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Charles and the Magical Coffee Machine

Martha casually walked up to the cubicle as Charles sat at his desk, desperately trying to figure out how to get the printer to spit out the cover-sheet for the latest TPS report.

“Yeah Charles… Won’t you be a dear and source us a coffee machine for the director’s department”

Martha didn’t care that he was busy.  She proceeded to sprint through the requirements.  He desperately did his best to take detailed notes.

“And if I may ask, what’s our budget, Martha?”

A quick pause, finger on her chin.  “Mmm, let’s say $2000.”

Right before walking off, she turned around to add “and I’m gonna need that ASAP”.

Charles had a mission to find a compact yet classy machine.  It would have to make the top client’s ristretto, the director’s mochaccino, the AVP’s husband’s drip, and the mailroom clerk’s warm milk (the clerk is the CEO’s wife’s second nephew – a bit slow but always happy to talk about his reggae band’s latest jam session).

These drinks are in addition to the 200 coffees a day that’ll be served to lower-level staff because the “Kawa Plujka” being served in the 3rd floor breakroom, is what the company founder drank in her early years of business.  She’s been retired for 24 years now and lives with her 7 cats and Indonesian pool boy named Ramon a mile off the Deerfield Beach International Fishing Pier in Boca Raton, Florida.

The salesman began to smile as Charles proceeded to list all these needs.  But this smile quickly turned upside down into a frown once he gave him his budget.

Let’s pause this scene really fast and take a step back.

Martha wants full cafe capability in a compact size and a sleek design.  The price is whatever arbitrary number she came up with.

If this were a car – she’d be asking for a Porsche that could carry six to nine people, plus baggage, while towing a boat, consume one liter of LPG per 100 km, and comfortably drive up to speeds of 220kmh – for the price of a Lada. 

In this situation, it’s not only about price.

Back to Charles…

As the coffee guy walked him through each machine, their cost, and how they differed – Charles began to panic.

Martha asked for a magical machine.

This is because each machine serves a different function:

 

Automated office coffee machines do their best to make espresso.

They automatically grind the coffee, drop it into a chamber, and apply pressurized water to quickly extract a shot.

This means that whether you want an espresso or a large black coffee and it will always be espresso-based.  So a large black coffee is just espresso and hot water – an Americano.

Many automated machines apply steamed fresh milk and dispense it into the coffee as well.  Unless it is a mid-range machine (or higher), the milk will be boiling hot, and personally I don’t like to burn my tongue on a cup of coffee – maybe some people do.

Having fresh milk or even powdered milk from a machine usually increases the cost by ~25%.

An office that wants controllable variables such as milk temperature, the quantity of coffee ground per shot, hot chocolate powder, etc – will be looking at mid to upper-level machines that have a starting cost around $4000 before taxes.  Something like the Animo OptiMe.

The biggest benefit is the convenience of being able to push a button and having a ready-made caffeinated drink.

The drawback is the price and limitation in terms of being able to control every variable in real-time in order to make high-end cafe-level drinks.

 
Paper filter machines are ideal for office use.

To make a drip coffee, something more delicate, medium or light roast, where you’ll get to taste different natural flavors – offices need a machine that uses a paper filter.  Something like a Moccamaster.

For a busy office, I’d advise something like double Moccamaster. The benefit besides having two carafes – is that you can have two types of coffee brewed at all times. The price range is roughly $300-$500. 

The drawback to having a Moccamaster is that the coffee should either be preground or the office should have a grinder on hand that can specifically grind for drip.  Also, this isn’t a pushbutton machine – the paper filter and the ground coffee will both have to be loaded.



Traditional cafe setups are as close to magic any office can get!

I’m gotta warn you beforehand that I’m biased to this option because I love being able to experiment with different things and having an espresso machine & grinder on hand gives me total control in real-time.

Just like the office coffee machine, an espresso machine will do exactly what it’s intended: make espresso.

BUT!

Being able to control the grind size, coffee quantities, extraction quantities, temperature, timing, pressure, etc, etc… This is where the fun begins!

Add to this the steam wand for milk – and you can make sure that the temperature is JUST RIGHT and you can develop your latte art skills.

Besides those benefits;  a decent commercial espresso machine that can handle 200 cups a day will have a starting price of around HALF of what you could expect to spend on a mid-range automated machine.

There are two drawbacks though – the users will have to be trained in how to make the drinks and will also have to be conscious of cleaning up after themselves whenever they make themselves a coffee.  Both these problems can be solved with some training from a caring coffee provider and the office’s atmosphere/dynamics should be conducive to a good team spirit.

 

A detail that’s often overlooked.

The grinder is the hardest working piece of a coffee setup.  

Without a working grinder, you can’t make coffee!

For each type of coffee (I’m talking about paper-filter or espresso) the grind setting needs to be different.  

Some grinders can handle a wide range of settings and other grinders are very specific.  The price ranges can vary anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars.  

 
“I’ll train you personally on how to make a drip.”

So with all this new information Charles begrudgingly walked up to Martha’s office to give her the news: he wouldn’t be able to find the magical machine she asked him for.

As he walked up to her office, he could hear that people were talking.  Martha would say something, then someone’s voice would parrot the last word or two that Martha said.  He could hear Martha’s tone tensing up – as though she were nervous and anxious.

After patiently waiting a few minutes he knocked on the door.  He couldn’t wait any longer, because the TPS reports still needed cover-sheets.

He walked in to find Martha standing in the middle of the room and Anna (the company’s VP of Communications – known to be an expert in her field, from years of working with some of the finest companies in the world) sitting at Martha’s chair with her feet propped up on her desk.

“About the coffee equipment…”

“Not now!” rebutted Martha with flaring anger.

“Actually wait…” Anna’s attention had been aroused and she was staring straight at Charles – who was now obviously a bit tense – you could see a bead of sweat moving across his beard line.

“Your name is Charles, right?” Anna knew the names of each one of the company’s 169 employees – she learned the importance of this from her many years of working with the most innovative coffee company during her early professional career.

“Yes”

“You were saying something about coffee?”

Charles began to explain the situation and Anna listened without saying a word.  She then picked up her phone, typed in a few words, and sent off a message.

“I’ll have it taken care of, good job Charles.  Once everything arrives, I’ll train you personally on how to make a drip.”

Four days later a truck pulls up to the office building.  Two big burly men begin unloading box after box of equipment marked with a big red “G” stamp.

As they carry the boxes into the building’s main lobby, Martha is seen walking out with a box of her own…

 

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