Quality control at café level means creating a standard for products, performance and systems, maintaining that standard by consistent attention and correction. The more retail locations you have, the stronger the QC program you need.
One of the primary faults that many cafes have is that different batch sizes taste drastically different during the course of the day. Even when brew formulas are consistent within the range of batch sizes, each size may not have been dialed-in on the brewer, causing gross inconsistencies throughout the day.
Often each side of the double-brewers has not been calibrated similarly, causing issues with poor maintenance of batch quality. This requires knowledge and strict QC management of brewer performance.
This is why having the right tools is important. A TDS (total dissolved solids) monitor or refractometer is essential to any QC program in coffee. The ability to know the TDS in your coffee and espresso is the ability to create physical data with tangible, trackable pars to create real targets to hit on a daily basis.
Tasting is important but it is not enough. Start by having a designated QC person. Then have them give a “Café Review”.
Show up to the café unannounced - often employees hide mistakes and utilize best practices if they know QC is coming. You’d be amazed what you discover in the first 10 minutes of an unannounced visit.
Boy Scout Style
Be prepared - bring a focused form for investigating the following variables:
Products – coffee and milk: check they are correct, not expired, being rotated properly (FIFA), and stored properly
Espresso equipment – pump and boiler pressure, consistent temperature on group heads, condition of gaskets and screens, water filter is current.
Grinders - dosing correctly, blades are sharp etc.
Brewing equipment – condition
Brewed product – every item must be tasted and tested; TDS readings must be recorded and compared to past readings
Life Vest Style
Be supportive - score the café based on all factors and review with the store manager immediately. This way there is no time to explain away inconsistencies as all items can be seen in plain sight. This part of the exercise is not to discipline the manager, but to show them where they need improvement and what is holding them back from a perfect score.
Quality control is not just about telling people what they’re doing wrong but about rewarding them when they do well and supporting those that need to step it up.
In my view it is not only the café’s failure if standards are not met but the QC as well. QCs need to help show the road to improvement and be able to train or develop tools to achieve these goals.