Picking out the perfect commercial coffee maker is more than just finding the one which is the most aesthetically appealing (as is often the case with residential appliances). There are many distinct varieties of commercial coffee maker, and knowing the difference between them is the first step to picking up the correct one.
Pour-Over Brewers: The standard coffee maker in a commercial setting, pour-over commercial coffee brewers are built to take the bruising of a commercial foodservice operation. These brewers must be filled with water before each brew cycle, and standard decanter style pour-over machines work in the exact same manner as residential brewers. Commercial decanter brewers, however, can be intended to accommodate a significantly higher volume, and there are brewers than have anywhere from 1 – 6 plate warmers to keep decanters hot. There are also pour-over machines that are meant to fill airpots or thermal servers, but since airpots and thermal servers are designed to keep coffee hot, they do not feature any warmer plates. Airpots and thermal servers keep coffee just as hot as it was when brewed, but allow coffee to be transported away from the brewer.
Automatic Brewers: Automatic coffee brewers are connected to a consistent water supply. After coffee and a filter are placed in the basket, there is no need to add water to the chamber, the brewer draws from a well of stored hot water to quickly brew a full pot of coffee. Automatic coffee brewers often have a hot water faucet that allows end-users to get hot water for tea without disrupting the brew cycle, and have available the same variety of machines that pour-over brewers have (airpot, multi-plate, and thermal server brewers). There is no way to brew a half pot without changing the standard water level of an automatic coffee brewer, so operations that aren’t in need of a full pot all of the time should take heed of this and look at pour-over brewers. Automatic brewers are meant to cut down the time inherent in making a pot of coffee, and are the norm in higher volume operations.
Percolators & Urn Brewers: Coffee percolators are still quite common in the realm of catering and banquet service. Most contemporary coffee percolators are relatively big, and designed to brew large quantities of coffee. Electric coffee percolators have a bottom mounted electric heating element that brings the water to a boil, and projects it up through coffee grinds so that it may drip down and recombine with the rest of the remaining water. This process continues to happen until the water reaches a full boil, and then the temperature is automatically dropped (usually, depending on the model) to keep the coffee warm and prevent further brewing. These percolators are a favorite of traveling caterers, churches, and banquet facilities because they can be brought to a location, set, and forgotten until after service.
Satellite Brewers: Satellite brewers combine the insulation and dispensing qualities of airpot and thermal coffee brewers with the warming ability of decanter style brewers. Satellite machines brew into larger thermal brew dispensers, but these dispensers are not only insulated; they have warming stations as well. Unlike airpot or thermal servers, the serving pots of satellite machines have warming plates, and usually have additional warming plates available which can be set up away from coffee brewers for service. These brewers provide the freshest and hottest high volumes of coffee, and allow easy transport to self-serve F.O.H. operations. They can be an asset in large buildings where service is far away from coffee brewers (such as on hotel breakfast buffet).
Espresso Machines: Espresso machines are not typical coffee machines. They have a different brew process, which produces a much stronger brew by forcing steam (or boiling water) under high pressure through coffee grinds. The result is a much stronger brew than coffee, usually served as a “shot” of around 2 oz. These are primarily automatic machines, which often have steam wands to steam milk and cream for lattes or cappuccinos. Though every espresso machine is different, they tend to be relatively high volume machines intended to be used at a coffee bar. Espresso machines have a very specific niche, and are intended to brew espresso only.
Tips For Picking The Perfect Brewer: With such variety amongst coffee brewers, it can be difficult for novice shoppers to sort through their options. Here are some important factors to keep an eye on while shopping.
- Service Location – Knowing where your coffee will be served is incredibly important when picking out a commercial coffee brewer. Diners will often have automatic decanter coffee brewers easily accessible, as they serve coffee frequently, and servers are continually refilling cups for small to medium numbers of guests. High end banquet facilities will often opt for self-serve options like large volume percolators or will brew into self-serve containers like airpots, satellite pots, or thermal servers.
- Volume & Resting – It is important to know how much coffee (approximately) will be needed at one time. Coffee is best to drink relatively fresh, so brewing a large batch of coffee and keeping it warm for extended periods of time isn’t always the best way to go. There are some instances, like catered events, when this can’t be avoided, but whenever fresh coffee is an available option, it should be the route taken. This is one reason why decanter–style brewers can be found with 6 warming plates; a multi-warmer brewer can keep a number of decanters (and potentially styles of coffee) on hand and at proper temperatures for busy operations. Airpot and thermal servers extend the life of a batch of coffee, but only decanter and satellite brewing systems actually keep heat on them while they are waiting to be served. When coffee is being heated it keeps its proper temperature, but can cook down further on warming plates. Coffee being warmed on plates is best for instances when it won’t be resting long and coffee resting for extended periods should be stored in airpots or thermal servers.
- Time Management – Coffee takes time to brew. In high volume operations it may not pay to have much down time between brew cycles, so larger batches are often better. Satellite brewers are great for high volume operations because they brew larger quantities, however for some operations may be too much. The first time saver to examine is the automatic brewer. Automatic brewers remove one time consuming step of brewing coffee, and automatic brewers are available in all the sizes commercial pour-over brewers are. Should this feature not be enough, there are models that automatically grind beans for each brew, and there are always dual-brew machines that can brew two decanters, airpots, or thermal servers at once. Most all satellite brewers have two brewers, and are intended for high volume operations. The hot water faucet featured on most automatic brewers also helps save time boiling water for tea or hot cocoa.