Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Designing a New Fetco

For those of you not in the coffee biz, a Fetco is a type of coffee brewer. Most of you will be familiar with the "drip" style coffee brewers that are everywhere in America. They're ubiquitous. The Fetco Extractor is arguably the best of the lot. Programmable brew parameters, flow rates, shower rates, etc. means that the Fetco brewer can work wonders for your coffee.

Lately, the trend in the niche specialty coffee market that we toil has been with manual, by-the-cup brewing. Things like the vac pot, chemex, aeropress and more has given the baristas of late a whole new game to play. Along with these by-the-cup brew methods has sprouted people and companies who are designing hot water boilers with all sorts of fancy control systems to help you brew the "perfect" cup of by-the-cup coffee.

Recently, some friendly chaps invited me to come to a preview screening of one such water heating device and I've been hearing through the grapevine of a few more hot water heaters doing similar stuff. Essentially, these devices heat water to a very specific temperature and dispense the water into your, let's say, pour over drip brewer in a controlled manner simulating the pour from a hot water kettle.

These are all fine and dandy ideas but the first thing that comes to my mind is: how many of these hot water devices do I need to buy and install in order for my baristas to keep up with the morning rush? I mean, one can only brew a cup of coffee so fast.

And it's something I've been thinking of quite a bit lately as we prepare to open project hampden. How do we handle a rush if we're brewing everything by-the-cup to-order? Take the pour over method, as an example. Let's say that our best barista operating at her optimum speed in the best of conditions can dose, grind, prep and brew a 12z coffee at her fastest. That's a minimum of four minutes and thirty seconds. Any less and you've cut a corner somewhere that's going to seriously impact the cup quality.

If we're brewing that pour over with hand kettles, we can stack brew the coffees in a simultaneous chain, which can reduce the customer wait time to two minutes (if we're on the money). With that kind of efficiency, we can brew coffee for customers without an inordinate wait. Let's say there's six people in line, that last person might have to wait twelve minutes or so.

But take those same six people and put them in a line waiting for these new, digitally-controlled hot water heaters doing the pour over work and it's a minimum of 4.5 minutes per cup and that sixth customer's wait time has increased to a minimum 24 minutes. That's way too much time in anyone's book.

Compare that to the Fetco Extractor brewer whose parameters you can set to deliver a really delicious cup of coffee - and you can brew 1.5 liters in four minutes.

Makes me wonder if these chaps aren't simply taking the long route towards building a time-consuming, pricey hot water delivery system that is unable to beat the Fetco...

Losing My Poker Face

I've always been good about being able to separate things in my life. In many ways, I feel there's a need for me to always maintain a composed and confident outward appearance. No matter what may be bothering me personally, I've always tried to keep that hidden in the background.

And I think I'm starting to lose my poker face.

For weeks, people have asked me when we're opening project hampden. Now people ask me if I'm excited. They want to know that I'm excited. But I don't think that I am.

Perhaps more accurately, I can no longer tell if I'm excited. I know that having such a great crew of baristas is exciting to me and that we're going to be doing some truly progressive stuff, but everything else feels out of focus in my world, making it nearly impossible for me to get excited about opening.

When I was a child, I used to have nightmares about alien creatures. Last night I had a nightmare about binge eating McDonald's french fries as though it were live and in real time. My neck muscles are tense. I constantly feel like puking. My stress levels are at a all-time high and my heart feels like it's racing and about to explode.

I've always heard about stress killing people, and for the first time in my life, I can see how. If I drop dead soon, don't be surprised, I won't be.

Spro Hampden opens this Friday.