The pursuit of exceptional coffee never ends. From green coffee sourcing practices to refining brew recipes, coffee shop owners are always looking for ways to improve quality in their café.
As with any journey, there are obstacles:
- Talented employees move on to other opportunities, causing a skills gap among your staff
- Wholesale coffee suppliers serve multiple clients, unintentionally leading to inconsistencies in roast quality or volume capacities
- Customer preferences are ever‑evolving, favoring the latest trendy beverage and flavors
This all leaves coffee shop owners wondering, “How can I realistically and consistently improve coffee quality at my café while maintaining a competitive advantage?”
We created this guide to show you five practical ways to enhance the coffee quality at your coffee shop—and stand out from the crowd in the process.
In the guide, we’ll show you:
- Why defining “quality” is the key to unlocking your café’s potential
- How adopting a Systems Strategist approach can solve recurring coffee problems
- How roasting coffee in‑house leads to greater control over coffee quality
Once you’ve finished reading, you’ll walk away with feasible coffee quality solutions you can implement at your café immediately.
1. Define Your Standard of Quality
The word “quality” is used so often in the specialty coffee industry that it’s beginning to lose meaning. When you’re constantly chasing an undefined standard of quality, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with your options. Rather than chasing someone else’s definition of quality, define what it means to you.
Does “quality” refer to the beans you source for your coffee shop menu? Perhaps you see it as the level of care and consistency put into brewing every drink. Or maybe you define quality as the overall experience you provide to your customers day in and day out.
Coffee shop owners can define quality using one or more of the following criteria:
- Coffee cupping scores
- Roast levels
- Flavor profiles
- Coffee selection variety
- Adherence to industry standards
- Customer experience and satisfaction
You can’t improve the quality of your coffee until you know what you’re aiming for. Understanding what quality means in your shop provides both business owners and baristas with a sense of direction that will guide every beverage, transaction, and process.
Once you’ve defined what quality means to you, choose a means of measurement.
Coffee quality and consistency can be measured in several data‑driven ways, such as TDS (total dissolved solids), extraction percentage (also referred to as strength), cupping scores, and of course, sales. It can also be measured using subjective methods like customer feedback surveys, online reviews, and conversations with your regular customers.
2. Develop An Ongoing Coffee Knowledge Program
All too often, employees are trained quickly to ensure all staffing needs are met—and then they’re never trained again. While this approach works in the short term, it results in slowly deteriorating skills over time and a lack of comprehensive coffee knowledge.
If your employees don’t have the skills or knowledge necessary to brew great‑tasting coffee, the quality of your drinks will inevitably decline.
To enhance your staff’s coffee knowledge (and thus your coffee quality) create a knowledge maintenance program that picks up where initial training left off.
How you format this program is entirely up to you, but it should provide continuous knowledge and resources for staff. Programs can include:
- Coffee cupping and sensory sessions — If you roast coffee in‑house, invite staff to participate in regular cupping sessions. Talk about the different coffee origins, flavor notes, processing methods, and more to get staff engaged with the process of selecting and serving quality coffee.
- Informal skill reviews — Employee skills can morph over time to accommodate bar flows, new staffing, and updated internal processes. Schedule a time to review basic coffee and bar skills with staff at least once a quarter. This ensures that staff is on the same page regarding essential brewing techniques, internal quality baselines, and drink recipes. Even the most seasoned coffee pros can use a review of the basics.
- Professional development — Your team has varied interests and career plans. Some may want to learn more about coffee roasting and quality control, while others want to improve their latte art and other behind‑the‑bar skills. Create opportunities for your staff to dive into their passions and develop their professional skills—this will only improve your shop’s coffee quality over time.
- Access to resources — There is a lot to learn about coffee, but not all baristas have access to reputable resources. Provide your team with top‑notch coffee information so they can continue to learn. This can look like having a library of coffee books at the shop, sponsoring their registration fees for industry organizations and events, and hosting educational opportunities about different aspects of coffee production.
The more coffee knowledge your staff has, the better your coffee will taste!
3. Adopt A Systems Strategist Mindset
A coffee shop relies on a network of systems—including inventory, coffee equipment, staff training, and beyond—working together to provide an unparalleled experience for customers.
A great experience only happens when systems are effective and properly followed. Everything from the nature of a busy coffee shop to human error can cause systems to slowly but surely break down, leading to poor coffee quality.
By adopting the mindset of a Systems Strategist, you can find and solve recurring problems that hinder coffee quality.
A Systems Strategist analyzes systems to identify problems within those systems and develop long‑term solutions for continued success. Rather than trying to tackle overarching problems with a macro lens, these professionals take the approach of solving one problem at a time with a pragmatic solution.
Let’s take a look at how you can implement this approach at your coffee shop to enhance coffee quality and stand out from local competitors.
Your baristas have the brewing basics and internal processes down. But as seasonal drinks are added to the menu, they may not memorize these recipes instantly.
Stepping away from the bar to look up instructions causes delays and anxiety during a busy rush. To prevent this, put recipes in a laminated book or loaded onto a tablet near the espresso machine. This way, baristas can quickly find the recipe, craft the drink, and move on to the next order without disruption.
Whether grab‑and‑go pastries or complex drink modifications, it’s important to get a customer’s order right the first time. But the chaos of a busy shop can lead to miscommunication, lost tickets, and order mistakes.
Take a moment to review your café’s order fulfillment system and identify where bottlenecks are happening.
A prime example of a behind‑the‑bar obstacle is when coffee shops assign one staff member to manage the register and the other to make drinks. With this setup, customers who order a black coffee or quick cold brew are stuck waiting for their order while the one barista makes every drink.
A solution using the Systems Strategist approach would assign the staff member responsible for the register to prepare all non‑espresso drinks like drip coffee and tea.
Coffee shops contain a lot of different inventory, including:
- Roasted coffee beans
- Milk and alternative dairy options
- Pastries, baked goods, and grab‑and‑go items
- Retail coffee bags
- Syrups and ingredients
If not managed properly, inventory items expire, go missing, or aren’t restocked—leading to inconsistent coffee quality and a poor customer experience.
Perhaps, baristas don’t check inventory levels every day. As coffee shop owners know, the difference in inventory from Monday to Friday can be drastic. A Systems Strategist solution to this problem could be asking baristas to fill out an inventory checklist at the end of each shift to ensure that everything from roasted coffee to food ingredients is always on hand.
With a fully stocked coffee shop, your baristas don’t have to worry about disappointing customers with out‑of‑stock menu items or improperly crafted drinks due to missing ingredients.
Put on your Systems Strategist hat and examine the processes in your coffee shop to determine which are negatively affecting coffee quality.
4. Refine Your Menu
The world’s best restaurants have limited menus. Why? Because they know their strengths and do them well.
The more you add to your menu, the greater the opportunity for diminished coffee quality. Baristas must memorize a myriad of drink recipes, the origin stories of individual coffees, and the various brew methods available—all before actually brewing the coffee.
One surefire way to enhance coffee quality is to refine your menu and hone in on what your coffee shop does best.
For instance, if you’re known for sourcing spectacular single‑origin coffees from reputable roasters around the globe, focus your menu on pour‑overs and high‑quality espresso drinks. Skip the long list of cleverly named signature lattes, blended beverages, and syrup add‑ons.
From a quality perspective, scaling down the menu also ensures your food and drink ingredients are always fresh. No more old ingredients for less popular menu items will be left collecting dust on the shelf.
Follow these steps to refine your menu:
Review your sales — Take a look at your sales from the last year. Which items were ordered the most? The least? The frequency in which items were sold is a good indicator of what can stay and what needs to go.
Evaluate costs — If a menu item sells the most but also has the smallest profit margin, is it worth keeping on the menu? If the answer is yes, take time to review the costs and see where you can cut back. Perhaps you can alter an ingredient, expedite a process, or revise a recipe to reduce costs. Or maybe increasing the price is the way to go!
Emphasize the best — After examining the financial aspects of your menu, take a moment to consider what your cafe values and does best. For some shops, that’s highlighting unique flavors in a single‑origin coffee. For others, it’s creating an exclusive customer experience that’s not available anywhere else. Whatever you do best, make sure your menu reflects this. Remove any item that detracts from what your coffee shop does best.
The simpler your menu, the more your team can focus on coffee quality and consistency with every drink made.
5. Roast Coffee In‑House
When opening a coffee shop, many new business owners choose to partner with a wholesale coffee roaster. This partner supplies the roasted beans, ensuring the coffee shop is fully stocked to meet customer demand.
However, in this type of business relationship, the supplier controls the quality of the coffee beans. Coffee shop owners only control the order frequency and volume. What happens when quality is diminished? How do you navigate the fluctuating freshness of coffee from your roasting partner?
Your baristas’ brewing skills can only go so far when the coffee bean quality is lacking from the beginning.
By roasting coffee in‑house, you retain total control over all aspects of the process—sourcing, roasting, and brewing.
Of course, roasting coffee can be a time‑consuming and expensive endeavor, one that many coffee shop owners do not have the time or resources for. And with natural gas bans
coming to certain cities in the United States, roasting on traditional gas‑powered machines may not be an option for much longer.
Fortunately, today’s technology makes it easier than ever for coffee business owners to dive head‑first into the art and science of coffee roasting—with the push of a button.
Coffee shops, bakeries, and other food establishments are all roasting coffee in‑house thanks to fully electric coffee roasters. When Lawrence Lai, co‑founder of Craftsman and Wolves bakery
in San Francisco, noticed how coffee shops were paying more attention to the quality of their pastries, he decided to pay closer attention to the quality of the coffee served at his bakery.
Rather than outsourcing to yet another coffee supplier, he took quality into his own hands by transitioning to an in‑house roasting program. This gave Lawrence and his team total control over the flavor of their coffees, perfectly pairing the selections with their pastry and baked goods menu.
, a corporate food service provider, experienced a similar epiphany. The company already controlled every other aspect of its menu, so why not the coffee? With an electric coffee roaster, the team has not only seen an improvement in the overall quality of their coffee, but also a significant increase in coffee sales.
Roasting coffee provides an unrivaled opportunity for quality control, coffee consistency, and the ability to gain a competitive advantage.
Start Roasting Coffee In‑House with the Bellwether Roaster
To improve the quality of your coffee, you need control over the sourcing and roasting processes.
The all‑electric Bellwether Roaster equips coffee shops to roast coffee in‑house with fully automated roast profiles.
Plus, with Bellwether’s Green Coffee Marketplace, café owners can access high‑quality, sustainably‑sourced coffee beans and build out an irresistible menu of consistent coffee drinks.