There’s much that goes in to a cup of your favourite coffee, and most of it happens well before a shot is even pulled. And like anything worth waiting for, it’s the preparation that sets the best brews apart from those that are less than satisfactory.
The holistic coffee production process is something bakery café business Muffin Break has been careful to astutely manage since it first set up shop in New Zealand in 1994. Not only is the bakery cafe’s specially developed and unique blend expertly brewed by highly trained baristas, its quality assurance procedures ensure the perfect bean before they’re even roasted.
Muffin Break’s Head of Coffee Jeremy Regan says the brand is acutely aware its coffee credentials play a huge role in keeping customers coming back. “Coffee drives around half our customers through the door,” Regan says, “so it’s a vital part of our business. In all the best coffee shops the coffee takes centre stage and that’s the case at Muffin Break.”
The journey to the Muffin Break cup begins well before the beans reach the espresso machine. The brand’s unique master blend is sourced from five different coffee growing regions worldwide, each delivering different qualities and flavour profiles. “Consistency is paramount. Each bean is carefully selected so when they combine as our signature blend they deliver a consistent and uniform taste profile our customers are used to and expect.”
In his quest for the perfect bean, Muffin Break’s master roaster visits at least one of the growing regions every year as well as brand stores around the world checking coffee quality and consistency.
Beans are graded as cherries and throughout processing are checked for size, defects and most of all flavour. Prior to shipping, samples are sent to the roasting team for assessment and then compared to the actual shipment.
Arabica is the bean of choice at Muffin Break. Grown at higher elevations and requiring more careful farming, they are considered higher grade and superior to Robusta delivering a smoother, less bitter flavour profile with more sweetness. To ensure consistent quality, the beans are roasted for every single Muffin Break store in a state of the art facility in Melbourne and air freighted to New Zealand weekly. The proof of course is in the cup. The blend was developed in the early 2000s and has certainly proved its popularity with customers, Regan says.
Back at the coffee face, it’s the baristas who can make or break the drinking experience for lovers of the popular beverage. “So that’s where we spend a lot of quality time, helping them perfect their technique,” Regan says.
Muffin Break baristas begin with an intensive online training course before they are even allowed to touch an espresso machine. Training completed, they then spend time with an experienced barista, learning and practising extraction and milk texturing techniques. “This is all part of the Muffin Break accredited barista training,” Regan says. “How long depends on the staff member’s skills and capabilities – sometimes it is weeks, sometimes it takes a little longer.”
As an ongoing barometer of skills, Muffin Break uses its annual barista competition as a compliance check for the standard of coffee across 257 stores throughout Australia and New Zealand. Baristas are tested on their creativity, latte art, tasting, sensory, teamwork and communication skills.