How to do (good) coffee at church

This post is a response to a request on Twitter, but hopefully it’ll be a handy little resource for the long term…

There are lots of good reasons to ditch instant coffee at church morning teas – it tastes awful, it potentially reveals a shoddy doctrine of creation (and is one of the 7 deadly coffee sins), it’s (generally) less likely to be ethical, and doing coffee well is a chance to show your newcomers (and regulars) that you care about them.

Did you know that “no es cafe,” essentially nescafe means “is not coffee” in Spanish…

Anyway. Once you’ve decided to ditch the dirt from the church menu – you’re faced with a few conundrums.

Here are the three big questions (and some sub questions that’ll each send you in a different direction).

Some Questions

1. Who is it for? New people, or everyone? free? or paid? Covering costs? Making a profit?

2. What’s your budget? Are you going to buy a commercial machine with all the bells and whistles? lease one? Get a second hand ex-cafe machine on eBay? Get a giant percolator? And where are you going to get your beans? The supermarket (urgh)? A local roaster (mmm)? Roast your own? Will they be “ethical”? What program will you use (you know Fairtrade is stupid. Right?)

3. Who is going to run things? Who’ll man the machine? Who’ll do the training? Who’ll monitor supplies? Who’ll clean up?

Some Answers

The answers to these questions will depend largely on your church context – who your immediate mission field is and how many people you have who are able to help carry the load.

Here are some universal principles for answering these questions and providing good coffee at church – you can read more about these in my five steps to better coffee eBook for just $5… That’s right. $5.

1. Fresh coffee is best. Both roasted, and ground – that’s why I’d lean towards roasting your own, or getting into some sort of relationship with a roaster. You’ll probably need to buy a grinder, or, if you’re going the percolator route – get your coffee ground for your percolator as close to when you brew as possible.

2. Consistency is important. If you’re going to sell your coffee at church and you want to use the money to sustain a coffee ministry (in our case this happens at things like the playgroup that our building hosts during the week), then you want the product you’re offering to be trustworthy and good.

3. If you’re going to buy a second hand machine – choose carefully. I’ve now bought six used commercial machines on eBay for a 4-2 scoreline (priced between $270 and $750 excluding freight) – two were lemons (one was a lemon where the spare parts more than justified the cost), one needed pretty major work to get up and running.

4. If you go with a commercial espresso machine you have to think about incidental issues like electricity and water supply – some machines will happily draw from a tank (generally those with rotary motors), others might need plumbing in. Most will need 15A and above, power wise (the normal run of the mill socket is 10A).

5. Don’t make people pay. I’m a firm believer that hospitality is an important part of what we do on a Sunday both for the congregation and our guests. I’m not opposed to providing a “premium” option at a cost, if there’s a free option also.  

A percolator using the right amount of fresh coffee, appropriately roasted, with attention paid to the brew cycle (where it isn’t left to stew for too long), will produce brilliant coffee with less fuss, less mess, and at a cheaper cost. So that is a more than adequate solution in most cases. But if you’d like something a little more high brow…

Two Case Studies

I’ve now set up Sheila (one of my pride and joys), my three group Rancilio Z-11 beast, at two different churches. Sheila, a tank (google Red V Blue, Season 1), is from an era when people knew how to make coffee machines. At one point I had rewired her to run on 10A power, but this meant she took 45 minutes to heat up. She’s now properly serviced, and running at full capacity on our coffee cart at Creek Road.

The first church, Clayfield Pressy, was a church of around 50 people, in a relatively high income pocket of Brisbane, there was just one morning service to cater for – it was a no brainer to make coffees for the 65% of the crowd who drink it, most weeks. I supplied the coffee at no cost (I roasted it myself), we had a small Sunbeam grinder, or I’d bring mine from home, and we upped the weekly milk order by two or three bottles.

Because the coffee was free, there was no need to provide an alternative option. I’d estimate I was going through about $5 worth of coffee a week, at cost (roasting for yourself is much cheaper – depending on the scale of your operation), and 8-10 litres of milk (I was also doing hot chocolates).

After I left, Clayfield purchased a relatively new Boema machine – they’re Australian made. I have no idea how often it gets used now.

Sheila came with me to Creek Road. For the first ten months or so of last year, she occupied pride of place in our Connect Lounge – the first port of call for newcomers at our church. We supplied coffee in that lounge after all three services.

Regulars who attend our 8:30 service, which is followed by morning tea, were supplied with percolator coffee made in a big percolator/urn (I’m relatively fond of these, given a light roast, and coarse grind). I was roasting for both the newcomers lounge, and the percolator. We were using about 1kg of coffee a week.

We’ve made the decision – thanks to some equally passionate people on staff at Creek Road, to invest into coffee as part of our ministry strategy. We’re keen to not only supply coffee to newcomers, but to be able to get on the road and support local chaplains by providing coffee at school functions, and we want to offer coffee at our “connect” ministries (the aforementioned playgroups, our annual mission week/kids club). So we’ve purchased a 2nd grinder, and a semi-commercial machine (new) for the Connect Lounge, and set up a coffee cart, featuring Sheila, for the congregation to be able to purchase this coffee for $3 a pop after all our services (and before all but the 8:30 service) – this will fund the operation of these ministries and hopefully the investment into equipment. We’re continuing to provide percolator coffee at morning tea.

I’m no longer roasting – we’ve entered into an agreement with Cleanskin Coffee, a Brisbane company, that roasts well chosen ethical coffee, spends some of the proceeds on development in producing companies, and gives us a generous price, as well as the promise of training for our baristas should they need it. This has been a good solution for us – it frees up some of my time to do other things, and means we’re getting consistently good coffee in a way that adequately answers the relevant questions from above.

It also means we can produce coffee that looks something like this, at church… as part of the testimony to how we love and value our newcomers… did someone mention ethos

Some Recommendations

So what have I learned from these case studies… and the countless hours I’ve poured into making better coffee.

1. People appreciate good coffee (especially if it’s free) – especially the particular breed of person who is a bit snobby about coffee. We live in an age where people are increasingly taking good coffee for granted – I’m not suggesting we give in to fads and trends, but surely we can do better than International Roast.

2. It takes effort – time, human resources, money – it’s a big commitment to step up from urn to espresso for visitors to espresso for everybody.

3. It’s important to be transparent – both in terms of where your coffee is coming from, and where any money is going.

4. Be choosy about the equipment you buy – If you’re going to buy a commercial machine look at parts sites to make sure parts for your machine are readily available. Coffeeparts.com.au is your friend. I love my Rancilio machine – I’ve bought an Expobar, 2 Boemas, and 3 Rancilios. The only problem with the Rancilio that didn’t work is that it requires plumbing in – other than that it’s a 20 year old machine that works perfectly.

5. Seriously consider leasing – Buying your gear is probably the best bet, if you can find some good second hand deals that aren’t complete lemons, but finding a bean supplier who is prepared to cut you a good deal on a lease machine, especially if you’re going to use it a fair bit during the week will give you some more predictable costs (though they’ll be higher in the long run if you score a gem of a machine – Sheila cost me about $750 from the point of purchase to the point of pouring delicious shots), it’ll mean your machine is newer, more reliable, and maintenance is often included.

6. People will drink less than you think they will – except when you under cater – Figuring how much coffee to roast and how much milk to buy is a bit of a lottery.

7. It’s pretty cheap to make good coffee if you’re not paying staff – Some basic maths – a standard take away cup (8 ounce) holds 250mL. Pouring a standard espresso shot that means 220mL of milk. This is textured milk – so it’s lets assume that’s about 150 mL of milk per cup. That means you get 13 cups per litre. Which, at $1 a litre means you’re paying about 7c a cup for milk, an 18-20gm dose in a double shot basket (lets assume 20), will give you 100 shots per kilo of coffee, if you’re paying $25/kg (I can roast you coffee at that price), you’re looking at 25c per shot, factor in about 20c for a cup and lid (that’s on the high side) and we’re talking 52c per cup.

8. A simple menu is the best way to ensure consistency – this is the one thing I didn’t get my way on with our current set up. Differences between types of coffees, if you’ve only got one cup size, are essentially meaningless if you’re aiming for microfoamed milk. Sure. You could add some chocolate powder to a long white with microfoam and call it a cappuccino – but flat whites, lattes, and cappuccinos are essentially indistinguishable if your milk is a uniform texture (or as close to as possible). If I had my way we’d offer short/long black/white – giving people a total of four combinations (a long black, a short black, a picolo, and a flat white). This would cut down on stupidity as people ask for whatever their normal coffee order is, and your volunteer baristas stand there scratching their heads trying to figure out how to make a macchiato. It means you only have to train people to make four drinks.

Coffee and ministry

I wrote about the sin of instant coffee a few weeks ago – if your church is still serving International Roast at morning tea and wondering why all the young people are heading down the road to the nearest espresso machine wielding pentecostal church – then I am here to help. Vicariously (or possibly directly).

The other night we trekked out to Ipswich to make coffee at a church function. We’ve done a few events around the traps and it is always pretty warmly received. We’re still trying to figure out how to cost our services. So if you’re someone responsible for putting on church events or budgeting for them I’d love to know what you think the provision of good coffee is worth… but if you’re running a church event and you have a machine available and you want to know about quantities then this is the post for you.

Neil Atwood from Ministry Grounds (in Sydney) has a 2 group machine he makes available for hire for events. In his paperwork on the hire page he gives the following quantities to help you budget for your event. They’re a pretty good yardstick. I tend to go with single shots rather than doubles – mostly because I do most of my events in the evening, and a lot of people don’t drink coffee at night. Hot chocolate tends to be twice as popular as coffee at these events.

Coffee
We recommend that you built your event around serving double shot drinks. This is because: a) For most people it’s much easier to pull a good double shot than a single. b) The taste profile of a good double is usually much better than a single.
If a single is required (ie: someone requests a ‘weak coffee’) , you can use a double spout portafilter and let the output from one spout run into the drip tray.
On that basis, you will get approximately 50 double shots from each kilo of coffee. If you decide to serve singles, your will get double that quantity.
Milk
On the basis of using 8oz disposable cups (8oz = 240ml), using double espresso shots, and making a flat white or cappuccino/latte, you will need around 200ml of milk for each drink. That means you will need 10 litres of milk per 50 milk coffees served. If you are serving hot chocolates, you will need to allow around the same amount of milk per 8oz cup. You can use whatever milk you prefer, but most people can’t tell the difference between full cream and lite white!

If you’re a church in Brisbane looking to hire a coffee machine, beans, and a barista for an event fill out the contact form on my coffee page.

Seven Deadly Coffee Sins


Having just returned from our college weekend away I’m convinced of many things – this is not the chief amongst them – but it is important nonetheless. Bad coffee is a sin. Mikey has spent the last couple of days blogging about coffee (and here). But he’s said a few things I disagree with – chief amongst these is that you should drink instant coffee in certain situations, he also suggests that if you want good coffee you should go to a cafe.

Bad coffee is a sin. Good coffee is good hospitality. Having lugged my 100kg machine up Mount Tambourine to provide good coffee for my college brethren I want to take a stand on this matter and provide the seven cardinal sins of coffee. I hope this list will contain some helpful tips for people wanting to avoid the sin of bad coffee in their ministry… when it comes to coffee there are sins of omission and sins of commission.

  1. The sin of Instant Coffee – Instant coffee is the chief among the cardinal sins of church hospitality. We are so far past the need to provide instant coffee at church events that its like putting songs on an overhead projector rather than data projector. There are degrees of coffee sin – International Roast is not coffee at all. Do not serve instant coffee in your church or house. This is not loving. Buy a plunger – source some real beans – or stick with tea. It is better to offer tea than to risk offending your guest with instant.
  2. The sin of Stale coffee – Instant coffee is bad, real coffee served stale is only marginally better. Coffee starts going stale almost as soon as it is ground. As soon as those particles of coffee start feeling a breath of fresh air the coffee is going stale. It’s a chemical reaction. It’s unavoidable. Don’t buy your coffee from the freezer. Don’t buy your coffee in volumes you can’t consume in a week. Don’t put your ground coffee in the freezer, don’t buy ground coffee. Grind it yourself. The closer to roasting the better. Coffee beans need to rest for a couple of days after roasting – but once that time has passed it’s a case of the sooner the better when it comes to consumption.
  3. The sin of off, or burnt, milk – Nothing ruins a good coffee like off milk. Read Ben’s account here. Burning the milk is inexcusable – if you can’t tell that your milk is too hot by touch then get out of the game or buy a thermometer.
  4. The sin of burnt coffee – Burnt coffee (or “over roasted ash” like Starbucks sell) is bad coffee. Burnt coffee under the guise of “quality control” in the roasting process is unforgivable. It’s one thing to have a machine that runs hot – or to use water hotter than 98 degrees in your plunger – it’s another thing entirely to produce black beans intentionally. Which is what Starbucks do. They roast any original (as in “of origin”) characteristics out of their beans so that they can produce a consistent flavour using beans from different origins. Unfortunately this results in consistently bad coffee.
  5. The sin of unethical coffee – I am yet to find “ethical” instant. It might exist. But coffee is not like eggs. I’m happy to buy caged eggs, but I won’t drink coffee produced by the slave like conditions of many mass production focused coffee plantations. This doesn’t mean I’m a fan of “Fairtrade” coffee – ethical coffee has many labels – and I’d much prefer “relationship” or “direct trade” coffee given the choice, and Rainforest Alliance stuff failing that. If the church wants to take social and culinary responsibilities seriously there is just no place for instant or unethical coffee to be served from your church kitchen or conference.
  6. The sin of adding sugar – This one is not so serious – but unnecessary sugar is bad for your health and my mum always said if you were not adult enough to enjoy coffee (or tea) without sugar you were not adult enough to enjoy coffee.
  7. The sin of not sharing the gospel of coffee – Mikey made one valid point – if you’re going to be a coffee snob at a conference be a coffee snob who shares. Bring some for everybody. Sharing the gospel of good coffee is not only good for the hearer – but for the friends of hearers also. Instant coffee will not disappear if people aren’t shown the light. The principles of good coffee are simple and easy to share – and good coffee done well will actually be cheaper than good coffee bought from cafes. Good coffee saves money – even taking into account the cost of equipment.

Someone on camp asked me how much my coffee habit “costs” me – it doesn’t cost me. It saves me. Before I started roasting my own beans I was buying two large coffees a day at $4 each. That’s $56 a week. $2912 a year (if you take into account the one coffee my wife would drink a day it’s $4368 a year).

18gms of coffee is required to create a single double shot of espresso. That means you get 55 coffees per kilo (assuming you waste none). The average boutique roaster sells 1kg of coffee for $30. That’s $1.80 for two shots. That’s $1300 a year for the coffee part of my four shot a day habit (milk is also expensive and should be taken into account). By home roasting rather than buying supermarket beans (or boutique beans from artisan roasters) I’m saving about $18 a kilo (including the cost of the roaster). Which means converting to coffee snobbery is cutting my personal cost of coffee down from $2912 a year to less than $520 per year. The $600 I’ve spent on my machine, $475 I spent on my roaster and $600 I spent on my grinder has paid for itself in less than a year (not to mention the money it has made me through selling coffees).

There really is no excuse to drink bad coffee, and less excuse to drink instant.