X-Café: Serving Consistent Quality in Every Cup
By SARAH THEODORE
Americans drink millions of cups of coffee a year – in fact, coffee is the world’s second-largest dollar volume commodity after petroleum. But the quality of coffee, especially through foodservice outlets, can be inconsistent, especially when manned by busy or inexperienced personnel. X-Café, based in Princeton, Mass., got into coffee extracts for just that reason and has built a business on RTD (or ready-to-dispense) coffees that allow foodservice operators to serve consistent quality in every cup.
The company recently completed an expansion of its Portland, Maine, production facility that increased its capacity to 10 million pounds of green coffee beans per year, or 3 million 8-ounce cups of coffee per day. The company produces 30-to-1 liquid coffee extracts in bag-in-box for the foodservice industry and 1,000-liter totes for ingredient use.
X-Café President Paul Kalenian says coffee extracts have existed for several hundred years, but never achieved the flavor and aroma of fresh-brewed coffee, until now.
“Most [extracts] are made the same way that instant is made, minus the dehydration step to make a powder or crystal,” Kalenian says. “We have developed an entirely new method using 100 percent arabica beans, fresh roasted and perfectly brewed into a 30-to-1 concentrated liquid, so the coffee has no instant notes whatsoever – because there is no instant ingredient. And we made it shelf stable – no need for refrigeration or freezing.”
Kalenian, along with his wife, Cathy, who serves as vice president of operations, founded X-Café in 2000. He says the soft drink industry, which created dispensing systems to ensure its products were served consistently in all locations, provided the model for X-Café’s business.
“We realized that in 1950 Coca-Cola had the same problem [that coffee has]. They sold an ingredient, mixed by hand, on demand by an army of ‘soda jerks’ who were not trained in consistent product quality,” Kalenian says. “Coke saved themselves through ‘post-mix equipment’ a.k.a. bag-in-box. We look to provide consistent quality through professional extraction, and Bunn (and others) have stepped up to the plate to provide accurate post-mix equipment for the coffee industry.”
The company patented its extraction process and set up shop in a 20,000-square-foot facility with a system that was designed to produce 600 gallons per day from freshly roasted coffee beans. “We considered it a prototype extraction facility,” Kalenian says. “We focused on product quality only, not energy efficiency or water recycling. Very simply, we needed to know if liquid coffee extracts had any market potential for repeat sales. In the first few years we grew rapidly, and we found that, in fact, there was an enormous market for perfectly brewed coffee available on demand for high- and low-volume foodservice applications.”
Having proved the market potential for its products, the company set its sights on those other issues. The new plant expansion gives it two independent production lines. Features of the new line include computer-controlled Diedrich Coffee Roasters; water-cooled coffee grinders with a capacity of 2,500 pounds per hour; a proprietary coffee extractor with a reverse-osmosis water purification system; and a fully computerized control computer to monitor it all. The company also has installed six new silos, which each hold 60,000 pounds of green coffee beans.
The new line also has been designed with energy efficiency and environmental concerns in mind, recycling 80 percent of the water used and recapturing 80 percent of the energy used. Environmentally conscious systems include the use of wastewater from the plant’s reverse-osmosis water purification system in a wet scrubber that provides pollution control for the two new coffee roasters. One hundred percent of the extracted coffee grind waste is de-watered and recycled through composting or biomass energy, which the company points out is equal to the 10 million pounds of green coffee it takes in each year. In addition, it says, Central Maine Power has awarded the company with a grant for its use of energy-efficient motors and VFD motor controls.
Most of X-Café’s clients include distributors of foodservice accounts. “[They] utilize our coffee bag-in-box program for accounts that could not possibly be serviced well by the typical roast and ground program – such as sports arenas, casinos, convention centers, healthcare, military, banquet facilities and cruise ships,” Kalenian says. “When our product is dispensed through the post-mix dispensers, 500 cups of coffee can be served without downtime.”
X-Café offers standard products such as 100 percent Arabica Colombian beans at medium and dark roast, in regular and decaffeinated versions. It also offers flavors such as Hazelnut and French Vanilla.
But Kalenian says just about any variety of custom product also can be produced through toll extraction for private label programs. “Send me your favorite beans or blend, and a ‘roast to sample’ and we capture the signature flavor and fragrance from them – this is what makes our company unique,” he says. “We have been able to serve Sumatra coffee ice cream, Costa Rican coffee ice cream, and Kenyan coffee ice cream, and coffee experts have been able to pick out the nation of origin because our method of extraction brings out the varietal taste characteristics of the green coffee bean.”
The company’s primary product sizes are half-gallon and 1-gallon bag-in-box for use in post-mix dispensers. However, 1,000-liter totes can be used for ingredient use in ice creams, ready-to-drink beverages, and other drinks.
Future plans for X-Café include an extraction facility on the West Coast to complement its Portland facility, and satellite plants outside of the United States. The company is currently looking into setting up its first international extraction facility, and has licensed distribution of individually packaged product for one-cup and one-pot service through Portion Pac, a division of HJ Heinz. BI