Tag Archives: corporate catering

How Well Do You Know Your Coffee?

Coffee 101

How Well Do You Know Your Coffee?

Columbian Arabica. Sumatra Dark Roast. Blond French Vanilla. The names of coffees can be mighty confusing, and that’s before you even get to the brewing! If you’ve ever wondered what all those coffee terms mean, here’s your coffee primer.

What is Coffee? The coffee we drink comes from the beans—or seeds—of the coffee cherry. Since coffee trees grow best in cool temperatures but rich, tropical soil, most coffee comes from the mountains of regions in the “bean belt,” which stretches roughly from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. Coffee farmers and producers harvest the coffee cherries, strip the fruit, and dry the seeds. The product is now “green coffee,” which coffee roasters buy as a commodity.

Species of Beans: There are actually only two varieties of coffee bean: arabica and robusta. Arabica beans, which have lower acidity and a more delicate flavor, are far more common: If you’re brewing coffee at home or ordering it at a high-end café, it almost certainly came from arabica beans.

Arabica beans must be grown at higher elevations and lower temperatures, and are also more labor-intensive to grow. Robusta, on the other hand, has a stronger, more acidic flavor and also has more caffeine. It can be grown at lower elevations and is sold at a lower price. You are more likely to find robusta beans in instant coffee or other lower-cost products.

Geographical Origin:  Among arabica beans, there are hundreds of unique origins relating both to geographic region and bean processing. Broadly, the main coffee-producing regions are South and Central America, Southeast Asia, and Africa and the Middle East. South and Central America’s coffees tend to be mild and medium-bodied, making them popular in the United States. Colombia’s mountainous terrain, in particular, makes it one of the world’s foremost coffee producers.  African and Indonesian coffees, on the other hand, tend to be fuller-bodied, with earthier flavors.

Roasting: Green coffee beans need to go through one more important step before they can be brewed and consumed: roasting. Roasting involves cooking the beans at a low temperature to reduce acidity and release sugars. Roasted beans can range from light brown to almost black in color, depending on the length and temperature of roasting.

Light roast coffees are known by names like Blond Roast or New England Style. Contrary to popular belief, lighter roasts actually have higher acidity than darker roasts, since roasting removes acids from the beans. Lighter roasts also have more caffeine, and because there’s less roasting flavor, they give a clearer taste of the green bean profile.

Medium roasts, which are most common in the United States, have names like Breakfast Blend, Full City, or Regular Roast. If you order a coffee in a restaurant, you will probably get a medium roast. Dark roast beans appear very dark brown and shiny, as the roasting process has released more of the oils from the seed. These coffees, with names like French Roast, Viennese Coffee, and Espresso have a sweet, caramelized flavor—sometimes with a burnt taste as well.

Stay tuned for Coffee 102, where we’ll discuss flavor additives, brewing styles, and more.

Operations Focus: Cold Chain Logistics

Unlike trendy superfoods (chia, seaweed, or coconut water, anyone?), the movement toward increased consumption of fresh food—and rejection of packaged, processed products—looks like it’s here to stay. As we’ve been reporting for the past three years, millennials (people born between 1980 and 2000) are the primary drivers of this shift toward fresh, but people across generations and cultures are jumping on this wagon. This greater emphasis on freshness is evident in fast food chains, grocery stores, and workplaces, especially those with micro markets like USConnect’s Bistro To Go!®.

Cold chain logistics

The increased demand for fresh food has far-reaching implications for foodservice operations. The logistics of transporting and stocking fresh food is much more complicated than that of packaged foods with shorter shelf lives. This handy chart shows the shelf life of many common foods; note that while some fresh foods, like cheese, yogurt, and apples, can last up to a month in a refrigerator, other common workplace meals like lunch meat last only a week.

With the high perishability of many fresh food items, optimized cold chain logistics are of the utmost importance. “Cold chain logistics” entails the packing, storage, and transportation of temperature-sensitive products along a temperature-controlled supply chain. One logistics expert notes: “The cold chain is thus a science, a technology, and a process. It is a science since it requires the understanding of the chemical and biological processes linked with perishability. It is a technology since it relies on physical means to insure appropriate temperature conditions along the supply chain. It is a process since a series of tasks must be performed to prepare, store, transport and monitor temperature sensitive products.”

To offer consumers longer shelf lives for their fresh foods, transportation speed is of the essence, and storage time needs to be minimal. This is creating a “paradigm shift” in the logistics business, with providers changing their business models to meet consumer demand. “Reefers”(refrigerated trucks) are becoming more and more common; the next one you see may be delivering your next fresh meal, so let it through!



A conversation with Scott Meskin of Black Tie Services

Staying ahead of  the competition—and the snow!

Q. Tell us a little about Black Tie Services.black tie services

A. We are known for our high quality food, which is made fresh every day in our commissary. We’ve been in this business for 25 years and part of USConnect for over a year.

Q. What region do you serve, and what are the local favorites?

A. We work in Maryland, D.C., Northern Virginia, and Western Virginia.  The local favorite sandwich is a Hot Corned Beef and Swiss, and the Half & Half—iced tea and lemonade—is also popular.

Q. What makes your company stand out from its local competitors?

A. Our fresh food program puts us out front. No one in our market can offer anything even close to what we offer in fresh food. Our customers tell us that they are impressed with how delicious our salads and fresh sliced meats taste. All of our food is made fresh daily and to order for each machine or micro market. Our Chicken Salad wrap is the most-requested item we produce, along with our first-cut corned beef brisket on rye with Swiss.

scott-meskinQ. What trends do you see emerging in 2014?

A. Cashless vending is where I see the biggest opportunity for growth. We are in the process of upgrading every machine in the field with cashless technology. Our cashless transactions are increasing monthly, and in a few years, I expect that cashless sales will be more than 50% of our revenue.  We have always strived to be a leader in new trends and technologies, and we will soon be one of the first all cashless vending companies in the Northeast.

Micro markets are also a growth segment for 2014. Customers love the concept, and sales are being led by our fresh food program. About 35% of our micro market sales are fresh-made food items produced in our kitchen.

Q. Your motto is, “We specialize in service to customers deserving the best.” How do you live up to that motto?

A. This past February, the weather reports were calling for a foot of snow on Monday, and a good customer called my cell on Sunday afternoon.  They knew their employees who would be snowed-in Monday morning, and they needed to feed them. Was it possible to have 475 boxed lunches delivered on Monday morning?

I had our commissary build the order, even though I didn’t know if we could get our trucks on the road the next day.  On Sunday night at 8:30 pm, one of my dedicated Operations Managers made the delivery. The customer was thrilled and impressed with our level of service. We always try to go above and beyond what is expected of us.



Scott Meskin is the President of Black Tie Services, LLP.