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Good Coffee in Expensive Restaurants

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I'm the family's resident food geek, but my husband is the coffee geek. And he never ceases to be amazed when the fine dining restaurants we go to serve really standard or even subpar coffee.

Are there are any restaurants out there offering Kona or Jamaican Blue? If not, why not? In Eric's opinion, if customers are paying $100/head for food and wine, they probably wouldn't object to paying $5 or $10 for a cup of really good coffee.


Tammy's Tastings

Creating unique food and drink experiences

eGullet Foodblogs #1 and #2
Dinner for 40

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Even really good coffee can be ruined after the money is spent. A $35 pound of coffee must be carefully looked after to keep it in good shape... airtight environent, proper temperature and such. It must be brewed right... right temp water, right infusion time, freshly ground to the right grind... and it must be served very shortly after brewing, or it loses some of what makes it worth the cost in the first place.

It would be a significant investment in human capital to train staff on all of these points, and if the staff goes, then retraining must happen for the new staff... There ain't no such animal as a coffee/tea sommellier, who would be required to get proper coffee service done in a high-end restaurant. And the other solution, for the coffee geek set, would be to invest in showy brew-your-own equipment-- a bunch of pretty but breakable french presses, or vacuum pot systems. While there might be a showy presentation option with something like a vac pot, I'd bet the cost would be exorbitant due to hit the place takes when one breaks.

A coffee-cart which follows the dessert trolley, stocked with grinders, press pots, vac pots, an espresso machine, a selection of fine coffees and manned by somebody who knows how all of the stuff works might impress coffee geeks, but I doubt it could be done cost effectively. A pity, though.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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I'm with you, Tammy; I virtually never order restaurant coffee any more. Perhaps most customers have stopped caring, or just don't speak up.

There was a recent thread about French press coffee. That, to me, would be a reasonable option. A grinder could be devoted to that purpose, 190-200°F water is easily produced, the cost wouldn't be prohibitive as Kona or JBM isn't mandatory, and training wouldn't be difficult.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1


Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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  • 2 weeks later...

This has been a pet peeve of mine for a while and I've brought it up in previous threads. I don't think anyone's suggested a viable solution or reason. Even having a person to run to Starbucks every hour for coffee to serve the restaurant patrons would be an improvement over what is served in many ecpensive restaurants. Cleaning the coffeemaker more frequently too would help. I agree with the french press comment. One of my best after dinner coffees was served to me that way in Charleston, SC.

But I've basically given up and now I usually order a cappuchino or a glass of port.



Everybody has Problems, but Chemists have Solutions.

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Kona and JBM are expensive because of the labor costs and clueless people buying based on price rather than taste, a good chocolatey yemeni moka is a far better cup to my tastes. That said, there is no reason not to expect good coffee at good restaurants, it's rarely the case that you find it, but you should be able to. The French Laundry has outstanding espresso, the Martini House also has good coffee but it's the exception rather than the rule.

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A kindred soul! My wife is the wine geek while I am the beer, espresso and coffee geek. We are almost always disappointed by restaurant coffee or espresso. I have to admit our standards are high: since we have about $ 2000 worth of coffee, espresso and roasting equipment at home. I roast our own coffee and make our own espressos. It is difficult to beat coffee prepared by a dedicated hobbyist.

But I would pay more if I was assured of quality, freshness and degree of roast, and proper preparation. But I suspect that the market segment willing to pay for this would be so small as to not make it an economically-viable proposition for the average restaurant.


Michael Lloyd

Mill Creek, Washington USA

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Good Restaurants coffee should be very good, plus in 2003 every upscale good restaurant should have a expresso machine in addition to superior cofffee.

That said the reality is that many restaurants, that are well established, serve good food, and may not consider themselves upscale are comfortable serving the coffee that they feel their customers are acustomed to drinking. They may be right in this assumption.

This also depends at where the restaurant is located regionally in the USA.

There are parts of the country where diners expect to be served coffee at the beginning of their meal, with cups being refilled reguarly. Invariably this type of coffee is what I consider real yuck, but it's still the most generally served. Even in Bars and Lounges in this type of place it's whats served in a "Coffee Nudge, Irish Coffee or Kahlua Cofee, Etc". This is what the customers want, and have come to expect. Even if these places have a expresso machine, it still the regular brewed goop that the customers want.

In the majority of operations that i've set up, I always attempted to thru tasting and carefull coffee blending to come up with a richer, more suitable after dinner cofee to try and make the total meal special. We also used a Vienna Roast Cold Process DeCaf, made to order, with a slightly coarse grind from the expresso machine for the many decaf drinkers.

When we'd get Customers who wanted to drink coffee thruout the meal, servers would always advise them that theCoffee served in the Restaurant was a very rich after dinner coffee that was stronger then Regular? Coffee and would not compliment their meal. If they were real insistant we would serve the cofee, together with a pot of hot water to weaken the brew. With the decaf drinkers, we always explained that this was a custom brewed special decaf and was charged by the cup. It was really surprising but since the Vienna Roast Decafe had flavor and character many decafe drinkers really enjoyed the blend. We even provided cards from a retailer who carried the Vienna Roast by the pound. There were many appreciative comments from customers who felt that drinking a after dinner coffee made their dining experience special, a few others said that coffees just to rich, but almost never received a complaint.

It's also seems that most people won't complain about drinking lousy coffee, they just won't order any coffee, and often will go somewhere after dinner for a coffee that suits their taste. I know that when i'm on the road, or even in Seattle where I live, that I will not order a cup of regular coffee any where except for a Vietmanesse Restaurant, where i'll order iced, or regular, dripped to order at the table.

I haven't ordered a Cup of Coffee at any fast food place or regular restaurant in over 20 years or even Starbucks or any Chain, except for Expresso Drinks. I've tasted and it makes me shudder. But I prefer very, very strong cofee by anyone standards.


I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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I drink coffee every day; usually the 7 Eleven or Dunkin Donuts variety, but last week I went to a wedding rehearsal dinner and a wedding reception, both in different places. I noticed that the coffee served at both was exceptionally good; at least compared to what I usually drink. It seems that every wedding reception that I've attended, as well as fancy parties seems to serve this coffee, which tastes like the same brand. Does anyone have an idea of what these places serve? And if it is available anywhere for sale? Wegman's perhaps?

John the hot dog guy

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I've weighed in on this topic previously and still feel the same way - the coffee in expensive restaurants is usually mediocre or just okay. Gramercy Tavern has surprisingly good coffee but when I ordered coffee at Fleur de Sel they brough individual french presses for each of us and had already plunged the press (after letting the coffee steep for about a minute or so). It was so rank and watery we sent it back and the replacement wasn't much better. I had coffee after dinner at Danube and it was good but not stellar. At $4 per cup (yes that's right - $4) they could afford to offer a better product.

Liek one of the other posters here - I take my coffee seriously, do my own roasting at home and have a serious espresso setup. That said.... with a $1500 espresso setup I can produce espresso, capas and lattes better than I've ever had in a restaurant. Keep in mind that it's not all about the equipment. I use a $10 Proctor-Silex drip maker, a $20 whirly-blade grinder and a $6 Wal-Mart carafe to make my drip coffee. It blows away anything I've ever had in a restaurant and rivals the best cafe coffee that I've ever had.

The idea of an espresso and coffee cart is a good one but the issue of power for the machine and the noise of steaming ina subdued high end dining room presents problems. An acquaintance of mine from an online coffee community happens to be "in the business" and has made numerous presentation to high end restaurants in the CT and NYC area to offer training, equipoment and products for a high end "coffee service" - he generally gets blown off and the typical comment is that they can't justify the small extra expense. Most of these places continue to have waiters or bus personnel making the coffee and espresso drinks. Any of them could do a good job if they just adhered to some simple standards and procedures for equipment, product, maintenance and training but it's a catch 22 - those of us who would spend the money for god coffee service don't because it isn't offered. It isn't offered because the restarauteurs seem to think it won't sell well enough to justify the extra effort.

IMHO it's a golden opportunity for some ambitious restarauteur to step up to the plate. I don't go out for truly "fine dining"very often for monetary reasons but when I do, I expect everythign from the decor to the coat check to the bar to the service to be of the highest standards (quality of the food should go without saying). Why should coffee and espresso be any different?

By the way.... in NYC I'm hard pressed to find a place to go after dinner that has consistently excellent coffee and espresso based drinks - there's a small handful but they're far and few between.

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Liek one of the other posters here - I take my coffee seriously, do my own roasting at home and have a serious espresso setup. That said....  with a $1500 espresso setup I can produce espresso, capas and lattes better than I've ever had in a restaurant.  Keep in mind that it's not all about the equipment. I use a $10 Proctor-Silex drip maker, a $20 whirly-blade grinder and a $6 Wal-Mart carafe to make my drip coffee. It blows away anything I've ever had in a restaurant and rivals the best cafe coffee that I've ever had.

Owen! Another Coffeegeek on this board and I note the same user ID on both. I am the earlier poster you mentioned: Pasquini Livia90 semi, Rocky doserless, Caffe Rosto or heatgun, more presses than I can count, Braun KF187 drip, KitchenAid whirlyblade.

Like you, all of this is expensive but worth it.


Michael Lloyd

Mill Creek, Washington USA

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