Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chosing a Coffee Caterer

This week we continue our series on serving coffee to large groups of people on a budget.  The scenario last week discussed one possible option, where a person was trained to make coffee in conjunction with their role as a greeter, service desk attendant, or a similar role.

This week I would like to explore another option: catering.

Hiring a coffee shop or roaster to make your coffee can be a great option. This is probably the best option for a group that only meets one in a while. A good coffee caterer will allow you to supply great coffee to your event without having to spend thousands on coffee equipment and training staff or volunteers, however there are many coffee caterers out there that won't do a much better job then you would do on your own.

How can you know that your coffee caterer will do a good job?

First: Know your options

There are basically three kinds of coffee catering
  1. Coffee Shops that make the coffee in their shop
  2. Coffee Shops that make coffee in your context
    1. Using their equipment
    2. Using your equipment
  3. Full espresso bars that create custom espresso drinks at your event
Think about what you will need to have in order to make your event the greatest success.  Having a fully functional espresso bar at your event can be very impressive, but it's also very expensive. Simply picking up coffee from a coffee shop doesn't have the wow factor, but it's the most cost effective option. You will have to make that decision yourself.

Second: Know your coffee

The coffee that is being served can be an indicator of how much your caterer cares about the quality of their coffee. Ask them the following questions:
  1. When was the coffee being served roasted? (It shouldn't be served over a week and a half after roasting)
  2. Where was the coffee grown? (if they know the country: good. If they know the farm: better. If they know the micro-lot: best)
  3. What have you done to assure that the coffee has been bought in an ethical way (it doesn't need to be "fair trade" to be ethical, but they should be able to explain how their coffee buying habits are just.)

 Third: Know their system

There are some things that a caterer can do that are warning flags about the quality of their operation. Here are a few examples of things to look out for:
  1. Their coffee should be fairy local. They need to be able to get their coffee shipped to them in enough time for it to still be fresh. This wouldn't be an issue if you use a roaster to cater your coffee. (If they are having it shipped directly from the roaster with 2 day shipping across the country it would still be ok, if it's from Italy or somewhere over-seas it's generally stale).
  2. Make sure they are storing their whole bean coffee well.
    1. Airtight container
    2. Room Temperature
    3. No direct sunlight
  3. Make sure they are storing their brewed coffee well. If they aren't serving their coffee as they make it, make sure that the coffee is not being stored on a hot pad, burner, or in a percolator. Ideally a preheated "air pot" or another well insulated container.
  4. If they are creating espresso drinks at your event make sure they are grinding their coffee individually for each drink, and never resteaming any of the milk
Fourth: Make your expectations clear. The more you communicate with your caterer about the event and your expectations, the better your event will go. Make sure you contact the person who is in charge of managing catering and talk to them about how they do things. Let them know what you are expecting, and make sure you are on the same page.

FYI: If you live in Chicago our partner shop "Ipsento" caters our coffee at many events. Contact them if you're interested call (773) 904-8177.

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