It never hurts to review the fundamentals, especially when it comes to something as basic—and important—as coffee. We asked Robb Wyss, Executive Chef at Illini Country Club, Springfield, Ill., to share some insights for how he gets the most bang from his beans.
Q: What do you look for in a good cup of coffee?
A: I always look for the crema, or “white ring,” around the outside of my coffee mug. This is the oxygen or froth from the water surfacing. This ensures that you are drinking a full-bodied, properly brewed fresh cup of coffee. It is usually predominant in espresso, due to the psi or force applied in the brewing stage, but it can also be present in coffee brewing. As far as the flavor profile, I enjoy drinking deeper-roasted beans that have a certain nutty quality and aroma.
Q: When buying beans, what should you look for?
A: Verify that the distributor is properly rotating out the older packs of beans—and if you buy whole beans, make sure they are calibrating your grinder at least once a quarter. Check that all of the vacuum-pack seals are still airtight upon delivery. And if there is no date labeled on the bag, you should ask about a roast date.
Q: What do your members expect when they order coffee?
A: As with anything, our members’ tastes vary. Finding a good balance is key. If you use a bean that has too dark of a roast, then you run the chance of members saying that it is too bitter. If you use a bean that has a lighter roast, then members think that it is too “weak” or diluted. We use beans that offer the best of both worlds; I’ve found that the European and Columbian roasts work best for our club. Stay away from the Sumatran, African and Nile varietals of bean; they are typically too bold for this market.
Q: How do you market your coffee drinks?
A: We have a nice digital espresso machine that is very user-friendly. As long as you clean it properly every day, it practically runs itself. Our full-time bartender is responsible for its maintenance, and we have placed it behind the bar for the membership to see. We sell lattes, cappuccinos, espressos with flavorings such as caramel, white chocolate, vanilla and one seasonal flavor. We print these drinks alongside our dessert menu for a great way to enhance our daily pastries and dessert offerings.
Q: How do you cross-utilize coffee in the kitchen?
A: We use coffee crust for game meats, steeping coffee for sauces such as red-eye gravy (view recipe here) and mostly desserts—gelato and anglaise sauces are most successful for us.
Q: Can you offer any food-coffee pairing suggestions?
A: Dark-roasted beans pair really well with bitter chocolate, while the lighter-roast beans pair well with more semi- or milk chocolate.