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SPECIAL REPORT: Dialing In

The coffee (and tea) world is buzzing, but not from caffeine. Profile brewing is the ability to adjust precise variables in the brewing process to “dial in”—in seconds—the most sinfully perfect, single cup of coffee or tea from the bean or whole leaf.

Once the sole realm of trained baristas and tea-meisters, the guarantee of a sublime cup is going automatic. Today, with the availability of Bunn’s trifecta air-infusion single-cup process, Franke-partner Bkon’s Reverse Atmospheric Infusion (RAI) method and the Curtis Gold Cup single-cup drip brewer, any foodservice operation—from fast-casual chains to university dining—can offer an interesting beverage program and charge a premium for their craft brews. 

“Customers love to explore flavor,” says Karalynn McDermott, v.p.- business development for Bunn, Springfield, Ill. They want foods and beverages tailored to their palates, she adds, and they’re immersed in the provenance of items they consume.

Just as wines are categorized by varietals, coffees are categorized by origins. Beans, the seeds of coffee berries, carry nuances of the soil, climate and conditions in which they grew. The best flavor, mouth-feel and finish emerges when the bean is harvested at peak, freshly roasted and precisely brewed. Whole, loose-leaf tea varieties, also unique in flavor and physical characteristics, benefit from profile brewing as well. 

Trifecta Perfection 

The trifecta from Bunn allows you to dial in parameters (weights, times, pressures, temperatures) throughout three phases of brewing: wetting, extraction and hydrolysis (separating liquids from solids). Each bean’s recipe is created by adjusting 11 variables after determining an appropriate grind size and dose weight for the particular bean.

While a professional barista will welcome the chance to play with the variables and develop proprietary recipes, a restaurant chain or university or hospital foodservice likely won’t have the personnel or expertise. Bunn works with all clients either through site visits or via the Internet to develop recipes to load into the brewer. 

The Process

Wetting is the initial saturation of the coffee grounds; the trifecta lets you control this step to pinpoint the percentage of water and pause time appropriate for your coffee. For example, a recipe might set the water volume between 2 oz. and 16 oz. The trifecta lets you input the percentage of brew water to be used as pre-infusion water, determine how long the pre-infusion will last and set the water temperature. For light roasts, 203°F to 205°F is ideal; 199°F to 201°F for is perfect for moderate roasts; and 198°F to 200°F is best for dark roasts. 

During the extraction stage, the unit injects controlled air into the brew chamber, agitating the grounds. Depending on the coffee, which needs to be a fresh roast, the recipe will establish how long the extraction will last, from 25 seconds to 250 seconds (though 35 seconds to 55 seconds is most common). The brew chamber infuses with air in customized cycles for “turbulence on” and “turbulence off” stages. Even the force of the air infusion can be set to optimize each coffee’s unique character.

Hydrolysis uses air pressure to push the beverage through a metal screen—like an invisible press—filtering out coffee grounds while preserving coffee oils and aromatics that make a tasty, full-bodied, non-bitter cup. The recipe will adjust the amount of air pressure used to press out the coffee depending on the coffee’s characteristics and adjusts the time for a full press. 

Jeff Duggan, owner/chief roaster for Portola Coffee Lab, Costa Mesa, Calif., blogged, “I was astonished by how much the brew variables changed the resulting cup flavor. [The trifecta] creates both a nuanced and full-bodied cup, delivering a flavor quality superior to other full-immersion brew methods.” The result is repeatable with the push of a button. While the focus of the unit, which sells for about $5,000 list ($2,500 street), is coffee, trifecta also brews tea.

Tea 2.0 

Step into any whole-leaf tea shop, and you can watch professional crafters produce exceptional cups of tea. But making a great cup the traditional way can take 5 minutes to 6 minutes, and you’ll likely have to sample what is being brewed that day. Yet along the walls, you’ll see tin after tin of whole-leaf varieties for sale, which you may not be able to try before you buy.

Today, whole-leaf tea sales are taking off, and a new machine is going to make truly great, whole-leaf brews more accessible than ever before. 

The Bkon’s RAI brewer changes the air pressure to alter the physics of the brewing process so each tea’s soluble flavor elements and natural sugars extract fully. The process, patented by third-generation coffee-roasters Dean and Lou Vastardis, releases gases from the pores of the tea leaves, creating voids for the water to fill. When the negative pressure eases, flavors release into the water. The result is a flavorful, nuanced tea with a full body and clean finish. You get a perfect cup of any tea or herbal blend in 60 seconds to 90 seconds, and watching the tea “brew” is pure theater (check it out on YouTube).

Like the trifecta, the Bkon stores recipes (up to 90) comprised of variables adjusted to optimize each particular tea and blend. 

Bkon and its strategic partner Franke Coffee Systems plan to extend the patented RAI process across multiple craft-beverage categories, including coffee and spirits. “The profitability in tea is outstanding,” says Greg Richards, v.p.-business development, Franke Foodservice Systems, Smyrna, Tenn. “The Bkon can take tea retailers into foodservice because they can open up any tin on the wall and brew a perfect cup in seconds.” The Bkon can set up foodservice operators in the whole-leaf tea business instantly. The unit will be available in April 2014 and sell for around $11,000. When you can charge between $2 to $5 a cup depending on the tea, the ROI is promising.

Hand-Crafted Drip 

While Bunn’s trifecta and the Bkon both employ pressure (either positive or negative), Curtis’ Gold Cup, the 72-year-old company’s first foray into single-cup profile brewing, is an American-style drip brewer—no pressure involved. You can store up to 44 recipes for particular roasts, choose the cup size (12, 16 or 20 oz.) and, with the touch of the button, deliver a fresh, single cup in about 3 minutes.

Recipes, which profile grind size and brew-cycle parameters (water temperature, pre-infusion time, pulsing frequency and duration), can be developed by the roaster and uploaded to machines through a USB port. Or, if you have the talent on staff, they can play and create custom recipes. 

Two parts of the machine carry new patents: the G4 touch-screen control and the brew cone. The G4 controller generates intuitive icons that walk you through training, programming options and brew cycles. The unit also conducts self diagnostics to prompt preventive maintenance.

The brew cone, which uses a common No. 4 paper filter, took 2 years and 26 prototypes to perfect. In addition to its unusual shape, the strakes (don’t call them ribs) are designed to keep the paper filter off of the cone sides for optimal extraction, but also create a natural suction that keeps the filter stuck to the strakes (preventing filter foldover, which can allow grounds to sneak through). The cone also features a siphon. When coffee reaches a certain level, the siphon opens and evacuates the brewed coffee. Three things occur at this stage: The coffee doesn’t drop until it’s perfectly brewed, the coffee is abruptly cut off once the liquid level drops below the siphon’s rim (so no drips occur) and the cone holds back the last fraction of brew, which tends to be the most bitter. 

Beyond brewing exceptional coffee, one cup at a time, the Gold Cup solves a classic foodservice dilemma: the dreaded 3 p.m. Carafe of Decaf. “Customers have told us they’ve paid for this machine [which retails for about $1,100] in no time in decaf savings alone,” says Brant Curtis, marketing manager for the Montebello, Calif., company.

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