Brewing a great cup of coffee is an art and a science.
One of the most important products coming from your operation — one your establishment's quality will be judged by — is coffee. Customers have become more discerning in the quality expectations for this beverage. The equipment you use plays a big part in the quality of coffee product you serve. It used to be that coffee brewing just involved spraying hot water over ground beans for a set amount of time. The coffee was just drip brewed with unsophisticated equipment and held in simple urns at a set temperature. Current machines are more sophisticated to allow operators to achieve their desired taste profile with precise temperatures and a variety of brew times and product volumes. The latest coffee equipment you should consider offers more science to the art of coffee making.
Coffee can be brewed in large batches in urns or smaller batches in decanters or pots. Makers range in size from a single one-half gallon decanter unit to very large banquet urns. The small decanter or bottle brewers have been around for decades and will serve well. An alternative many smaller operations are using are insulated shuttles which transport well and dispense product easily through a faucet. These shuttles are great for moveable buffets. Another popular serving method is the airpot or thermal dispenser. Airpots are completely sealed and insulated like a thermos and can hold temperature and quality for hours. Attractive and easy for customers to operate, airpots are excellent for serving a variety of specialty or flavored coffees since a group of airpots can be held on a rack, making merchandising easy. These portable containers are often one to three liters but can be two or three gallons or more for extra high volume needs as noted below. Airpots are sanitary and easy for customers pouring their own coffee in a buffet or quick service application.
If you plan on holding coffee more than about 20 minutes you should use an airpot or thermal dispenser rather than a traditional decanter. While you can't hold coffee forever in an airpot, it will extend the serving life of your product.
The move up in coffee volume from a decanter is to an urn, most likely a double three gallon size used in many medium- to large-size restaurants. A few manufacturers make smaller urns, but the most popular is the twin three gallon unit. Some manufacturers have started making portable thermal dispensers for these larger urns. A common purchasing mistake is buying too large a coffee maker. A twin three gallon urn can make enough for over 700 cups of coffee per hour and a single brew in one urn can generally serve one seating for a 100 seat restaurant. If your operation needs to deal effectively with decaf coffee or any other special blends or flavored coffees, consider having multiple portable thermal dispensers for different brews.
Making a Great Brew
To brew a great cup of coffee, you must start with a quality roasted bean. To make the most of your roast, you need an optimal balance of flavor extraction from the ground beans. Some of the technologies you should expect in the newer coffee equipment include precise extraction control and water temperature monitoring.
Experts say water should be at exactly 200°F for the best brew. And for the best coffee flavor, it must be held at not more than 185°F. Accurate temperature control is a must. Specially designed spray discs like shower heads drip hot water droplets at the proper rate to have the optimum balance of brew strength and extraction.
Some manufacturers have features that spray water intermittently over the coffee for optimal extraction. Others have a pre-wetting cycle to saturate the grounds and ensure a full even extraction and the perfect cup of coffee. Calibration and fine tuning of the timing and water spray are easy for the operator to do on many of the latest models.
Programmable machines allow restaurateurs to change the flavor of different types of coffee by varying brew time and volume of coffee made. Look for these controls and understand how to use them.
Beyond the right equipment and good coffee beans, there are two other factors you can't overlook if you want to serve the greatest cup of joe in your neighborhood — the quality of your water and the cleanliness of your equipment.
The urn, pot, or decanter should be rinsed after each batch of coffee made. Then after each shift, the machine must be thoroughly cleaned to keep the equipment in proper working condition and remove any possible contaminants that may affect coffee taste. Never allow coffee or grounds to remain in an urn or pot overnight. Deliming the machine's water tank periodically will maintain top heating efficiency.
If you want to make your operation known for a great cup of coffee, one item, water quality, cannot be overemphasized. Water quality can be ensured inexpensively, but if you neglect this, it can make or break your beverage. When you think about it, a cup of coffee has just two ingredients, coffee and water. About 98% of what is in each cup you sell is water, so it is imperative to treat your water like a valuable resource. If not, you can't provide the best cup of coffee even with using the best ground product on the market. Getting a high quality water filter that removes minerals and impurities is as important as getting a good ground coffee or coffee maker.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. Bendall can be reached at 301-926-8181.