew more, respect it and do their amazing coffee justice. For customers, I ask you to consider losing your attachment to manual brews and put your trust in a more consistent brew method that ultimately results in a better experience.
Quality Control & Training