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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    June 01, 2015

    So, You Want To … Serve a Decent Cup of Coffee to Clients, Staff

    Clients pick up on all sorts of professional cues, and as law firms continue to cut costs, offering good coffee – in real (non-Styrofoam) drinkware – is one of the least expensive customer-service methods around.

    Tison H. Rhine

    Coffee cupAmericans love their coffee. According to the 2015 Zagat Coffee Survey, 82 percent of Americans surveyed this year consume coffee “every day” and 95 percent consume coffee at least “a few times a week.” When we do drink coffee drinks, we drink an average of 2.1 per day.

    Attorneys especially love their coffee, and in addition to drinking a lot of it themselves, they routinely offer it to visiting clients as a courtesy. The quality of coffee they offer, however, is often overlooked. That is unfortunate, because serving watered down Folgers (my apologies, if that is your thing) out of a $35 coffee maker is a missed opportunity to not only impress your clients, but, at little cost, to provide those who work in your office something to consistently look forward to when they come to work each day.

    It may seem like a small thing, coffee (and I admit that relatively, it is), but attorneys should not underestimate the power of a decent cup of coffee served in an actual, non-Styrofoam cup. Clients pick up on all sorts of professional cues, and as law firms continue to cut costs, offering good coffee is one of the least expensive rituals around to up your customer-service game. So, where to begin?

    The Method

    There are many ways to make coffee, but for offices, coffee-making methods generally fall into five categories:

    The Coffee-service Option. This option involves contracting a coffee-service company to install a large drip machine (owned by the vendor), which you must use exclusively with the little packets of coffee the vendor requires you to buy. The advantages of this system are lower costs (in large operations), the ability to connect a water source directly to the machine (limiting prep time), and the lack of personal maintenance. As an added bonus, the machines often include a hot-water spigot that is quite convenient for making tea and instant oatmeal. The resulting coffee, however, is generally not very good when compared to other options and certainly won’t be impressing anyone. There may be a truly good-tasting coffee from a coffee service, but I have yet to find one.

    Tison RhineTison Rhine is the advisor to the State Bar of Wisconsin Law Office Management Assistance Program (Practice411). Reach him at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6012, or by email.

    The Flexible and Convenient Pod Option. Another option is to buy a pod-based single-serve machine, allowing you to offer individual coffee drinks in a wide variety of strengths, flavors, and even types. The most common system of this type is Keurig, which offers basic single-serve machines as well as commercial machines with direct water line plumbing and color digital displays (which you can use to choose temperature and strength). More recently, Keurig has begun offering batch-brew models that create up to 64 ounces of coffee in approximately two minutes, but most models still use the plastic single-serve and single-use K-Cup pods. The result is an easy, no-mess method of creating coffee only when you need it. There are hundreds of K-Cup varieties (including hot cocoa and tea), which makes it possible to cater to visitors’ varied tastes. On the flipside, it can take a long time to make several cups of coffee back to back, the pods are expensive in comparison to other coffee methods, and they also create more waste. Finally, the coffee itself is merely okay. Sure, it’s better than bulk grocery-store coffee, but you will fool no one into thinking they are in a café. Prices range from under $100 for a good basic model like the K45 or K145 to more than $1,000 for their commercial brewing systems.

    The Standard Automatic Drip Option. Chances are, this is what your office is using currently. You fill up the water reservoir, you place a filter into the basket, you put ground coffee into the filter, and you turn it on. The process is simple, so people might assume that any old machine will do, but they would be wrong. The temperature to which the water is heated, the speed and disbursement of the drip, and the filter type can all affect the flavor of the coffee in surprisingly noticeable ways. Even high-quality automatic drip machines will not create the very best tasting coffee, but if you start with good coffee beans or grounds, you can get a very satisfying product that easily bests pod or coffee-service coffee. If you are interested in this type of coffee maker, check out the Bonavita BV1900 ($179) and the Technivorm Moccamaster KBG 741 ($299). If you wish to display your machine in clients’ view, check out the beautiful Wilfa Precision from Norway ($249).

    The Cheapest and Best Tasting (but Least Convenient) Manual Option. If you want American-style coffee so good you’ll think you’re in Europe, you are going to need to put in a little work. You can use a French Press, but I recommend going the pour-over route, by buying a Chemex ($35-$40) or a Kalita Wave ($30), or you can go the Aeropress ($30) route, both of which are much cleaner than using a French Press. You will need to learn how to properly make coffee with these methods and will also need an electric kettle. I recommend one with adjustable temperature, such as the Bonavita Gooseneck Variable Temperature Electric Kettle ($99). Manual methods are not only impressive to do right in the conference room with your clients, but are also great for individual offices or solo attorneys. It’s more work, but you may learn to love your little coffee-making breaks.

    The Espresso Option. To really impress, consider offering espresso, cappuccino, and latté in addition to American-style coffee. The cheap(ish) and easy option is to use the popular Nespresso system. Nespresso machines, like Keurigs, use small single-use pods, but Nespresso’s pods (which cost approximately 70 cents each) are aluminum and can be recycled. There are around 25 varieties to choose from in Nespresso’s OriginalLine, which can be used in machines that start at $129 for the Inisia model ($179 with a milk frother). There are more expensive machines, but the differences in internals (and coffee taste) are negligible or nonexistent. Speaking of taste, Nespresso coffee tastes surprisingly good, especially when you consider the ease of use and relative low cost. All but the most discerning coffee aficionados should be impressed with the resulting crema-topped creations. For those who do require more, or offices that really want to impress with a visible espresso machine, look for one from the likes of Nuova Simonelli, Rocket, Rancilio Silva, or La Marzocco. Be sure to learn how to use it, and when you get a bill in the thousands, just think of it as coming out of your art and furnishings budget.

    The Coffee

    No coffee maker or method can make bad coffee taste good. There are more varieties of coffee beans than we have time to discuss, so let me recommend some local and regional Wisconsin roasters to get you started: Colectivo Coffee – Milwaukee (Riverwest); Fiddleheads – Thiensville; Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. – Milwaukee; Kickapoo Coffee Roasters – Driftless; JBC Coffee Roasters – Madison; Ancora Coffee Roasters – Madison; Door County Coffee and Tea – Sturgeon Bay; Luna Coffee Roasters – De Pere; and many more!

    Grinding. Whatever coffee you choose, a fresh grind from a good burr grinder will always result in a better brew. To extract that extra bit of amazing from your beans, look for an electric grinder by Baratza (starting at $129) or get a quality hand grinder, such as the Hario Skerton ($28).

    Enjoy. Now get to work!

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