Café Crème (aka Coffee Shots) – the new Americano?
In this post I would like to say something about „café crème“ or what some 3rd wave baristas might call „coffee shot“ and what I feel it can do – and what not – in our case it almost killed our efforts to serve great manually brewed terroir coffees.
There has been a lot of talking recently about „long“ cups of coffee produced with the espresso machine. The term „coffee shots“ was tagged although they fit perfectly into the definition of the long established Swiss „Schümli“ or „Café Crème“.
The principle is quite simple: set up an extra grinder (or if you have enough time and money an EK 43) with a lighter1 roasted „blend“ and a coarser grind setting so that within 25 (or so) seconds a 6oz cup of coffee will be filled up and in the end you have an extraction rate of approximately 19%. Of course it all depends on your quality standards or capacity of suffering. Some simply fill up the cup without a dedicated grinder and either change the dose or the resulting extraction time and rate will be „a little“ different. Some customers might still like the result although it might not comply with the SCAE Gold Cup Standards. This is not what we are talking about. It’s about properly extracted (weighed and measured) cups of coffee.
Café Crème is not our most preferred cup of coffee from a sensory point of view since there are a lot of sediments and oils in the cup which makes it big bodied, strong and bold with a decent portion of bitterness. Nevertheless we also managed to extract some solid cups of Café Crème. Interestingly (but not surprisingly) it has a slightly higher TDS than a normal filter style of coffee. So you can really say it’s a new, a third type of coffee between espresso and filter coffee. (When you think it a bit further you can also say that any constellation that yields a 19% extraction rate 2 is permissible and therefore the range of possible valid results in the cup is infinite (think of the new opportunities from a service perspective when you consider letting customers choose their desired TDS instead of drink style. However this would distract us from our main focus: terroir coffees.)
Anyway we have always treated Café Crème stepmotherly because of the motives of some of our customers to order one. Most people that order a cup of coffee and are confronted with choice choose Café Crème because of the brewing method (machine vs filter) and not because of the taste profile that we present them. Many people believe that a cup from an espresso machine is superior and that drinking a machine brew made someone belong to a club of connaisseurs that refuse the „old“ type of drinks. A general misconception that is hard to tackle with arguments. To be honest the only real argument is taste and from a taste perspective many people prefer the „coffee“ out of the espresso machine.
This is why Café Crème is the type of coffee we serve when customers simply order „a coffee“. When there are no more details given the implicit message is that the customer does not have anything to do with coffee, does not have specific expectations and does not want the barista to tell them something from the horse.3 Also the customer is likely to expect something similar to somewhere else and put milk and sugar into what they receive without tasting before.
I think this is perfectly fine!
We often tried to „catch“ those and offered them a filter coffee with it’s more elegant and balanced cup profile. Some people tried one and in the figurative sense spit it out again and demanded for something „stronger“ and not so tea like. So you see another thing: a lot of people actually prefer (!) Café Crème over nice Kenians, El Salvadorian Bourbons, or natural process Ethiopian heirlooms – terroir coffees.
Some people even react in an entirely negative way when being confronted with coffees that taste of „rhubarb“ and „bergamot“ instead of chocolate and nuts claiming (and ash 🙂 ) that such „fresh“ flavours didn’t belong there. However recognising this in the first place was a totally negative experience for us because we felt misunderstood. For our customers it was negative as well because they felt like idiots. Some of them didn’t come back. In this „militant“ phase we really lost a lot of trust – and money. We felt we were at a dead end with this mediocre yet easy, fast and cheap to make and well-accepted drink.
We thought that maybe we made a mistake and the ones that needed to be addressed were those that were already „tasting“. Those were some espresso drinkers to whom we had already served special espressos. Our perception about what it was worth being curious about changed from espresso to filtered coffees.
So we set up a batch brewer and airports and promoted the drink as our „filter of the day“. This way we could offer people a nice paper filtered clean single estate coffee for a cheaper price than for a manual brew and invite them for a „relevant“ tasting experience in the sense that the specific characteristics of a terroir can be clearly perceived. It’s working really well because we can let people taste the coffee before they make their buying decision. Just like in a restaurant where you get to taste the wine before making your buying decision. The coffee will remain fresh for at least one hour. This way a customer can get an idea of what we mean when me talk about different strengths, sensory balances and flavour profiles which some people like and some don’t. It’s a great tool to detect what the guest is really looking for.
We have been struggling to serve Café Crème and were trying to replace it or to put it off the menu. But our perception of the drink as slightly changed. We still do not sell café crème as a good drink to experience terroir and discover relevant aspects of the specialty coffee world but as an uncomplicated, „strong“ cup of coffee which is ideal for those that are not on a quest and don’t bother about details which is – i say it again – perfectly fine. This might be a cultural thing but to be honest Café Crèmes taste way better than Americanos which just taste watery and bitter because the aromatic spectrum of the espresso is simply stretched and thus changed into something that the espresso isn’t made for. The espresso extraction is hiding some „defects“ of the coffee which will be unmasked when being stretched.4
I haven’t been really proud of the drink because I didn’t see anyone in the 3rd wave world having them on the menu. They just recently came up as coffee shots. Instead „Long Blacks“ or „Americanos“ are being served which I at the moment consider to be worse.
Café Crème aka Coffee Shots aren’t „the future“ but the present in our world.
Any other opinions? Has anyone added coffee shots to the menu and replaced the Americano / Long Black? I would really like to hear opinions on this also and especially from a customer point of view.
1 If you are making a difference between espresso and filter style.
2 Just an example. There is some discussion going on about the tasty range for the extraction rate.
3 That’s Germish for saying something that is not of interest and therefore annoying. They feel more harassed or made feel like idiots than well served.
4 In my opinion this statement does not apply in all cases. I have the impression that especially roast flavours are being unmasked when being diluted with water. So it might be a matter of the espresso roast style. (Are coffees roasted differently for filter or espresso?)