instant coffee

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. 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.

Instant coffee: First you snip it, then you dip it

Actually, to slightly misquote Carl Sagan, if you want to make instant coffee from scratch, you must first create the universe, and then you have to make a pot of coffee, and then you have to dry it out and add a bunch of chemicals in the process. And then you put it in a tin. And then you add water. So it’s not really instant at all. It’s only instant if you assume that the coffee process is all about having other people do the work for you. But despite this slightly more passionate than normal introduction, Instant coffee isn’t something I spend a lot of time thinking about (except when I suggest that it’s a sin). Why you’d want to drink the rehydrated dregs of old coffee is beyond me. But if it’s your cup of tea, then this instant coffee/straw/stirrer combo is probably right up your alley.

Via Yanko Design

Five cheap ways to exegete your area

Here’s one of those posts where I try to synchronise a few years working with a marketing and economic development agency with the realm of ministry. Hopefully it’ll be useful both to me, and to you…

I’ve been trying to figure the suburb of Clayfield out. It’s a tough one. I’m sure others I work with have faced the same quandary (Andrew, Simone and Kutz) for years.

Marketing is a confusing blend of guesswork and social science – with new theories cropping up all the time – most marketing budgets are limited, so most marketers spend a lot of time putting their advertising in places that will get the best bang for their buck. Because most churches don’t have big marketing budgets or the time to conduct thorough demographic research here are five ways that you can let them do the hard work for you, which in turn will help you understand the people you’re serving.

  1. Read local magazines and papers – if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that has a media outlet particular to your context have a look at what is being sold in the ads. Work out what kind of person buys those products. If your local newspaper features Tag Heuer watch ads you’re probably looking at an upper class suburb with high disposable incomes. Have a look at what stories are featured – editors keep their fingers on the community pulse, they talk to all sorts of people from your neighbourhood on a daily basis – the paper should be a reflection of the community’s values.
  2. Watch people in public places – What’s in the average shopping trolley? No frills or brand names? Battery eggs or free range? Are people making ethical decisions when they shop or financial ones? Are they eating healthy food or junk, are they buying microwave meals or the ingredients for some sort of substantial and prolonged culinary endeavour? You can learn a fair bit about people based on what they buy. Are people buying instant coffee – perhaps you should hold a coffee event and convict them of that sin, while pointing them to Jesus as the cure for all sin.
    I think you can get a good feel for a place by going somewhere busy and just sitting back and watching people. Sit in a cafe, on a park bench, or in a shopping centre and just watch the types of people who walk by, those who stop briefly, and those who also sit.
  3. What’s on the billboards – While billboards on main roads are for those driving through your suburb, they’re also for people from your suburb. Billboard advertising is purchased by location. It’s expensive (and mostly dumb – don’t advertise on a billboard – have you ever purchased something because you’ve seen it on a billboard (other than Coke)?). Advertisers don’t like spending money (unless they’re in government). They spend pointless money with some thought – the kind of product being advertised at a prominent intersection in your place probably has some relevance to the people living there.
  4. Talk to the owners of small business – Cabbies are a great source of insight in regional areas, or if you want a general state of play in a bigger centre (there’s no guarantee they’ll hail from your part of the city in Brisbane) – but small business owners have an interest in knowing what’s going on in their part of town. Their livelihood depends on it. Good business owners know their clientele, they know their repeat customers. Businesses like newsagents that deal with the same people every day are the best bet. When I was a networking function attendee in Townsville I would always talk to the bankers, the media ad space sellers, and cafe owners to get a feel for how things were going.
  5. Join a club or community group – head along to meetings featuring people from your area, join the P&C… contribute, but also watch and listen. What is going on where you live? What are the issues for people around you? How can you serve them practically? How can you hit them with the gospel?

Some bonus points for regional areas, unless there’s a suburb based equivalent these aren’t going to be that great for your specific context in a bigger city:

  1. Subscribe to newsletters from your regional economic development agency.
  2. Subscribe to newsletters from the Local Council.
  3. Join the Chamber of Commerce.
  4. Go to networking functions (who knows who you’ll be able to talk to about Jesus).
  5. Listen to local radio, especially talk back.

Incidentally, age demographics are dead as far as tourism marketing is concerned. Age is irrelevant (mostly). Place is also mostly irrelevant (except that it has a bearing on income). People want experiences that they can fit into the narrative of their lives. Postcard perfect photos are a thing of the past – you’ll find most tourism ads from here on in (thanks to some new market segmentation work produced by the state tourism body) will feature a mix of people enjoying different experiences.

People want a holiday they can go back and tell their friends about. Holidays aren’t about collecting photos of the seven wonders of the world anymore – they’re about doing something authentic, learning something new, or meeting interesting people from interesting cultures.

This new way of thinking is possibly relevant if you’re putting together an event for your neighbourhood – because I think events are similar to holidays.

But demographics still have an influence over where people live – you won’t find many low income students living in the austere realm of Ascot (think the upper class eastern suburbs) so understanding one’s geographic context is important when it comes to pitching events and sermon applications at people.

Can you drink instant coffee to the glory of God?

Mikey doesn’t think bad coffee is a sin. He’s like one of those self flagellating monks who thinks that enjoying painful things is character building. Here’s a list of things he is purposefully unsnobby about.

I’m more in the 1 Corinthians 10:31 camp. And I don’t think you can drink instant coffee for the Glory of God. I’d go further. Instant coffee is a corruption of God’s good creation. Coffee existed before the fall. Instant coffee is a product of an impatient generation looking for instant gratification. In fact – looking at Mikey’s list – I’d say that’s true for most of the things there…

His reasons for being unsnobby are admirable – but I don’t think it’s wrong to avoid bad versions of things when superior versions are available.

It enables you to be content wherever you are. It enables you to find joy in more things. It enables you to accept and enjoy the hospitality of anyone. It enables you to think a little less about yourself.

I haven’t found anybody who offers hospitality but not tap water – and I’d rather drink that.

Over to you Mikey.

Instant gratification

Those of you who don’t read the links in my daily links post may have missed my sneering references to Starbucks and its decision to start selling instant coffee. $1 a pop. In store. Coming soon.

This is a terrible mistake. Instant coffee – no matter how good the science behind it – is still dehydrated coffee being rehydrated. It’s got none of the elements of a good cup. Wikipedia has a breakdown of the process.

People in America can now get free samples via the Starbucks website. Yay for them.

I can’t understand why people drink instant coffee – other than that it’s instant if you’ve already got boiling water.

Here’s some startling US facts about instant from the Consumerist:

“The instant coffee market is bigger than you might think — accounting for 40% of the global coffee market. It’s less popular in the US than overseas, taking up only 9% of the US coffee market as opposed to 60% in Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United Kingdom.”

Starbucks is cutting stores and staff all over the world. And this is their solution. Budget, low quality coffee for those feeling the economic pinch. The launch has received coverage from the Times Online.

“Starbucks said last month that it would cut 6,700 of its 167,000 staff and shut about 1,000 under-performing outlets, as its after-tax profits for the three months to the end of December fell 69 per cent.”

Here are some more instant instant coffee facts… and a nice little quote about why this has “bad idea” written all over it.

“In the US, instant coffee is synonymous with cheap and tasteless. The global instant coffee market is worth $17.7 billion, just $700 million of which is sold in America. Instead, Americas drink brewed, or filter, coffee – 65 billion cups of it a year.”

“Starbucks, best known as the home of the $4 latte, is gambling its luxury brand by entering the instant coffee market. As John Quelch, a Harvard Business School professor, said: “Instant, soluble coffee has long been an unspeakable wasteland. Conventional wisdom would be that no premium brand should go near it.”

Update: From a second Times Online story.

“Starbucks reckons that 80 per cent of UK households have instant coffee, an £800 million market. Darcy Willson-Rymer, its UK manager, said that its new coffee would sit at the “premium, even super-premium” end … “We’re competing with instant coffee, but we’re comparing it to ground coffee.”

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