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Our mobile coffee (and pizza) business - advice welcome

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  • Our mobile coffee (and pizza) business - advice welcome

    Hello snobs,

    We have started a mobile wood fired pizza business, also with coffee attached. We're about qualtiy, world class, naples -ish style pizza and also want our coffee to be as good as we possibly can get it.

    I have basic knowledge on how to make a decent coffee, but no where near the vast knowledge I see on this forum.

    This thread is an invitation for you to point and laugh and say 'you fool' if that means I can become better.

    We bought a second hand (OLD) San Marino double group head machine off ebay and had it shipped from Adelaide. It only has manual switches, no preset buttons. I kind of like that fact. An aquaintance of ours owns a coffee roasting business and espresso bar here and he checked out the machine and replaced a few parts for us to get it going. It works well (oh my! Super fast milk stretching! aaaagh! Love it!). But it is in desperate need of a proper servicing and clean I think. We are awaiting a mobile technician to come back to our region to do this (living out in the sticks does have its down side).

    Having said that (here must come my first bashing from you) we have already begun trading from it. This weekend past we served about 200 cups. We only have one double portafilter so I am going to order a new one today to make things faster. We have been only serving one size cup and that is 355ml (12 ounce). We did a double shot for every cup unless asked for an extra shot or a half strength coffee. If it was up to me I'd only serve one size but smaller, but the western world mainly wants bigger bigger bigger and I don't really want to be bothered with two sizes, especially considering we do pizza also and simpler is better for us at the moment.

    So I need to order a new portafilter, and new double basket. In the past, trying to perfect my technique on our second hand (see a pattern) sunbeam em6910 I read a bit about VST baskets and naked portafilters (to judge the out pouring but also because, you know, they look super hot). Should I go with a cafelat portafilter to have the option of naked or not? And a VST basket? I don't know what brand our baskets are at the moment because my husband bought them off aforementioned coffee roaster. They look decent (to my untrained eye) but certainly the double basket looks to hold less than our double sunbeam basket (which is total rubbish anyway). I will try and weigh later how many grams seem to go in it.

    Should I go with a deeper double basket because those 355ml cups are so big? What would you recommend for size? Obviously I need to get two the same if the one we choose is different to the one we have. Or use different sized cups. I don't know!

    The other thing I'll be bashed about is that we're using our home sunbeam grinder at the moment. EEEEK! After yesterday I am ready to purchase a Mazzer Super Jolly doser (because I need the speed, durability and the reliability of a commercial machine, but also because now after making some profit finally we can afford to buy one... but having said that we won't have a huge event to make loads of coffee for a couple of months so maybe I should put off the purchase to save on interest).

    Alright, sorry for the length. And for the neediness. Thank you kindly for any advice or bashing that will help me do a better job.

  • #2
    Forget about VST baskets. Find your groove before you make things hard for yourself.

    Standard or Precision filters will be fine while you start up.

    Not all of the 'west' want bigger.... remember, you will generally have a captive market and if they want coffee......

    let them have what you have.

    You are throwing away money by serving such a large coffee as standard. Stick to 8oz ( 240ml) @ $4.00 each, ( <<>> 18 gm coffee shot ),

    it will also make your workflow / productivity faster.

    As the Aussie dollar drops and current stocks of grinders are sold, new shipments will only increase in price but that is up to you.

    Give yourself time to get used to any new equipment before you try it out on the public. A Super Jolly in a high volume environment?

    Wouldn't be my choice but go with what you can afford.

    Good luck!


    • #3
      VST baskets - these are hard because why? Is it because you must be very precise every time to get the right result? Sorry if it's a stupid question, I'm keen to learn.

      I was hoping to go with only a small cup and even just one opinion of an outsider (yours) has tipped me over the edge.

      As to the high volume environment... most of the time it will be slow. Maybe 5 times a year probably, 10 at the absolute most if we push ourselves to those events, we will have a day where we are making coffee for hours without much break. Last weekend just happen to be one of them. I don't want to spend any more than $1300 on a grinder if I can help it.

      Thank you, chokkidog, for your reply/advice. It is much appreciated.


      • #4
        You are very welcome EM!..... not a stupid question!

        Given that over 95% of your output will be milk based coffees the, if any, extra nuances that a VST might, repeat might, bring will be drowned in the milk and lost on

        your clients as well as causing your workflow to slow down to 'weighing each shot pace', both in and out. ( grams coffee in, grams fluid out ). They are also an extra

        expense that you might not want. They aren't cheap and you will need good (+/- 0.1 gm) scales. They have a relatively small window of tolerance for your grind, dose

        and tamp and given that you will be operating outdoors you may find that too many grinder adjustments, with the associated hiccup in workflow, is a pain, resulting in

        frustration for you and loss of client satisfaction/goodwill. If you push on without adjusting the grinder, VST's can give a nasty result in the cup. They are not a panacea.

        As a start up coffee business you should be concentrating on: mastering the consistent base technique of 'grind, dose and tamp'; achieving consistent milk

        texture and temp; establishing a workflow where making good, consistent coffee becomes second nature and lastly but not least, making your clients happy.

        For an event coffee caterer..... K.I.S. ( I'm not going to call you S.!!). Go all scientific if you like, but save it until you're competent with the essentials.
        Last edited by chokkidog; 9 December 2014, 09:59 PM.


        • #5
          Thank you again. That is very sensible and sound advice and the sort of thing I say to people in other areas too. And one which I want to cling to with dear life. I don't want unnecessary fuss. I want most of all to give out a consistent product which is better than average (remember, I live in the country and the average, though better than it ever has been, is still not particularly high around here in my eyes).

          There have been a few times (not in this town... bar once!) when I have tasted coffee that just opened my eyes and hit me smack in the face and I knew for certain, beyond personal taste even, that what I was drinking was amazing quality. I really want to have output like that. REALLY. Which is a stretch considering my inexperience. But it's in my nature to want to produce the best and I have to start somewhere. But I have also often said that I'd rather be consistent at 'good' than be hit and miss ranging from 'great' to 'average' or worse.

          Thank you for not calling me stupid. But I have thick skin so throw those names at me if you think it will result in improvement. Cheers.


          • #6
            I'm far from an expert but i think it sounds like you'd be better off finding a really great supplier for beans and develop a good technique with their blend.

            With fantastic beans and consistent technique i think you would be able to produce that amazing quality product you are after without worrying about VST baskets.


            • #7
              There is a coffee roaster in town whom we are buying from and he knows his coffee. We're going through all his blends and single origins to determine which one we will settle on for now. We are all about quality (with the pizza as well as the coffee, and every other little thing we sell) but also want to be as local as we can without compromising (too much) on that quality.


              • #8
                I am going to get quotes on a grinder and I was set to go with the Mazzer Super Jolly doser until chokkidog questioned it. Was this only because of the assumption that we would be super busy all the time? Do you have another suggestion? Thanks.


                • #9
                  Yes I believe that to be the case.

                  A super jolly is just like any other "basic" 64 mm cafe grinder in that when the going gets tough (busy), it will overheat and stop for a while until it cools down, during which time you will lose business. There is a difference between doing 10 kg a week in a cafe spread over a 5 day week (where a 64 mm grinder will be fine), and doing say 5 kilo in a morning at an event (where it wont).

                  So even if you are not expecting to do much on average, you only need to get a single job on say a sunday morning at a busy event, and you could be sunk if you have a super jolly type (64 mm) grinder.

                  You should consider going the next size up where the grinders have a much greater capacity to deliver volume. They don't look much bigger in a physical sense, but they deliver a LOT more volume than a 64 mm grinder before "failing" (ie overheat and stop for a while).

                  That puts you in Macap M7 territory (75 mm) where there are two models the M7 and the M7 Extreme (titanium grinding plates), and the Mazzer Major (83mm). Any "bigger" (in capacity) and you are looking at conical grinders, which have even greater capacity to deliver.

                  That son used an Macap MXA (64 mm and equivalent to a super jolly) for some time and I don't think he ever had a problem with depends on how you run the show. If you run alone, then you can only go a certain speed and the grinder probably wont get to the point of stopping. If you take a couple of helpers (one to take money, one to help at the machine), then all of a sudden you are running more quickly and that can tip a 64 mm grinder over the edge.

                  So there is more to this than meets the eye, and a lot of it is to do with management.

                  Hope that helps.


                  • #10
                    Chokki has given you some good advise (as usual). Here's a few things I've learned while operating my cart;
                    Get to know your beans and grinder. I see you're working with your roaster which is great, but being outdoors can play havoc with your grid settings (especially when the rain kicks in and the air moisture levels swing). These are only small adjustments to the grinder so something with micrometrical adjustment is best. Mazzers are great (I have a super Jolly at home) but the manual dosers can be messy, when you add in just a whisper of wind you can end up with coffee everywhere (not sure if you're in a marquee or a van). I'd suggesta programmable grind on demand type.
                    One size cup is a great idea, and is my preference, but you have to decide where the customers wants ought weigh yours. If you have 2 cup sizes that means balancing your stock for what you think might sell. If you get Detpac brand cups or similar often the lid sizes are different (plus lids come in packs of 100 but the cups come in packs of 40?? go figure) if you have a massive day you can run out of cups or lids on one size..not a deal breaker but frustrating. Understand your costs with the different size cups, I calculated that I make higher sales with 8oz coffees but make higher profits with 12oz. (this was on a per kg of coffee basis, assuming single shots in the 8oz and doubles in the 12oz). Remember also that 8oz is larger than your standard latte/cappuccino so if you fill an 8oz cup to the top you're espresso/milk ratio is out. Understanding this will help with your consistency.
                    Another thing to think about is your 'production line' - who's taking the orders and passing that info to the barista? Paper tickets? Writing on lids? Are you putting in the sugar - liquid or granule? Getting these down pat can dramatically speed up your production, keeping your customers happy. But remember, if you're using good fresh coffee, you care about consistency and quality, you work on your barista skills, keep a smile on your face and a friendly persona even in the busiest "I just dropped a whole 2L milk container everywhere" mess then you'll already be better than a lot of coffee vans out there.


                    • #11
                      Interesting comment TOK, I've not heard of the grinders overloading with heat and shutting off - learn something every day! I used a Super Jolly at an event just like you mentioned, my wife taking orders, I was pulling shots and my friend was doing milk. We went through 5kg between 11am and 4pm and the grinder never stopped working. Maybe we were lucky...that would have been a nightmare if it did!


                      • #12
                        A doser grinder on auto fill could conceivably exceed it's duty cycle and shut down if it's a slow grinder and the coffee pumping and the queue long.

                        A doserless grinder will always get some 'off duty' cooling time between shots, even when the going is tough.

                        The Macap M7 comes in a few variants including an M7K, which is a 68mm conical, so if you were to pitch this against the Mazzer Major-e make sure you get the opportunity to try

                        your chosen coffee through both before you buy. The M7 (and Xtreme) is as TOK describes, planar, like the Mazzer.

                        There's plenty written online about all the above but nothing beats the hands on stuff.

                        Thanks prioring for your kind words.


                        • #13
                          If your business depends on it, i would consider it wise to have a back up grinder of some sort available ( used mazzer mini /compak ?)


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by prloring View Post
                            Interesting comment TOK, I've not heard of the grinders overloading with heat and shutting off - learn something every day! I used a Super Jolly at an event just like you mentioned, my wife taking orders, I was pulling shots and my friend was doing milk. We went through 5kg between 11am and 4pm and the grinder never stopped working. Maybe we were lucky...that would have been a nightmare if it did!
                            Note grinders with fresh grinding plates will go far longer than when the plates are getting worn. Many operators dont notice because they use the grinder every day, but as plates wear the level of noise from grinding increases significantly. When the plates are worn and not working as efficiently as they should (and screaming), it seems to increase the heat load (friction, whatevr) and they will stop more easily (thermal cutout).

                            In terms of management, here is a "budget" plan. If you find a couple of well priced used super jolly's or MXA's or something equivalent in a 64 mm, buy two and that spreads the load (if you can put a grinder each side of the machine) so there shoudnt be a problem. Or....perhaps spend a similar amount of money to buy an M7 or a major or something else equivalent in the size, and then you shoudnt need any form of 'backup". Horses for courses to suit individuals In most cases if the equipment is spec'd properly in the first place and plates or burrs changed out when required, a backup is not required and will sit in the cupboard ad infinitum (I've seen it often enough) . If the equipment is under spec'd, it will need backup. Seemples!

                            Or perhaps I should say.....that is my experience. Others may differ.


                            • #15
                              Thank you all so much, I can't express how much I appreciate all this advice and knowledge.

                              While my insides are always screaming 'get the best!!!! overkill even!!!!' because I've learned, at last, despite how frugally I try to live, that in the end 'quality' actually saves you money and A LOT of stress... plus the added bonus of good results in the mean time. I simply cannot justify +$2000 for a grinder/s. $1500 is about our limit.

                              We can't really fit a grinder each side of the machine. We can at the moment but hope to mount a glass door bar fridge on the bench which will leave only enough space for one grinder. Fridge space is really our limiting factor at the moment. It's a real pain.

                              One of the reasons I didn't want a doserless with electronics is because to me simple is better because less can go wrong! And that is particularly the case if buying second hand (with electronics). I bought our dough mixer second hand and I am still yet to date it. It looks like it was made in the 50s and it has been imported from Italy. It's built like a truck. A very heavy truck. And it has just one button. It looks and feels so reliable. And gosh I hope it is because if it fails, I doubt fixing it would be cheap or easy.

                              Back on topic, I'm going to have to get quotes and do more research before I decide on a grinder. If anyone else wants to chime in with an opinion I'm all ears. Thank you.