Making the Brew Lab bar

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The bar at Brew Lab is the main focal point of the whole shop, it will be the centre of our coffee making, it'll hold the Slayer, the Uber Boiler, the brew bar and display all our food. Because of this, we wanted to make sure the bar itself was going to be something quite special, and of course we wanted to make sure the layout was the best it could be for barista workflow, and for customer experience. To create a bar that stands out and is unique, we needed a material that was a bit different. We wanted it to look monolithic, we wanted it to act as a blank canvas for the coffee making that would take place on top of it, and we wanted a material that would work against the rest of the surfaces in the shop, and age gracefully. To achieve this, we decided to go for a concrete bar as we would be able to create an illusion of one monolithic concrete block. It's also a very plain material that would enable to coffee making equipment to stand out. Finally, as concrete ages, it develops a beautiful patina that would start to blend into the rest of the finishes in the shop.

Casting one concrete slab for the bar wasn't an option as it would be too heavy to be supported by a timber frame, and would require extra strengthening to the floor. We needed a way to cast the concrete, but keep it light at the same time. It just so happened that there was a concrete specialist on our doorstep called Gray Concrete. The guys at Gray concrete are able to create a hollow shell of concrete, cast into any shape you want. This was brilliant as we would be able to cast in cut outs for equipment, as well as have a light bar that would sit on top of a timber frame.

The final design of the bar took a lot of development. It wasn't as simple as having one bar top cast and then placing equipment where ever we needed it. Cut-outs were needed for the Uber Boiler, milk pitcher rinser and knock-out chute, and holes for water and power for the Slayer and grinders. First we sketched the bar layout on paper to work out exactly what equipment was needed and where it would sit. Next we headed down to the beach to draw out the bar area in 1:1 scale to check there was enough room for staff and customers. Finally we drew out the bar in masking tape on the floor of my flat to check the position of the equipment and cut-outs, and then created a life-size version out of foam board to check the equipment would fit, and to check the overall height.

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Once we were happy with the final layout, we drew out the final dimensions and ran them past the architect. This was then drawn up in CAD by Gray Concrete. From the CAD drawing, Gray Concrete made an inverse mould out of MDF. There were three separate pieces of the bar top, each needed to be correct to the millimetre to make sure everything fitted. After the moulds were made, the casting began. The casting process involves spraying layers and layers of concrete onto the mould over the space of a few hours. The first coat is the most important, as this is the final finish of the bar top. After that, each layer adds strength to the structure.

Once spraying is finished, the top is left to dry, and then broken out of the mould. The surface is then rubbed and polished to a smooth finish.

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Back at the shop, our contractor Allan was busy constructing the bar carcass. This had to match the top perfectly, for obvious reasons. Allan also had to make sure all the services like water and electricity were in the right places for the equipment on top, as well as making sure the supports were in the right places so we could fit fridges, filters, pumps and shelves under the bar.

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Once the carcass was finished, Gray Concrete brought the concrete up from Granton and fitted it. The very first thing they did was place the three castings that made up the top on the carcass to make sure they fitted. They did. And the god of concrete was praised. After that, MDF was fitted to the bottom of the concrete, this would act as support for the carcass to hold the concrete. Following that, the concrete cladding was fitted to the front of the bar, the edges were grouted, and the bar was finished!

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Once the shop is finished, the floor will be used as skirting to the bar and rise up to just below the cladding, with a 75mm shadow gap which will give the impression the bar is floating.