Spec Check: Coffee Makers

Coffee brewers provide a beverage service that is essential to foodservice operations.

coffee-cup-coffee-brewersWhen choosing a coffee brewer, operators should determine the type of system necessary to keep up with peak demand. The function and specific use of the unit also represent key factors in specifying these systems.

The three types of units most commonly used are pour-over, automatic and satellite brewers, which produce American-style coffee by dripping hot water over coffee grounds.

The most common type of commercial coffee brewer, pour-overs require manual filling of water reservoirs. Foodservice operators typically use airports with these brewers to serve the heated beverage to customers. Airpots tend to keep coffee hotter longer, without the use of heat.

Used by most cafes and major chains, urn brewers connect to a water line and typically offer ½-, 1- and 1½-gallon batch sizes. Coffee is brewed into either a shuttle or thermal server. These units provide good extraction and operators can control contact time, which impacts the strength of the brew.

Larger operations, such as banquet halls, would likely use urn systems with auto pumps. These units provide up to 180 gallons of coffee at a time, with a capacity of 5,000 cups.

Becoming more common in foodservice operations, insulated or thermal server units offer the same brew quality as urns, but use applied heat. Coffee is brewed into a vacuum bottle, rather than a shuttle, and up to 1½ gallons can be produced

at a time.

With a 400-cup per hour capacity, satellite brewers dispense coffee into an insulated, portable container. This brewer's vessel or shuttle can hold up to 1½ gallons at a time, keeping coffee hot for hours. These units are suitable for operations moving large amounts of coffee to different

holding stations.

Shuttle brewers also brew coffee into a 1½-gallon insulated container, which can be either a shuttle or an airpot. These units are often utilized in high-volume restaurants or coffee cafes.

Systems that combine a precision coffee grinder and brewer are common in operations serving high-end coffee, such as white tablecloth restaurants. These units have dual coffee bean hoppers to brew two types of coffee into a decanter or airpot.

Bottle brewers, used in a vast majority of restaurants and bars, have an internal tank that holds water, and this system works on displacement. When cold water is introduced, it sinks to the bottom of the tank, forcing tepid water to the top. This coffee brewer type is usually attached to a water source.

The single-cup brewer segment is currently the fastest growing part of the market. These units are suitable for low-volume applications. French presses, or manual brewers, also are low-volume and best-suited for tableside use.

The volume of coffee needed will determine the brewer size. Batch brewing typically necessitates a footprint of between 18 and 40 inches as well as higher electrical capabilities.

Before deciding on the coffee brewer type, operators need to determine how customers will be served. Glass coffee pots or thermal decanters are the smallest but most traditional method and sit on a warmer until use. These containers generally have a capacity of 64 ounces, measure 9 inches wide and provide 4 to 8 gallons of coffee per hour.

Some operators may require dispensing from a closed container, such as an airpot or thermal server. Larger in size, thermal serving dispensers hold 1 to 1½ gallons and are 9 or 18 inches wide.

Brewers with electronic settings allow operators to fine-tune the coffee flavor by adjusting the brew strength as well as the temperature. Settings will vary, depending on the unit.

When specifying these units, holding time is another consideration. Operations may have a batch brew unit and fill decanters for table service. Foodservice operators using decanters can hold coffee for about 20 to 30 minutes before the heat impacts the beverage's quality. Thermal servers allow for longer holder times, typically one to two hours.

All types of coffee brewers require some type of water

inlet, water heating unit, drip or spray head and a filter. For operations that don't have access to a water line, such as mobile carts and catering operations, some manufacturers offer airpot and decanter brewers directly fed by three- and five-gallon plastic water bottles.

Prior to installation, site surveys are advisable for coffee brewers and can save operators a lot of money and time. This will help determine whether the unit can use the facility's water line, what type of water filter is necessary and the electrical capabilities available.

When it comes to specifying coffee brewers, one of the most common mistakes operators make is underestimating the unit's electrical requirements. These systems feature tanks with electricity usage that's comparable to a hot water heater. In the case of low usage, the recovery time to bring temperatures back up to par will be shorter. Higher volume operations will require more electrical capacity to heat water quickly.

During the specification process, it's important to pay attention to voltage and amps. Larger systems may require an upgraded electrical system. Units producing 64 ounces at a time or less can get by with 110 volts, but most commercial brewers will need 208, 220 or 240 volts.

Like electrical capabilities, operators often underestimate the need for water pressure. Automatic brewers generally hook up to a one-quarter inch water line. Any brewer plumbed into a facility requires a certain amount of water pressure to adequately feed the unit. Operators and their suppliers often measure the water pressure in a static condition, which will not provide an accurate reading. To accurately determine the water pressure, it needs to be read during a dynamic phase or when water is running through the machine, to properly measure the flow rate. In some cases, the water feed line may need adjusting or the coffee brewer may need to be relocated to an area that provides a greater or stronger water capacity.

Limscale represents the biggest challenge for coffee brewers. Foodservice operators need to address water conditions with a filter or scale prohibitor. This not only will help minimize limescale build up, but also extend the service life

of the unit.

If the operation uses the unit in the front of house or

aesthetics are important, specify a coffee brewer that has a color finish, rather than the standard stainless steel.

Most technology for these units has been focused on the brewing process. Pulse brew, bypass and preinfusion capabilities can help operators produce a particular coffee profile and maintain it. For chains with many locations, this new technology ensures consistency.

There have been recent improvements on these units to make them more energy efficient. When idle for an extended period, some brewers will automatically go into a sleep mode. During this period, the heating element allows the temperature to drop, which helps conserve energy. Newer coffee brewer designs hold heat in the cavity better and provide more efficient heating elements.

One satellite system gently pulsates to hold heat, keeping it between two and three degrees of the set point. This allows coffee to be held for extended periods without impacting

the quality.

Brewers with digitally-looped heat control also are designed to keep coffee fresh for hours at a time.

One of the newest generation brewers has four digital controls and touch screen access to brewing. Units with USB ports allows users to pre-program recipes. A self-diagnostics capability on some brewers checks for mineral build up.

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