You may think that people only really expect premium coffee at cafes; everywhere else, coffee is coffee. Not quite! Increasingly, customers are holding bars and eateries to higher standards when it comes to their caffeine, and food trucks are no exception. Brewing up excellent coffee is a good investment; customers won’t mind higher prices if you’re serving a great product, and they’ll be more likely to purchase additional items like baked goods.
Just about every stage of the coffee brewing process can be upgraded. It starts with investing in good equipment—do some research to find out what will work for your truck. Once you have your machinery of choice installed, these tips will help you get the most of it, to make a cup of coffee that will have your customers coming back.
Ground Coffee or Whole Beans?
Whole beans are always going to taste better than the coffee you buy pre-ground. Most of the complex taste of coffee comes from the aromatic oils released by the roasting process. The moment coffee is ground, those oils begin evaporating and the coffee starts to lose its flavor. Your customers want coffee with high-quality flavor, and stale, ground beans will never get you there.
A professional-grade coffee grinder is a good investment. It will allow you to set varying degrees of coarseness, which is essential because different types of brew require different grinds.
Espresso, for example, needs a fine, almost powdery grind; if you’re filling a French press, however, you want a much coarser grind. Know how to set your grinder properly for the drink you’re making, or your end result may be flavorless and watery or overpoweringly bitter.
A Blade Grinder or a Burr Grinder?
This comes down to whether beans are chopped up or crushed. In a burr grinder, rotating surfaces crush the coffee beans between them, like a mill. A blade grinder is more like a blender, with sharp blades in the center drawing coffee towards them and cutting them up into grit.
A burr grinder is going to get better results. The burr grinder’s abrasive surfaces are set to a specific grade, and the coffee is ground consistently to a particular size. In the blade grinder, the grounds aren’t going to be as even, because the beans at the center of the grinder spend more time in the blades; that means more unpredictable flavor. A burr grinder is going to be pricier, but it’s an investment in making a quality cup every time.
Storing Your Beans
Ground beans should be exposed to as little air and light as possible, so you need an opaque container with an excellent seal. Don’t keep them in the fridge or freezer, because ground coffee should be kept as dry as possible, and the tiny amounts of condensation built up from repeated changes in temperature will actually make the grounds go stale faster. Whole beans can be stored in the freezer, but once they’re taken out, they need to stay at room temperature, and shouldn’t be stored for more than 1-2 weeks before being ground and used.
Other Keys to a Quality Cup
Your ground beans deserve the best treatment, so there are a few more elements to take into consideration as you brew your coffee.
Is your equipment clean?
Oils build up quickly from coffee and can detract from the flavor of your lovely fresh beans. Make sure that every surface coffee beans encounter—from the storage container to the cup—are washed frequently.
Is your water the correct temperature?
Generally, coffee should be brewed with water around 200 degrees Fahrenheit to extract just the right amount of flavor and aroma. If water is too cold, coffee will be weak and boring; if the water is too hot, coffee will be unpleasantly bitter.
Do you have the right water?
Most of the coffee you serve is water, so straight tap water is usually not going to cut it. If water is too hard (containing a high level of dissolved minerals) it isn’t unhealthy but limescale can build up in your machinery and interfere with flavor. But it may surprise you to learn that you want water to be a little bit hard! If water is too soft or highly distilled, it can hinder the brewing process. Aim for your filter to result in mineral particulates between 50 and 100 ppm.
How is your water-to-bean ratio?
It’s best to start with 1 ounce of coffee to every 18 ounces of water for brewed coffee; use weight, not volume, to measure. You may want to experiment and tweak this proportion a little based on what kind of beans you buy and how finely you prefer to grind.
Other Ways to Perfect Your Coffee Service
Make sure your employees are well-trained
Every employee on every shift should know the proper steps to brew the perfect pot or pull the perfect espresso shot. Take the time to introduce them to the equipment they’ll be using.
Don’t be afraid to mix things up
There’s a reason people want to visit a food truck and not a café! It’s because food trucks are dynamic and exciting, and brick-and-mortar establishments just can’t compete when it comes to novelty and change. Coffee has trends like any other food. Pay attention to what’s getting popular, and be the first to offer the next Big Thing in coffee drinks.
You don’t have to stick to drinks
Creativity and caffeine go hand in hand. That classic cup o’ joe will always be a favorite, but there are many ways to incorporate coffee in your menu. Experiment with new drinks, and think of other ways to include it. Tiramisu? Mocha cookies? Coffee can even offer a hint of fascinating, earthy bitterness to savory spice rubs or glazes.
Coffee lovers are really the perfect customers: they consume it daily and are happy to pay more for a quality cup.
As a food truck, you’re positioned to make your coffee the best and the most convenient. Make sure you’re getting the most from your beans and equipment with these guidelines, because good coffee can be extremely profitable.