Earlier this year, Sophie, a past student wrote in asking about takeaway vs dine-in coffees and how much espresso should go into each one. I responded but I feel this is a topic that could be fleshed out a little more.
Beverage strength – the goal is consistency
Beverage strength is a tricky subject to tackle purely because every cafe is different and has the ability to set their own standards, but what should remain the same is that beverage strength should be consistent across all sizes served from dine-in to takeaway.
For the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to use the US customary unit system to keep the numbers smaller and easier to understand. For calculation purposes 1 fluid ounce (fl oz) = 30 mL.
Takeaway vs dine-in coffees
The problem exists mostly in “specialty cafes” where there is a disparity between dine-in and takeaway sizes. A typical specialty dine-in cup size is 6 oz (180 mL), a lot smaller than the typical 8 oz (240 mL) dine-in cups you see everywhere else.
The shift towards a smaller volume dine-in cup is not to cheat you out of milk, but to emphasise flavour balance above all else. Adding 2 or more ounces of steamed milk to a single shot of espresso would be enough drown out the flavour of the coffee and end up with what most people would describe as a “milky” coffee.
Taking a look at takeaway sizes, most takeaway cup manufacturers offer three standard sizes which are 8, 12 and 16 oz, often sold in Australian cafes as small, medium and large. You will rarely find 16 oz cups in a specialty cafe anyway, because honestly who wants nearly half a litre of milk?
The other major issue with takeaway cup sizing is that they are rarely what they are stated to be. They are often 1 to 2 fluid ounces (30 to 60mL) larger, again, compounding the issue further. An 8 oz cup is closer to 9 oz, a 12 oz is closer to 13 oz etc.
On recipe disparity
Let’s take a look at the 6 oz dine-in cup. Most cafes would typically add a single shot of espresso (30 mL or 1 oz) of espresso, and top up with 5 oz of steamed milk. This gives us a ratio of 1:5 or 16.7% coffee concentration (by volume).
Applying this same ratio of coffee to milk to an 8 oz cup this would require the barista to use 1.3 shots of espresso topped up with milk. For a 16 oz cup that number would increase to 2.7 shots of espresso.
If you’ve been to our Level 3 Advanced Barista Course, you’ll understand why this is literally impossible to do without making sacrifices to flavour and/or extraction when you have your grinder and espresso machine volumetrics dialed into your regular espresso recipe.
So, what do we do?!
Possible Solution 1 – Cut off short
The logical solution would be to cut the shot off earlier when it hits the desired mark, however, we know passing less water through the same amount of ground coffee would result in an espresso that is incredibly high in strength and extremely low in extraction yield (a measurement of how well we did dissolving the ground coffee in water).
Many cafes still practice this. In fact, I too was guilty of this practice this when I worked as a barista many years ago. These espresso bases although having the strength to cut through milk are intensely under-extracted and do not taste balanced.
So if cutting off shots earlier is not an ideal solution what other alternatives do we have?
Possible Solution 2 – Tip out
Well, we could allow the espresso machine to extract the espresso as per our regular espresso recipe and tip some out post-extraction. Whilst this solution allows you to nail your strength and extraction yield and makes for a better tasting drink, tipping out espresso is not accurate, messy and wastes time.
You could opt to use syringes for more accuracy but may draw a few raised eyebrows from customers. In short, impractical and inelegant, but definitely a step in the right direction to maintain flavour consistency between dine-in and takeaway coffees.
Possible Solution 3 – Banish the 8 oz cup!
The ideal solution, in my humble opinion, is to remove 8 and 16 oz cups from circulation and only sell exclusively 6 oz and 12 oz takeaway cups. This would allow you to maintain a consistent flavour experience between different sized takeaways but also the flavour experience between dine-in and takeaway coffees.
This solution is the preferred method of Axil Coffee Roasters according to head barista, Anthony Douglas. However speaking to Celine from Plantation in Melbourne Central, they’ve chosen to implement an entirely different solution.
Plantation gives customers a choice between 6, 8 and 12 oz takeaway cups. In their 6 oz cups, they serve a single espresso base as expected, but use double espresso bases for their 8 and 12 oz cups. This makes their 8 oz takeaway cup 8.3% stronger than their dine-in, 6 oz takeaway and 12 oz takeaway options. Although a little unorthodox, this is a compromise they have chosen to make as a business.
As you can see, the 8 oz takeaway cup is the problem middle child and there is no single solution to fixing the flavour disparity between dine-in and take away coffees. Every establishment has to figure out what works for them.