Product Knowledge Guide: Coffee Brewers

Coffee brewers represent a vital component of the beverage service most foodservice operators provide.


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

Pour-over coffee brewers require someone to manually fill the units' water reservoirs. To dispense the pour-over brew, foodservice operators use glass decanters, insulated servers or airpots. The popularity of insulated servers and airpots is on the rise due to the fact that neither feature applied heat, which can cause the coffee to prematurely deteriorate in quality.

Connected to a water line, urn brewers typically brew from 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 most typical configurations are the twin 3-gallon and or twin 6-gallon units.

New urns with better holding temperatures and brew techniques to match up with typical café quality coffee profiles are now available and allow for various batch sizes.

Shuttle brewers are similar to urns, but use applied heat. 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 varieties or flavored coffees. These systems also are capable of holding the 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 airpot.

Pour-over brewers occupy about 2 square feet of space, while larger urns take up 5 square feet of space.

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 1.5 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 through such features as pre-infusion, pulsation and bypass as well as 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 airpot and decanter brewers directly fed by 3- and 5-gallon water bottles. Others can be fitted with a flow jet pump that feeds water from the same bottles by use of a pressure pump and connections for the units.

Common Applications

  • Operators use these machines to mainly provide coffee. The units heat water to 195 degrees F and
  • 202 degrees F.
  • Brewers also have water faucets to supply hot water for different applications, such as producing oatmeal, soup and hot chocolate.
  • The higher voltage machines will allow coffee brewers to recover faster than lower voltage machines and, therefore, provide higher volume output of quality coffees.

Specifying Considerations

  • Understand the operation's volume requirements.
  • Pour-over and automatic models can brew about 50 to 80 cups per hour, while large brewing systems can produce up to 12 gallons of coffee per hour. Banquet halls are best served by urn systems with auto pumps, which provide 180 gallons of coffee at a time.
  • Iron out the coffee serving logistics. Decanters represent the traditional method to serve coffee but airpots, which hold 72 ounces, and thermal servers, which accommodate 1.5 gallons, are other options. Decanters are designed for shorter holding periods, while thermal servers keep coffee hot for up to two hours.
  • One of the most common mistakes operators make is not considering the electrical requirements when choosing a coffee brewer. The tank of these systems can be compared to a hot water heater. If the usage rate is low, the recovery time to bring temperatures back up to par will be shorter.If volume is high, greater electrical capability will be necessary to heat water quickly. Generally, brewers require 208 or 240 volts for this task.
  • Understand the water pressure that plumbed-in machines require. Automatic brewers are generally hooked up to a 1/4-inch water line. Any brewer that is plumbed into a facility requires a certain amount of water pressure to adequately feed the unit. Often, water flow is measured from a static condition, but to properly read the pressure, look at the flow rate during the dynamic phase, or when water is running through the machine. If water capacity is inadequate, the feed line may need readjusting or the brewer may need to be moved to an area with greater water capacity.

Specifying Mistakes to Avoid

  • When specifying these units, holding time should not be miscalculated. Operations may have a batch brew unit and fill decanters for table service. With decanters, coffee can be held for about 20 to 30 minutes before quality is impacted by the heat. Thermal servers are designed for longer holding times, typically one to two hours.
  • Operators installing new coffee machines have to take into consideration water conditions. Water should be treated for taste, odor and mineral deposits with proper filtration. Lime scale is a coffee brewer's worst enemy.

New & Notable Features

  • Pulse brew, bypass and pre-infusion capabilities can help operators produce a particular coffee profile and maintain it. For chains with many locations, this new technology ensures consistency.
  • One satellite system gently pulsates to hold heat, keeping it between 2 and 3 degrees F of the set point. This allows the operator to hold coffee for extended periods without impacting the quality.
  • Brewers with digitally-looped heat control 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.

When to Replace

A majority of the time, coffee brewers will have an issue that can be taken care of, like a broken thermostat. Yet, there are signs that may indicate the unit needs replacing.

  • Repair costs: A general rule is when service costs add up to half the cost of a new coffee brewer, it's time to replace the existing unit. When there are numerous service issues that begin to accumulate both in number and cost, a new coffee brewer is most likely warranted.
  • Dents and scratches: Excessively dented and scratched coffee brewers, especially those in the front of house, may be eyesores that need replacing.
  • Older unit: Coffee brewers typically last from 7 to 12 years, or even as long as 25 years, depending on how the operators care for the units. If the unit is more than 10 years old and service issues are numerous, operators may want to consider a new brewer with updated technology.

Maintenance Musts

The type of unit and water quality will determine the amount of maintenance a coffee brewer will require. There are key steps operators should take to keep brewers in top operating condition.

  • Temperature drops, constant dripping and inconsistent fill levels are indicative of lime buildup on the heating elements or the valves that control water flow. Operators should address this as soon as possible.
  • Stainless steel is porous, so the unit's interior and exterior need wiping down on a daily basis.
  • Remove coffee oils from the spray head area every day.
  • If the unit includes a faucet, this should be taken apart and cleaned regularly.
  • The water spray head needs to be cleaned every day.
  • Routinely check for broken parts and promptly replace them.
  • Do not clean commercial brewers with vinegar, unlike residential brewers.
  • Regularly change water filters.

Environmental Advancements

  • More efficient heating elements are available, in addition to units that feature better heat holding capability within the cavity.
  • When idle for an extended period, some brewers will automatically go into sleep mode. During this period, the heating element allows the temperature to drop, which helps conserve energy.
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