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How to Buy Coffee Equipment

How to Buy Coffee Equipment

You will be judged by the quality of the coffee you serve, so buy the right equipment and learn the brewing basics.

More science goes into making a good cup of coffee than just about any other restaurant preparation process. The perfect coffee — even just a good cup of coffee — is the combination of at least six different brewing variables that are discussed below. If you can master these variables and use the right equipment, you'll win customers over every time.

Not long ago coffee brewing simply involved spraying hot water over ground beans for a set amount of time. The coffee was merely drip brewed with unsophisticated equipment and held in simple urns at a set temperature. Current machines are more sophisticated and allow operators to achieve their desired taste profile with precise temperatures and a variety of brew times and product volumes. The latest coffee equipment applies more science to the art of coffee making. Here are the main types of coffee equipment that may fit your operation.

Single-pot brewers

For a small-volume outlet, the basic single-pot brewer may work. These units drip hot water through coffee into decanters that sit on a warming plate. The models can be the pour-over type, meaning water is manually poured into a reservoir to make coffee with no water connection needed. But pot brewers can also be plumbed for automatic water filling. There is some variation in sizes but most models usually brew about a half-gallon in about four minutes. A water temperature of 200°F and holding temperature of 185°F are critical to product quality.

Airpot brewers

The airpot brewer has surged in popularity because of its flexibility in serving the coffee once it is made. Coffee is made the same way as a pot brewer except the coffee is brewed directly into containers called airpots that are completely sealed and insulated. They can hold coffee temperature and quality for several hours compared to the pot brewer hold time of about 20 minutes. 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 for merchandising. These portable containers are usually one to three liters in capacity. Serving from an airpot is sanitary since the coffee is never open to contamination.


The move up in coffee volume from one of these brewers is to an urn, most likely a double three-gallon model used in many medium to large restaurants. A few manufacturers make smaller urns, but the most popular is the twin three-gallon unit. As a rule of thumb, consider using an urn when serving six gallons of coffee, roughly 100 eight-ounce coffee cups or more in one hour. The twin three-gallon urn can make up to about 600 cups of coffee in an hour.

A common purchasing mistake is to buy too large a coffee maker. If your operation needs to deal effectively with decaf coffee or any other special blends or flavored coffees you need to consider having multiple urns or some portable thermal dispensers to accommodate the different brews. Most urns made today have some quality brewing features built in.

A basic feature is a water bypass, which diverts water around the coffee being brewed directly into the urn to prevent over extraction of the grounds. Another feature you'll want is automatic agitation. Coffee strength varies during the brewing cycle and agitation is needed to mix the coffee to uniform consistency. If you don't have an agitation feature, just draw off some coffee once brewing is complete and pour it back into the urn to mix the stratified flavor strengths.

Modular brewers

The next machine type is the modular brewer. This type of unit is used in high-volume operations. It consists of a fixed brewing module that controls the temperature and volume of water used. There are usually spaces for two brewing containers that can be attached to a hose or spout of the brewing module. The brewing containers vary in size with some up to 20 liters and some may have their own heaters. The modular brewer offers flexibility and is a versatile option for an operation needing a lot of coffee in several locations or for large volume banquets.

A new type of brewer is making its way into specialty stores to respond to the market for premium specialty coffees. The idea behind the machines is that different coffees with different countries of origin have different grinds, brew temperatures and times to bring out the best flavors of the beans. The units feature computerized brew settings to deliver on the promise of distinctive taste, though they are typically used by baristas familiar with the various coffees being served.

Dan Bendall ([email protected]) is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International.

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