From the smallest of corner café, to the largest 5-star hotel, everyone serves coffee and the options for selecting a commercial coffee maker are as varied as the operations they are located in. Commercial coffee maker manufacturers realize this and offer a wide array of options from pour-overs and k-cup options to full-blown behemoths who generate several gallons of coffee per hour.
Selecting the right commercial coffee maker for your operation is probably a bit easier than you realize, if you know what questions to ask. To give you the breakdown, first let’s calculate how many cups of coffee you’ll need per hour. In the restaurant business, it is always better to error on the side of having a little more instead of less because you never want to run out of anything. That being said, the calculation I use looks something like this:
Size of coffee cup used X Number of Seats X 2.5 portions = Amount of coffee needed per hour
Now obviously, this it pretty simplistic, and we always narrow this number down to be more exact once we get a better understanding of your operation, but this is the basic formula to start with. Again, erring on the side of not running out, estimating 2.5 cups of coffee per customer should keep you covered since not everyone is going to get coffee.
Now that you have the average amount of coffee you’ll need per hour, you can begin narrowing down your coffer brewer selection by volume capacity relatively easily. Obviously the more you know about brewers, the easier this is so if you are unfamiliar with the vast array of options, your restaurant consultant should be able to guide you through this selection process since it is our job to know all the different models available.
The next question to ask yourself is: “Do I have a water line available, or can I add one (along with a drain preferably) at the location I plan install the coffee brewer?” This may seem like a strange question to ask, but commercial coffee maker manufacturers realize that it is not cost-effective for some locations to add or move water lines so they also offer “pour-over” brewers where to add water to brew coffee similar to as a home brewer. If you can add a water line and drain to the area, I definitely recommend that you do so since the quality of the water you use, directly impacts the quality of your coffee. It is also handy to add a small utility sink as well to aid in cleaning and rinsing the brew baskets.
We will also want to look at the frequency of volume as it relates to coffee holding when selecting your commercial coffee maker. I realize this sounds more like a physics question, but it is pretty straight forward…
Commercial Coffee Maker Options
The old-fashioned decanter glass pot on a burner
Most coffee vendors will tell you that holding coffee on a burner gives you a shelf life of about 20 minutes before it is scorched. So, if you are going to quickly be going through coffee say during a busy lunch crowd, but then it is pretty much over until dinner, then you may go through coffee fast enough to keep it fresh for your customers. This is also the cheapest option from an equipment standpoint. Manufacturer pictured: Curtis
Insulated air-pots or thermos type dispensers
If you sell coffee pretty much all day, in a decent volume and your customers fill their own cups, then this is the way to go. Brewed coffee can stay hot in some of these carafes for up to several hours, with some having a holding capacity of over a gallon so these systems can be very effective at offering a consistently steaming cup of java. The only real downside to these are that unless you are monitoring these like mad,you won’t know one of them is empty until your customers tell you about it. Which as long as you have a back-up ready, most coffee connoisseurs don’t mind waiting a minute for a fresh brew. Manufacturer pictured: Bloomfield
Soft thermal heating units
These types of units come in several shapes and sizes based on the volume needed, but are designed for exactly that, volume. Having a brewing and holding capacity of several gallons of coffee per hour, these opting this style of commercial coffee maker allows you the ability to serve a lot of hot coffee. The most simplistic explanation is that this type of unit is a more technologically advanced combination of the two units mentioned above. They hold coffee inside insulated containers, but these containers are also held on variably heated pads that cycle on and off in order to not scorch the coffee, and effectively “re-energize” the thermal capability of the carafe. Many of these units can also be equipped with recipe programming capabilities to ensure you get a consistent product every time. Manufacturer pictured: Bunn
Depending on the actual coffee vendor you select, some may be willing to provide you the brewing equipment free of charge, in agreement to exclusively use their product. If you are just starting out and selling a smaller volume of coffee, this is a pretty good way to go if you like the product. Just make sure they also provide speedy repair service as well, not in case the brewer goes down, but when. If you are going to be doing some serious volume, you will probably be better off purchasing your own system. Just make sure you work with a qualified restaurant kitchen design consultant so you can make sure all the other accessories are added such as filters to make sure your brew is the best is can be.