Consumers are getting to be ever more discerning in the quality expectations of their coffee. It used to be that high volume coffee was just drip brewed with unsophisticated equipment and held in simple urns. The latest coffee equipment you should consider for your restaurant offers more science to the art of coffee making.
Commercial coffee 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 is shuttles which are insulated, 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. Airpots are attractive and easy for customers to operate. They 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. Serving from an airpot is sanitary and can make it 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.
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 made by operators is to buy too large a coffee maker. A twin three gallon urn can make enough for over 6-700 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 which are becoming more and more popular you will need to consider having multiple portable thermal dispensers to accommodate the different brews.
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. Water should be just around 200°F for the best brew.
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. Look for these controls and understand how to use them.
If you want to make your operation known for a great cup of coffee, one item, water quality, cannot be overemphasized. 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 you don't, 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 coffee or coffee maker.
Using today's equipment can make a big difference in the quality of the coffee your guests enjoy. Compare equipment features when you buy. Fine tune your brew and make your operation known for its great cup of Joe!
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm that specializes in planning foodservice facilities. A member of Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI), Bendall can be reached at 240-314-0660.