Quality coffee has been crucial to the dramatic growth of the speciality beverage market but fast, consistent provision of a wide range of menu and service options – especially milked drinks, both hot and cold – has become equally significant. Bruce Whitehall talks to Schaerer, a Switzerland-based innovator in automatic coffee equipment and milk preparation systems.
For more and more consumers, the daily espresso break is not only a quick drink with friends or a quiet interlude hooked to a wi-fi connection. It can just as easily be an ‘on the go’ take-out or drive-thru occasion, even a self-service purchase. But whatever the circumstances, consumers still expect the key elements which have had such a revolutionary impact on the beverage market: quality beans, high standards of roasting and grinding, consistent brewing and service, plus an ever-wider choice of beverage styles and sizes including – increasingly – cold as well as hot coffee concoctions.
For both coffee bars and quickservice food outlets, the ability to deal with such demands increasingly depends on automatic machines which handle the entire process, from bean to cup, and which can be customised to suit expanding menu and customer service needs. Such needs are now apparent throughout the world, not just in trendsetting European cities and high consumption regions like Scandinavia but in many of the emerging economies of Asia and Africa.
In Taiwan, for example, the 4,700-branch 7-Eleven convenience store chain has built a big presence for its City Café sub-brand, offering a range of espresso-based beverages. Since 2009 the chain has ordered over 3,000 Coffee Art Plus machines from Switzerland-based automatic coffee machine specialist Schaerer. According to 7-Eleven Taiwan, a key factor was rapid push-button service not just of latte, cappuccino and other hot coffee options but also ice cold versions, thanks to the CS Cold Milk System built into each customised machine.
The company also required milk refrigerators specially sized to fit local milk containers. High standards of hygiene were also sought. The Coffee Art’s simple but reliable cleaning programme, especially for milk-conducting elements, influenced machine choice. Other 7-Eleven store chains which specify Schaerer self-service automatic coffee machines are to be found in Indonesia, Scandinavia and the USA.
The widening appeal of speciality coffee is also apparent in South Africa where fast-food giant KFC has greatly boosted traffic at its 660 stores with a special cappuccino promotion. A deal offering the popular foam-topped espresso every morning for just 1 ZAR (around 10 US cents) posed major demands on the company’s coffee equipment. The answer proved to be the fitment of Schaerer Coffee Art machines with more powerful dispense systems and upgraded milk pumps. These have made it possible to deal more quickly with take-out and drive-thru customers, many of who order up to ten or more drinks at peak times.
As well as higher capacity, the Schaerer Cold Milk System has simplified cleaning, a major benefit in an environment with a high fluctuation of employees. The chain, which comprises 60 com-pany-owned stores and 600 franchised, has also been testing an upgraded chocolate module which bolts onto the Schaerer machines to widen the choice of drink options. KFC is, along with Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, part of Kentucky based Yum! Brands, which has more than 36,000 restaurants in 117 countries.
Schaerer, which started making professional coffee machines in the 1920s, launched what is claimed to be the world’s first fully automatic cappuccino system in 1997. Inga Schaeper, Schaerer marketing manager, explains why so much of the company’s attention has gone into milk preparation systems. “A coffee machine needs to be able to prepare and dispense not just coffee beverages but also milk (hot or cold) and milk foam (hot and cold) in different volumes and qualities,” she points out. “Powder products such as milk powder and chocolate powder also play a role.”
This has led Schaerer into developments such as the NcFoamer milk system available on Schaerer Coffee Prime machines. After two days, the compact disposable foamer head and the milk hose is simply exchanged, eliminating the time-consuming need to clean the fresh milk system using detergents. The new system is fully compliant with HACCP requirements. Other Coffee Prime features: low investment cost (ex-works list prices start at CHF4,900) and a series of power-saving measures, including a standby mode which consumes less than half a watt.
Another recent Schaerer milk prepar-ation development is a steam wand for manually steaming milk and milk foam made from a polymer known as PEEK (polyether ether ketone) instead of stainless steel. The wand never gets hot so milk does not adhere to its surface, with its attendant cleaning issues. Many of the 20,000 Coffee Art machines in use in 50 countries are fitted with Supersteam wands.
Coffee Art machines also now come with the option of a larger 9 litre under–machine cooling unit, a response to demands from quickserve restaurants for greater capacity but within a compact system where there are limitations on counter and under-counter space or where service speed is critical. Latest -enhancements to the Schaerer Coffee Prime are likewise designed to improve flexibility in use with larger hoppers for coffee beans, chocolate powder and milk powder. There is also an optional powerpack able to deal consistently with, for example, XXL versions of cappuccino, latte macchiato, Americano and other longer coffee drinks without loss of quality or service speed.
Traditional Versus Push-Button
Does the automation of coffee prepar-ation negate operator skill? Some coffee bar operators still make a visible feature of traditional espresso brewers and manual steaming of milk but Schaeper believes that the key issues are consistency of coffee quality, efficient grinding on demand and consistency of milk quality, all of which need to be considered when considering different solutions.
“Believe it or not, customers do not care so much whether the coffee is made on semi-automatic or fully automatic machines,” says Inga Schaeper, who has served as a judge at the World Barista Championships for six years during her more than 18 years’ involvement in the coffee business. “Customers care mainly about consistent quality and quick service.”
Fully automatic machines offer the possibility of switching between different coffee beans (with up to four hoppers and grinders possible) and push-button milk systems with adjustable milk foam quality and the ability to handle cold and hot milk foam, in addition to manual steam wands if required. She points out that access to a variety of different solutions can give baristas greater versatility in terms of ‘theatre’ and ‘latte art’. Additionally, cold milk beverages from coffee, cold milk and syrups can be prepared with cold milk foam on top. There are -further possibilities for preparation using instant powder products like chocolate, tea or even soup in addition to the freshly ground and brewed coffee and espresso choices.
Service Technician Training
“The possible effects on coffee quality all along the coffee processing chain are immense,” she concludes. “All the core parameters of coffee preparation – grind, dosage, water temperature, brewing pressure and tamping – plus the interaction between the roasted coffee blend and the machine, and staff knowledge of hygiene, combine to have a profound impact when it comes to achieving the perfect cup each time.”
Nothing should be left to chance, she believes, and that puts just as much responsibility on service technicians. Schaeper’s view is such staff should be educated not just on machine technol-ogy but on the sourcing of coffee and its sensory aspects. She believes that a 360 degree perspective is required, taking in the coffee plantation, harvesting, roasting, grinding, water, machine operation and brewing process and the impact of quality coffee on people and their sens-ory needs.
What are Schaerer’s key strengths in supplying professional coffee machines internationally? Inga Schaeper particularly rates the ability to respond to market needs, whether it is for coffee machines, milk systems, cleaning/service systems or software adaptations. At the same time, Schaerer’s regional sales managers are trained to have a consulting mentality, helping them recommend the most profitable solutions for any environment.
Schaerer applies global account management to integrate and focus corpo–r-ate -resources. Equally essential are qualified and certified service providers in all -major and emerging markets, who are regularly trained and updated by a team of travelling tech support engin-eers.
Since 2000, Schaerer headquarters in Switzerland has been home to Coffee Competence Centre (CCC), offering coffee service courses for users and employees plus refresher courses for service technicians. Over 140 employees have become trained and certified to SCAE Barista level 1. The company has also produced ‘The Perfect Setting’, a handbook dedicated to the interaction of coffee machine and roasted coffee and the understanding of customers’ taste profiles.
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