Thursday, June 18, 2009

First In First Out

The face of things to come.

As I was walking around the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, I bumped into Laura from Espresso Supply. It's kinda funny odd when you run into coffee people at other trade shows - the community seems so puny and miniscule compared to the vast foodservice industry. Against a tide of ignorance, unawareness and poor quality coffee, it feels as though we're caught in a Perfect Storm and we're losing.

One of the things the crew at Espresso Supply wanted to show me was the very simple Fifo Bottle. It's a relatively new squeeze bottle that eliminates the need to turn the bottle over (and reduces the risk of repetitive stress injuries) by placing a valve at the bottom of the bottle. Simply pick up the bottle, squeeze, the product comes out and put it back in its' mise. Cool, I thought.

A couple of weeks later, a box arrives at The Spro from Lizanne - who was thoughtful enough to send me a couple of Fifo Bottles to try. I've long envied those workers at places like McDonald's with their fancy Secret Sauce, ketchup and mustard dispensers. A simple squeeze of the hand or pull of the trigger and out plops a perfect, portion-controlled dose. Lovely. While the Fifo Bottle doesn't portion product, visions danced in my head of happy baristas freed from the tyranny of turning the bottles of chocolate, honey and agave upside down. Repetitive Stress Disorder from turning bottles? Bah! Begone!

Best of all, the honey we source from Cybil no longer can crystallize at the bottom of the squeeze bottles since the First In is the First Out with the Fifo Bottle. No more digging out the bottle and scooping out the crystals. It's just happy-happy, joy-joy all around.

But with all things new, lessons must be learned. First, the Fifo Bottle comes with two different bottom caps with two different sized orifices: one large and the other small. Make sure to screw them on tight. Second, after you've placed the product in the bottle, the top cap must be screwed on airtight, otherwise you squeeze and nothing happens. You don't think about it with regular squeeze bottles but the bottle must be airtight to provide the pressure needed to force the product out through the orifice. Not tight enough and the product just squeezes in the bottle and you're wondering if you've been Punk'd.

A calm before the storm.

Once you sort out those concerns, it's easy peasy. The bottles are in the ready position and all you have to do is squeeze. Simple and effective.

What about dripping, you say? Initially, there were very little drips but after a couple of weeks in service, I'm sad to report that my crew has resorted to keeping the bottles upside down because the dripping has, at times, been severe. We keep the bottles on top of the espresso machine to keep the honey and chocolate sauce warm and runny. This has caused some problems where it hasn't been uncommon to find a pool of chocolate sauce on top of the Linea.

So, what are the culprits? And is the Fifo Bottle a disaster? I don't think so. As I was writing this it hit me that perhaps we're taking the wrong approach. It's a new product and we should look at it from a new angle. Some of the worse chocolate spillage we've encountered is during the morning hours, right after the bottle of chocolate sauce has been pulled from the refrigerator.

Our chocolate sauce is essentially a ganache. Which means that under cooler temperature, the sauce hardens. When it hardens you could ball it up, dip it in tempered chocolate and make chocolate truffles all day long (which is a pastime my tummy studiously avoids). The chocolate in the bottle is hardened when it's placed on top of the espresso machine to warm, soften and turn liquid. I realized that the heat liquifies from the bottom up and as it heats, the sauce expands. The hard chocolate on the upper part of the bottle is still hard, forming a seal around the bottle, as the lower sauce heats, it has nowhere to expand except out the valve at the bottom, coating my polished Linea and irritating my baristas.

Solution? Perhaps keeping the products off of the machine so that there is no heat to force expansion and release through the valve. It's something we're going to have to try over the next week because it's just a shame that our Fifo Bottles are upside down.