Coffee cafes, although dominated by Starbucks, include national and regional chains and have become a fixture in American society. With the advent of nitro and cold brews, coffee brewers continue to adapt to keep up with the evolution of beverage concepts in this segment. For example, advanced automatic coffee centers make it easier for cafes to serve barista-quality specialty coffee beverages that don’t require highly-trained staff.

istock 962310392Coffee brewers are generally categorized by brew volume or the vessel into which the beverage is brewed. For example, decanter types brew into glass decanters, thermal coffee brewers brew into large servers, and satellite or shuttle brewers brew into non-thermally insulated servers.

Cafe Centered Brewers

Cafes are less likely to use single-cup capsule brewers, which provide between 6 and 20 ounces of coffee at a time in 30 to 50 seconds, since these operators typically use shuttle brewing systems, which brew into 1.5-gallon containers or shuttles. A standard twin shuttle brewer can produce approximately 10 shuttles per hour, or approximately 160 12-ounce cups per hour. With optional heating elements, productivity boosts up to 20 shuttles per hour or 320 12-ounce cups per hour.

Standard features with these systems include two 1.5-gallon, vacuum-insulated stainless-steel shuttles and a hot water faucet for producing tea and hot chocolate. This brewer type also includes a digital control system. As its name implies, a brew basket lock prevents the operator from pulling out the brew basket during the brew process. Some models offer optional larger heating elements for faster recovery and controls to automatically turn down water temperature after three hours.

The largest category of commercial coffee brewers, decanter/airpot brewers, brew in a 64-ounce decanter and/or a 2.2-liter airpot. Each cafe location will most likely include one brewer and a multitude of decanters and/or airpots for table service. These brewers focus on volume and produce approximately 10 decanters/airpots per hour, with each decanter producing five 12-ounce servings.

Operators can plumb in decanter/airpot brewers or use this equipment in a pour-over manner. These brewers provide extra warmers for additional decanters. A digital control system allows the operator to dial in a unique brew process that maximizes the flavor of the coffee. Optional features include an in-line water filter and a remote warmer stand for additional decanters. Some models offer a feature that automatically turns down the water temperature after three hours.

Depending on the model, coffee brewer options may include intuitive color display panels that guide users through drink selection and preparation; a choice of pre-programmed specialty coffee beverages, such as latte or macchiato; integrated ceramic grinders; specialized frothing systems; and integrated rinsing, cleaning and descaling programs that reduce maintenance.

Cafes can take advantage of newer technologies, which provide the ability to download flavor profiles off of USB drives to deploy across numerous restaurant locations, digital messaging capability, and pulsating heat capabilities to keep coffee at optimum serving temperatures. On some models, electronic airpot sensors provide easily visible volume and freshness alerts. Styled brewing systems that emulate the motions of hand brewing are also offered.

Making the Purchase

Purchasing the appropriate coffee brewer and accessories can be critical to a foodservice operator’s success.

First, operators must identify which type of coffee maker they require. In the case of a la carte coffee service, operators often use pour-over units. These units are suitable for lower-capacity requirements per machine. Pour overs also do not require a water line. Higher-capacity outlets often use satellite systems, which have the ability to shuttle coffee to multiple locations using one brewer.

Operators should size how much coffee production the design requires, taking into account the size of the cup they will give guests, the number of people the facility will serve and the time in which the service will take place. Some brewers will allow for brewing into different-size dispensers for added flexibility.

The most critical element is the water quality as the biggest problem with coffee brewers is lime scale. It is important to be familiar with the water quality of the foodservice outlet and address it with either a filter or scale prohibitor. This not only will help minimize lime scale buildup but it will also extend the service life of the unit.

When specifying coffee brewers, pay attention to voltage and amps. Choosing a power option when multiple types are available can be a critical decision. One of the most common mistakes in specifying coffee brewers is underestimating the unit’s electrical requirements. The tank of these systems can be compared with a hot water heater. If the usage rate is low, the recovery time to bring temperatures back up will be shorter. Higher-volume operations will require more electrical capacity to heat water quickly. Higher-voltage options, particularly three-phase, offer better, faster recovery. 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 importance of water pressure. Automatic brewers generally connect to a ¼-inch water line. Any brewer plumbed into a facility requires a certain amount of water pressure to adequately feed the unit. This is often measured 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 foodservice operator may need to relocate the coffee brewer to an area that provides a greater or stronger water capacity.

If the foodservice operator 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 technological developments for these units focus 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.

Some improvements have made these units more energy efficient. 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. Newer coffee brewer designs hold heat in the cavity better and provide more efficient heating elements. Brewers with digitally looped heat control are also designed to keep coffee fresh for hours at a time.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Operators installing new coffee machines have to take into consideration water conditions. Treat water for taste, odor and mineral deposits with proper filtration. Regularly change water filters to prevent buildup. Also, check brew levels to determine whether there is scale on the brew tank since it will reduce the amount of water inside.

Temperature drops, constant dripping and inconsistent fill levels may indicate lime buildup on the heating elements or a need to take care of the valves that control water flow.

In terms of cleaning, the unit’s interior and exterior need wiping down on a daily basis. Also, remove coffee oils from the spray head area daily. Use a soft brush and detergent to clean the brewer plates.

If there’s a lot of scale buildup, have a service agent clear the boiler of debris, wash it with an acid-based cleaner and thoroughly flush it. Unlike residential coffee makers, commercial brewers should not be cleaned with vinegar.

Brewing temperatures, brew levels and fittings should be checked quarterly. Tanks should be inspected often for lime deposits.

With proper care and maintenance, coffee brewers can typically last from 7 to 12 years, or even as long as 25 years. If the unit is more than 10 years old and service issues are more numerous, operators may want to consider a new, updated brewer.