THE Quarterly Product Knowledge Guide: Coffee Brewers and Urns

Coffee brewers provide an essential beverage service to foodservice operations. These machines heat water to between 195 degrees F and 202 degrees F. Although operators can use the hot water to steep tea, true connoisseurs of this beverage may consider the maximum water temperature too low. Brewers also have water faucets to supply hot water for different applications, such as producing oatmeal, soup and hot chocolate.

Pour-over brewers occupy about 2 square feet, while larger urns take up 5 square feet. Coffee urns typically come in 1.5-, 3- and 5-gallon sizes. These containers generally feature stainless steel construction. The shape depends on the type of urn. Variations include electric, soft heat and fuel-driven with gel-based heat. Foam-insulated and vacuum-insulated urns keep coffee warm for one to six hours and require no electricity.

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

Home and light commercial applications commonly use pour-over units, which require operators to manually fill water reservoirs. These units dispense coffee into glass decanters, insulated servers or air pots.

Insulated servers and air pots are growing in popularity due to the fact they do not apply heat, which can cause the coffee to prematurely deteriorate in quality.

Connected to a water line, urn brewers typically brew 1.5- to 10-gallon batches into holding liners. High-volume applications, such as large banquet or meeting facilities, use urns with auto pumps, which produce up to 180 gallons of coffee. The twin 3-gallon and twin 6-gallon are the most typical configuration.

Shuttle brewers are similar to urns but use applied heat instead. With these units, operators can brew up to 1.5 gallons of coffee and dispense it into heated shuttles for use in most retail applications where turnover of the coffee is usually within a 30-minute time from brew to depletion.

Thermal server brewers have a 400-cup capacity, and thermal servers hold up to 1.5 gallons of coffee. These units are suitable for operations that regularly move large amounts of coffee to satellite holding stations and may serve multiple varietal or flavored coffees. These systems hold coffee for a reasonable period of time with no applied heat, thus improving the flavor profiles.

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 air pot.

If volume is high, greater electrical capability becomes necessary to heat water quickly. 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 and may require 30 or more amps. The higher voltage machines will allow coffee brewers to recover faster than lower voltage machines.

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

Digital brewers will allow operators to fine-tune the coffee flavor by adjusting the brew strength by use of pre-infusion, pulsation and bypass as well as by varying temperature and volume settings. Features will vary, 
depending on the unit.

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 air pot and decanter brewers directly fed by 3- and 5-gallon plastic water bottles.

Modular coffee brewers include a unit that grinds beans and an option to add side refrigeration for storing milk to produce cappuccino, latte and other espresso beverages. Flavor stations also are another add-on with some models.

Brewers with digitally looped heat controls also keep coffee fresh for hours at a time. Units with USB ports allow users to pre-program recipes. A self-diagnostics capability on some brewers checks for mineral build up. Touch screen operation is offered with some brewers.