SpotLight: Trendy Coffee to Go?
By Sarah Muxlow ~ exclusive for 4Hoteliers.com
Wednesday, 10th May 2006
Thanks to today's huge coffee culture, more people are caffeinated throughout the day than ever before.

The Nordic countries, in particular Finland, Norway and Denmark, are leading the caffine addicts with amount consumed per capita. They appreciate the concept of the ‘coffee break', (Contemporary advertising suggests that a "coffee break" is time for a rest, inspite of the stimulant consumed!) breakfast meetings over a coffee in Coffee houses and cafes that offer the coffee experience; A cup consumed preferable with a choice of homemade cakes.

A recent coffee consumption growth area is in China and Russia, who are adding coffee to their favourite drinks list. This new surge brings statisticians (US Bureau) to record over 400 billion cups of coffee drank worldwide per year.

The continual rise of the world's most popular beverage, means an increased competition for the coffeehouses to deliver both in variety, quality and in experience. Internationally, there is as much diversity in preference in bean type, cultural particulars relating to the drinking; coffee houses or a cup on the go? Then there is the style of making; espresso, flat black or capacachino and the skill to make a good one.

Then there has become an obsession with the bona fides of the beans. Producers and growers are adapting traditional methods of cultivation to respond to the consumer demands.

Similar to the wine culture, to many, the coffee culture is a much about bean variety and origin as well as if it is a blend or pure. Do you prefer the Costa Rica beans dark roasted or light? But lets put it in a context as to what it means; Some coffee is bitter, others are smooth.

What are the general rules to a good coffee? The shorter the brewing, the finer the grind. Fresh coffee made with water just off the boil is a must. A filter or a plunger bears little difference to the end taste and as long as coffee isn't re-heated and the equipment is well maintained and cleaned, it's a great brew.

Whilst the original Arabic method involves boiling the coffee 3 times to get the right density and flavour, the preferred methods and equipment today comes from Italy. In the last 10 years there has been an increased rise in the expensive sophisticated machinery of the espresso in restaurants and cafes.

An espresso machine forces the hot water through compact coffee. There isn't an infusion involved in this cuppa. How do you tell a good espresso from an average to undrinkable one on sight? It's all in the ‘crema' – the topping. It should be golden brown in colour. Too light, too thick or too thin means the wrong quantities or that the machine wasn't switched off before the process had finished. The coffee can easily be over-extracted giving a bitter, strong taste.

A cappuccino (espresso + foamed milk) also needs a well made espresso at base. The milk that is then added is heated with a steam nozzel to the consistancy of whipped cream, without burning and then added.

Whilst for many coffee has a taste that needs no tainting, flavoured coffee is a popular option.  There are literally 100's of different syrups or natural spices that can be and are added.  Traditionally in the middle east, where coffee originated, there is the use of cardamom. In Mexico the traditional flavouring is Cinnamon. Else where, well it could be vanilla, chocolate or mint depending on the mood and the moment.

Coffee house menus around the world create new coffee types every day. Have you ever tried a ‘skinny chino'? It's a cappuccino with skimmed milk- hence the skinny bit.

The industry response to the growng coffee trend in terms of speciality coffee houses is lead by Starbucks. Credited by many as the founder of the diverse range of speciality coffee, it has made a $6.4 billion a year business out of selling the liquid gold. They credit their own success to their knowledge of coffee and quality of product.

The dramatic success of Starbucks explains why so many sellers of fast food seem intent on competing within the highly profitable coffee drinking market. However, in the fast food industry, it isn't always necessary to emphasise quality and price. Some people simply want a quick coffee, so there is still a lot of opportunity for miniature street stands who provide a quick fix as well as MacDonald's, Subway and Burger King.

Growth & Production Did you know coffee comes from a fruit? Worldwide, 25 million small producers rely on coffee harvesting for a living. For instance, in Brazil, over 5 million people (women and men from surrounding regions) cultivate and harvest 3 billion coffee plants. This is both a labour intensive crop and one with a high yield. Brazil is the producer of a third of the world's supply. 

Like any crop, there are specific conditions than are necessary for growth. In the case of the coffee plants it is rain, the amount of shade and humidity.  Coffea arabica, a species of coffee bean, accounts for about 70% of the world coffee market is grown ideall with a balanced combination of rain and sun, along with rich volcanic soil. The Arabica coffee found in the region of the "Valle de la Convencion" is considered remarkable.  

Speciality Trends

The increased consumer demand for decaffeinated coffee. The stimulation from caffeine, isn't according to all tastes. The international Coffee Organization, explains that to achieve decaffeinated green coffee ready to roast, means treating the raw beans to remove the solvent. The idea to grow decaffeinated beans that can be picked directly from the bush appeals to Japanese researchers. Scientists at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan are currently creating transgenic plants which have a 70% reduction in caffeine content.

Organic coffee, like many other products is highly regard amongst concerned coffee drinkers. To produce organic coffee the growing conditions are strictly monitored to be sure that no pesticides or harmful fertilizers are used. This is a challenge for growers, as Coffee is second to cotton as a plant that is typically grown with more pesticides than any other plant.

Coffee as a commodity

In trading terms and dollars, Coffe ranks only second to Petroleum worldwide. There have been recent expandsions in the Brazilian coffee plantations. However, Vietnam has entered the market as an efficient supplier and trader causing many less efficient producers and farmers in Ethiopia and Nicaragua to leave the business. 

But is it still possible to get a simple drinkable black cup of hot coffee?

SpotLight is the weekly column exclusively written for 4Hoteliers.com by Sarah Muxlow, it is highlighting the challenges and issues which the global hospitality is facing today.

Sarah is writing for hotel and restaurant owners, hotel chain managers, producers/growers/sellers of food & beverage, restaurant associations, governing bodies and hotel schools. She is looking at the problems they face...competition, trends of branding, staff shortages, unskilled staff, turning out students who are looking for good in-house management training schemes with hotel chains, what makes a good quality training course at a hotel school and more... 

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