Chef Bryan-David Scott wants restaurants to cash in on Americans’ demand for a better cup of joe.
Walk into your restaurant, sit down at a table and order a cup of coffee. Consider its aroma, taste and presentation. Then ask yourself: Can you do better?
Chefs and restaurant owners are challenged every day to cut costs and stretch a dollar, and there is a master list of vitals where cutting corners is never acceptable; but coffee is rarely on it. In fact, the simple cup of joe is often one of the first sources of savings that food managers deploy.
That mindset is a mistake, says Chef Bryan-David Scott, who believes that chefs across America are grossly underestimating the market potential of offering premium coffee options to their diners. “Americans are looking— they’re literally on a quest—to find the best coffees. And we know it’s the one product that has grown sometimes into the double digits annually despite the condition of the country,” he says. “That’s because there are three things that people are not willing to give up: their liquor, their tobacco or their coffee.”
A former championship boxer, Scott started in the coffee business as a broker before realizing that the market in Seattle— although saturated—was sorely lacking any premium options. He also found that customers were willing to pay for a higherend coffee experience. Soon, he developed his own brand with a vetting process that borders OCD. Judging on appearance, flavor, richness and complexity, an independent panel of 34 chefs, sommeliers and coffee experts must give each roasted bean a unanimous five-star rating in order to be accepted.
The result is a line of rare and exclusive coffee blends that wholesale anywhere from $300 to $899 per pound. In October, Scott released his rarest coffee yet in honor of the legendary Enzo Ferrari. With only 23 kilograms produced all season, it fetches a price of $1,800 per pound.
Scott’s work has led his brand, Cup of Luxury, to become the first company to win the Luxury Coffee Roaster of the Year Award and sweep all four categories: appearance, aroma, taste, finish. While his elite coffees target the likes of celebrities, world-class chefs, sommeliers and coffee connoisseurs who can afford such price tags, he insists that mid-tier and fine dining restaurants can increase their own sales by re-evaluating their in-house coffee program.
“The thing I love about coffee, it’s such a gentle and almost romantic way of connecting with others. People say, let’s meet for a cup of coffee, and there’s intimacy there. It brings people together,” says Scott. “But if you’re serving mediocre coffee and using mediocre means to prepare that coffee—people in America expect more now. I would dare say they’re demanding a greater coffee at the end of their dining experience, which can ultimately increase dessert sales, too.”
Scott says Americans want to buy higher-end coffees, but they simply have not been given that option. That’s one reason why he recently launched RED, a premium luxury blend that wholesales for just $29 per pound—$5 of which is donated to the American Red Cross at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and then Scott himself matches that $5 from his own profit. “That way, the majority of the money goes directly to our veterans, and I thought what a huge impact we can make for the men and women who are coming back from the Armed Forces and are suffering mentally or physically,” says Scott, who notes that marketing materials are included with RED so customers know the cause it supports. “I know with certainty that there are other chefs and industry professionals that are just as passionate about this country as I am. I hear it a lot: ‘Hey, I’m a chef, what can I do for our veterans?’ So this is an opportunity for them to partner not only with me but directly with Walter Reed to say, it’s not always about making a buck; sometimes it’s about giving a buck.”
Yes, it’s socially responsible and charitable, Scott says, but it also makes business sense. He maintains that offering a more premium coffee option can warrant a price increase of 50-60 cents per cup. For the consumer, he says, that’s a small price to pay for a much greater experience.
Chefs can justify even higher margins if they play with presentation, such as serving coffee in a French press—a relatively small investment that yields maximum flavor as well as price point. “I always advocate for the French press because it is the most pure and perfect way to prepare coffee,” he says. “Plus, it looks good, it adds style, it’s entertaining for the patrons, and it also commands a higher price. I’ve seen restaurants charge $15 for a French press shared between two people, which will yield four cups of coffee. So it’s definitely the way to go because you’re adding perceived value.” Note that water temperature is extremely vital for success, as the coffee must be brewed at no less than 195 degrees—or else its oils will not be extracted—but it cannot exceed 205 degrees.
Ultimately, Scott believes that any restaurant can keep its diners loyal and even attract newcomers with a unique, quality coffee offering that can’t be found anywhere else in town. And while many suspect that the American palate can’t discern between a fine and mediocre brew, Scott vehemently disagrees.
“If the aroma is intense, like nothing else they’ve tasted before; and if the flavor is incredible, so there’s no bitterness or aftertaste; then they’re willing to buy it,” he says. “And even though your cost went up (in the restaurant), the price goes up, too, and it’s justified because Americans are willing to pay for premium-quality products as long as they’re within a few cents of what they normally pay.”
But don’t stop at the ubiquitous cup of joe, he urges. Coffee allows chefs to get creative with endless options when it comes to specialty coffee drinks: alcoholic or non-alcoholic; frozen or hot; sweet or savory. “There are so many directions you can go,” he says. In fact, Scott—a classically trained chef—earned his nickname, The Coffee Chef, after being credited by top chefs and celebrities for the myriad ways in which he infuses the beans into his most delectable dishes. That led to a line of coffee-infused sauces and rubs that he now sells wholesale on his website. Some of his most popular are: Black Label, a classic standard smoked espresso rub with traditional brown sugar, red pepper and other herbs and spices; Red Dragon, a traditional Chinese blend with crushed sea salt, Blue Agave, hot Hungarian paprika and crushed cayenne; and RED, his spiciest coffee rub made with Private Estate Costa Rican coffee, crushed red pepper, aged Kentucky Bourbon, Moroccan salt and other secret ingredients.
To get chefs started, Scott offers endless coffee-infused food recipes to members of his (freeto- join) Celebrity Chef Alliance, including Black Label Espresso Ice Cream; Espresso-Vanilla Biscotti basted with cocoa-based rum; and handmade Espresso Pasta.
“There are hundreds, even thousands of ways you can really play with coffee. You have the beans, you’ve got brews and all the different grinds—and every one of those creates a different experience potential,” says Scott, whose culinary-coffee infusions have him serving as a celebrity chef ambassador for brands like Kitchenaid Commercial, Buy- Wine.com and Bear Republic Brewing Company.
“Coffee is a great natural modifier. You can increase the smokiness of a product—you don’t need to use smoked paprika every damn time. Instead, how about sprinkle in some fresh roasted Costa Rican, or use the French press to make a bad-ass espresso ice cream?
“As culinary artists, chefs have a gift in transforming food from mundane and basic into something that is magnificent. So I challenge them to use that creative ability with coffee. Just go in the kitchen and have fun.”