January 17, 2017

Good Coffee Fast: How to Blend Speed and Quality


Think quick coffee is for fast food places? Think again.

Before the third wave struck, baristas could work faster because quality was less important. And when specialty did arrive, we learned about the importance of timing. Coffee that was made too fast was weak or sour – under-extracted.

But even while we want to serve the best coffee possible, we also want to serve it as quickly as possible. Because that means customers wait less, we serve more coffee, and we see more profits.

Mixing quality and speed isn’t easy. But I’m going to give you some tips on balancing the two, so you can make delicious coffees for your customers without them checking their watches.

Spanish Version: Un Buen Café Rápido: Cómo Combinar Velocidad y Calidad


Create great coffee without compromising on efficiency. Credit: Insight Coffee

1. Learn From Chefs

In the Netflix-series The Mind of a Chef, David Chang emphasises how important mise en place is for cooks. We’ve written before about how good chefs make good baristas, and this skill is part of the reason why.

Mise en place is French for having everything in its place. But it’s more than that. It’s about organizing a kitchen workspace so everything you’ll need during a shift is in a logical, easy-to-reach place. And what works for the kitchen works for the café.

Whichever grinder you use, it’s best to keep it close to the action – i.e. where the coffee will be made. And if you’re using an EK 43, make sure small containers of pre-weighed beans are to hand. Keep fresh milk ready in the fridge, and make sure baristas can get to it without smashing bottles of cold brew or squashing everyone’s lunch.

Coffee bags should be closed and in an easy-to-access cupboard. Hot water should not only be ready to use but also close to the brew bar, so there’s less risk of spilling it or scalding people. And items that are used together should be close to each other. Your V60 needs filters as well as coffee.

Finally, remember that money’s poison – and I’m not being metaphorical. Notes and coins are one of the most disgusting, microbe-ridden items in your coffee shop. Keep them as far away as possible from the ingredients you’re about to serve. Try to make it disappear quickly, too. Inefficient handling  of money both increases risk of contamination and slows down your service.

espresso machine

Make sure there’s a place for everything. Credit: Cat & Cloud

2. Prioritize Cleanliness

Think cleaning is time-consuming? Boring? Something to do in a quiet period? Think again. It’s essential. In fact, I would say that it’s 50% of a barista’s job.

Not only do dirty workspaces lead to infections, bad smells, unhappy customers, and fines, but they also slow down your workflow. It´s like trying to swim fast in muddy water.

Out of all the surfaces that should be kept clean, in my opinion the floor is the most important. A greasy or wet floor can break legs or even kill people – especially your stressed baristas running around trying to complete all their orders. Don’t want to lose sales by taking the time to clean? Casualties will lose you them for sure.

Tidying is just as important as cleaning. Baristas need a lot of small items to perform their work: brushes, cloths, tampers, distributors, timers, scissors, scales, pens, stickers… Mise en place means putting them in easy-to-grab locations. Tidying means making sure they stay there.

Methodical coffee

A clean and tidy workspace is essential. Credit: Methodical Coffee

3. Delegate Tasks

Hands up who thinks steaming milk and pouring rosettas are the most fun activities at the espresso bar? Me too. As for cleaning dishes or waiting tables… They’re some of the worst. The center of the action is the espresso machine.

However, the rest of the shop is just as important. “I won’t mop the floor. They hired me to make coffee.” I’ve heard that a lot. But that’s how inefficiency starts. There’s no shame in washing dishes for an hour or two, even if you’re the best latte artist in the crew. Doing all the different tasks gives perspective and makes the business advance in a fairer way. It’s also more efficient.

During a busy day, all employees should be given one job and one position. Two staff members doing the same thing is the same as having one less member of staff. You can rotate your staff every few hours to keep them motivated, but just make sure they stay at the same task.

One role I really like to see, and which has been perfected in the Australian coffee scene, is the server/waiter who takes care of the patrons on the other side of the bar.  It makes the flow between customers and personnel much smoother. What’s more, it makes the workspace look less crowded. Even if your café is relatively small, having all the team behind the bar can look intimidating.

coffee bar

Assign your staff specific roles for efficient workflow. Credit: Sightglass Coffee

SEE ALSO: How to Serve Consistently Good Coffee in a Café

4. Keep Communication Quick, But Friendly

A good barista is a culinary master, a fast worker, and a customer service representative with just a few minutes to explain a huge pile of information.

When the café I work for first opened its doors, we weren’t busy. We baristas could talk with every single customer, providing excellent service and turning those original guests into regulars. But the problem is that now we’re much busier. We’d love to talk about the virtues of cold brew – but we have ten latte orders still to get through.

These conversations are a luxury we can’t afford. However, we don’t want to be short with the customer, either. The conversation has to be informative, extremely polite, and direct to the point. Yes, much of our barista job is to be an ambassador for the different coffee regions, processing methods, roast profiles, and more. But let’s do it swiftly.

Getting the balance right is tricky. People don’t just go to coffee shops for their caffeine fix: they also want information and a place that feels like home. That means making them feel relaxed. But they shouldn’t wait for ages because you’re too busy talking to someone else, either.

five elephant coffee

Keep the conversation friendly, informative, and concise. Credit: Five Elephant

5. Train, Train, and Train Some More

Producing good-quality coffee fast requires organization, a good attitude, and a lot of skill. Finding a barista with all this isn’t easy – which means training is key.

Make guidelines to help your staff stay organized. Train them on producing good coffee, and then on working efficiently. Then train them some more. This is how you get speed as well as quality.

As baristas, we should be like doctors: constantly learning. Sure, making a cappuccino isn’t the same as saving a life. But we are responsible for giving customers the best experience possible, while also being ambassadors for millions of farmers and other coffee professionals. And we do that best when we’re knowledgeable, practiced, and efficient.

All views within this opinion piece belong to the writer, and do not reflect Perfect Daily Grind’s stance. Perfect Daily Grind believes in furthering debate over topical issues within the industry, and so seeks to represent the views of all sides.

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