Coffee or wine? Which is more important for restaurant menus?

UCC head of coffee quality, Gayan Munaweera
Master Sommelier Ronan Sayburn
30/11/2017 - 07:00
As a rule of thumb, a memorable dining experience follows the simple equation: good food + good wine + good service = good meal. Yet as more consumers are opting for a teetotal, healthier lifestyle, alcohol-free alternatives have taken a more prominent position on menus across the board, from restaurants and bars to hotels, cafés and private dining.

Recent research from soft drink brand Britvic revealed that 21% of Brits are planning on drinking less alcohol this Christmas, with 45% stocking up on soft drinks more than previous years as a result. According to its commercial director of licensed and foodservice, Russell Goldman: “There’s going to be a real shift towards moderate drinking this Christmas and, as a result, there is likely to be a high demand for soft drinks throughout the season.”

Yet with 39% of Brits claiming to drink less alcohol all year round – increasing to 41% of 25-34 year olds and 46% of over 55’s – it is clear that this is not simply a fad. Not least among the reasons being the increasing cost of alcohol and the latest health trends.

Whereas consumers once ended a meal out with a glass of wine, an after-dinner coffee is now a common ritual for many people, according to consultancy firm Allegra, and it seems that the hospitality sector is finally taking note.

Dubbed the ‘third wave of coffee’ – a movement “demonstrating a thirst for knowledge, desire for education and equality within the coffee industry” - the hot beverage has become a crucial part of European consumers lifestyle, so much so that British barista and 2009 World Barista champion, Gwilym Davies, has observed an “English coffee culture which hasn’t existed… since the 18th century.”

Since then, JD Wetherspoon has signed a partnership with Lavazza coffee, which has gone on to become the company’s biggest selling product and consequently sees more people through its doors for breakfast than specialist high street chains Pret a Manger and Caffe Nero. Independent coffee shops, such as Grind and the Daisy Green Collection, are meanwhile capitalising on the trend by transforming into cocktail bars come the evening – proving that coffee is no longer strictly reserved for the morning and that cheap, convenient cups do not make the cut.

Highlighting the importance of coffee to eating and drinking out businesses, Master Sommelier Ronan Sayburn, who co-develops UCC’s specialist Grand Crü range with its head of coffee quality and Q grader, Gayan Munaweera, told Eat Out: “Consumers expect a nice cup of coffee wherever they are, and it can have an impact on the bottom line.

“Like with wine, having a good choice of coffee, presented well, by knowledgeable staff, will enhance the customers’s experience. It’s the last impression before they go home – get the coffee right and customers will leave happy.”

Proving its dedication to “creating the best possible coffee experience whenever and wherever it’s brewed,” UCC launched its seasonal Grand Crü range in 2016 which undergoes “an uncompromised pursuit of perfection in the sourcing, roasting and preparation,” it claims.

Much like a vineyard designated wine, Grand Crü begins at source - from the farm and environment in which the bean is grown to the way it’s processed, blended, and cupped - personally overseen by Munaweera to ensure each component receives a Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) quality score of 80+ to guarantee its status as a ‘speciality coffee’ – right down to the tasting notes.

I was invited to UCC’s Dartford roastery – the largest in Europe - for an exclusive preview with Munaweera and Sayburn, who are currently procesing Grand Crü composition number four. Drawing upon their knowledge and expertise, the pair work on the blending process – combining different varieties of coffee to create the final unique composition – “a coffee of inimitable elegance, complexity and flavour.”

Once finalised, the coffee is then roasted at its on-site roastery, which operates seven days a week and produces up to 12,000 tonnes of coffee each year. Supplying its limited-edition Grand Crü blends, roast, ground, and commercial coffees to restaurants, cafes, bars and businesses across the industry, UCC ensures it “understands every small but important detail that goes in to brewing a great coffee and delivering an extraordinary experience” - even offering training sessions.

Striving to provide a “seamless coffee service,” sessions range from site set-up to espresso quality and barista equipment, as UCC understands that, unlike wine, even in its final roasted state, coffee is still subject to much change. Once a bottle of wine leaves the winery, it is, in essence, at its prime and ready to be enjoyed; whereas even the finest coffee is still at the mercy of baristas and front-of-house staff – milk temperature, equipment, coffee grinding and coffee-to-water ratio all variables.

Having done its part, UCC is now urging operators to realise the importance of coffee to consumers worldwide and, therefore, to their menus. While instant coffee once satisfied taste buds, increasing awareness and interest in the drink has sparked a coffee ‘revival,’ meaning that operators must up their game - both in their offering and knowledge - to “continue to provide consumers with a satisfactory, overall experience.”

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