Having my own coffee shops in Vietnam and Cambodia I, on occasions, get gigs and contracts that involve making coffee for a crowd. Making coffee for a party is different from outlets that I own and is very different from making gourmet coffee for 200 to 300 people daily over a 16 to 20-hour period is not the same as a 2 or 3-hour event with the same number of people.
My own record here is making coffee for an event of 600 people. While this article is not a “how to” or blueprint, it is my own “plan of attack” of how I handle such events and how I tackle them.
I will be open and honest; I do not specialize in these types of events and only provide the service on a per-event basis and via my contacts in the industry. It is not a service that I advertise. This article also serves as a reminder for both myself and my staff.
Making Coffee For A Crowd — Decide On A Coffee Brewing Method
How many brewing methods that you use when you are making coffee for a crowd will depend both on the number of people attending and the type of event.
At high-end events, regardless of the number of attendees, will require you to provide specialist coffee and various brewing techniques to deliver coffee that hits the spot. You will need to deliver quality coffee to people who enjoy gourmet coffee and have money to spend.
The events I only get involved in are ones that I know the attendees are likely to be locals, and thus I am using the events as a marketing tool. It is in my best interest to put my best foot forward and serve the very best coffee in terms of quality.
Beforehand, you will need to do your research on the attendees, know what kind of person is attending and decide on your brewing method.
Wealthy career people that are middle management and above have money and are likely to have a quality coffee maker at home, be it a Nespresso machine or something more specialized like an Espresso maker.
They are accustomed to great coffee, quality tasty coffee and know what they want.
You, like I may love an AeroPress for a quick morning coffee, but it is not going to work for a crowd. You cannot make a batch of coffee or quickly make one coffee after another with an AeroPress.
Read: 30 cup coffee Instructions
Get The Biggest French Press Coffee Maker You Can Find
Personally, I do not hide the fact, I love the French Press coffee machine. It is perfect and ideal for making fantastic coffee and having complete control over all aspects of the variables of the brewing process.
A small one is not quite going to cut it with a crowd. You will only be able to make a few cups at a time.
The biggest I have seen is 64 ounce (1.9 Liter) French press. It is beautiful, elegant looking and makes around 8 x 8 ounce cups of coffee at a time. While this is a good amount to make per batch, you will need to be aware of the 4-minute brew time and need a thermal carafe to decant and keep your freshly pressed French coffee fresh.
Pro Tip: During a busy period, you can get away with using a thermal carafe to serve at the table and a second batch direct from the French press and serve, or make the 8 cups (16 total) straight away.
Never leave the coffee sitting in the French press for too long waiting to be served as it over brews and starts to bring about a strong bitter taste.
The French press is great on its own for small events of less than 50 with a second French press with 4 carafes to decant the coffee into. The key is preparation. Do it well, and you have up to 40 cups of coffee at the ready for the rush hour.
Making Coffee For A Party — Use A Chemex To Make Coffee Batches
Besides looking great and like a coffee pro when making coffee for a crowd with a French press, using a Chemex to make batches of coffee is eye catching and makes flavorful coffee.
Making great coffee is a labor of love and some effort is required when making pour over coffee with a Chemex. It is a great option and offers a different flavor profile. Chemex pour over coffee is very straight forward to make and will take around the same time as a French press.
Of course, for a group, you will need a much bigger Chemex 1.9 Liter, 64 ounce 8x 8 ounce cup Chemex is the biggest I have seen. Typically, only one will be needed for an event of 50 guests. This lovely piece of brewing equipment is typically used at a coffee party with a French press, not instead of.
It is a good option for making Pour Over Coffee In Large Batches. When you make it with a goose neck kettle to pour the hot water you will have a great visual effect.
Siphon Brewers – Make Coffee Like A Scientist!
These are outstanding when it comes to coffee at any event. Looks spectacular, amazing and like a scientist – especially if you have one with an alcohol or butane gas burner. Absolutely like an alchemist with the full brewing technology on display for all to see.
This one really gets the curiosity going and has an “I’ll try that” effect. I have a couple in my coffee shop, intentionally in plain sight. When it gets busy and the hip and trendy crowds are in, time for me to order one, sit back and enjoy it and plenty of curiosity will arise and people will order.
This is not a quick method of making coffee, hence why it is not the greatest of methods for making coffee for a party of people. Around 7 to 8 minutes is the average time to brew, double the four-minute brew time of a French press or Chemex pour over.
The method of elaboration somewhat mimics that of a French press and a Chemex mixed, where you get the benefit of all your grounds getting in contact with the water in the upper chamber and being in full control of all the variables.
Unlike the French press and similar to the Chemex the coffee oils are lost to the filter paper. The Coffee geek in the crowd will love it.
The biggest Coffee Siphon I have seen is 20 ounces in capacity and while good to use as part of your repertoire and what is available for the guests that love hot coffee you are not going to make too many mugs of coffee quickly with this.
it is eye candy for high-end events.
Cold Brew Coffee Before The Event
I wouldn’t exactly call myself a cold brew lover and despite some easy options available of using cold brew concentrate it is not an option that you should consider if you wish to keep your reputation intact as the maker of first class coffee.
Having the concentrate available as a backup is not a bad idea, but not as your first choice.
Thankfully, here you probably have all the brewing equipment already for the cold brew method and plenty of containers to decant your brew into. Obviously, the key here is to do all the preparation the night before and brew in advance of the event.
Due to being able to do the brewing the night before, you can brew the traditional cold brew and the more exotic less acidic Japanese flash cold brew method and offer up the option.
Keep it in mind the brewing time takes a minimum of 12 hours. Here you are not limited by how much you can serve at a time, as you can make as much as you need in advance of the coffee party.
An Automatic Drip Brewing Coffee Machine
This can be called the lazy way. But at small events and for convenience, it simply cannot be ignored. If and when the group that you are making coffee for is of 100 or more people, and you are performing the function of making coffee regularly for crowds of this size, then switch your automatic drip brewing percolator for a coffee urn.
A coffee urn makes coffee in large batches easily with a similar brew method and keeps your coffee hot. I’m not a fan at all of using this method but, in large crowds, at big events it simply cannot be ignored.
Espresso Coffee For A Party
This is probably the most difficult part of making coffee for 50 people or 100 people or more with the assumption that the event is off site.
The only way of being able to achieve this is by having access to a professional coffee maker with its own reservoir and the ability to keep it topped up with hot water. You will absolutely need a double machine with two twin portafilters to be able to make up to 4 espresso shots at a time.
These can be expensive, costing US$1,500 for a machine with a lever machine being much better in my experience. If you already have the equipment, or access to it via hiring, this is an option. Due to the cost involved I would not go out of my way to make one if I was making coffee for a crowd of people as a one-off event.
If you have regular events and large ones of 100 people or more, then yes, this is definitely worth consideration.
Keep Your Coffee Warm In A Thermal Pot Or Carafe
I have already touched on the need for decanting your coffee, particularly when and if you are using a French press to not only keep your coffee warm but to prevent over brewing.
These are going to be lifesavers and absolute gifts from heaven when everyone, inevitably, starts to ask for their coffee drinks all at the same time!
Personally, I don’t like to mix and match batches and this stick to thermal pots or carafes that match the size of Chemex or French Press that I am using. I would not, for the sake of consistency, put 2 lots of a 1.9l (64 ounce) into a 4 liter (130 Ounce) thermal pot or thermal carafe.
The same applies to Chemex or any other brewing method. Since I make coffee representing my brand and my establishment. Serve bad or inconsistent coffee and I could be turning away dozens, or hundreds of potential customers who may go on to become regulars.
Even though you have thermal carafes, you should always make your coffee as close to the time it is going to be served.
I don’t believe at all in using silly psychological techniques used in the industry such as pre-heating the mugs of coffee to make them appear hotter than they actually are. Hot coffee should be served hot and not luke warm in a hot mug pretending to be hot!
Quality control and the quality of your product and service at every moment for every cup served.
Beware Urn Burn
When your coffee urn is on for hours at a time, keeping coffee hot for hours, there are no prizes for guessing what happens to coffee grounds that are getting brewed under such conditions.
the famed urn burn. This you will need to manage by sticking to a protocol and my golden rule, TAFO – Taste And Find Out.
Keep tasting and keep checking your coffee frequently and if it is burnt, or you suspect they are becoming burnt, simply replenish and replace. If your urn is too full, you wait a little but not too long. You can take advantage of any thermal carafes that you have on hand and decant and serve from them while the new batch of coffee in your urn heats up.
As a preventative measure, you can make sure your urn is sparkling clean both on the inside and outside. Work out the brew time beforehand. As a rough estimate, 15 min per 25 cups. Once the indicator light is telling you the coffee is ready, switch it off and remove safely and carefully the filter basket to prevent over brewing.
Use an electric timer plug to switch it on and off every 5 min to ensure the coffee in the urn remains warm. You will need to test and know your machine perfectly well. Only use this if your urn does not automatically keep your coffee warm.
Have Sugar, Cream and Coffee Whitener On Hand
We always have a plentiful supply of milk, coffee whitener and sugar, both brown and white, in supply. For my occasional events, I get a little cheeky. I use my own coffee shop products branded with the address, phone number, website and discount coupon printed on them, specially made for the event.
Don’t forget your sugars, sweeteners and milk options.
Something else not to forget is…
Not Everyone Like Coffee – Don’t Forget About Tea And Other Options.
Sure, the lion’s share will ask for coffee or tea. Some people will simply want cold water, fruit juice and some other refreshments.
If it is a summer event, make sure you have a plentiful supply of ice available for your ice drinks such as iced lattes.
Coffee For A Crowd Starbucks – Coffee For A Crowd To Go
If your meeting or crowd is not too large you can take advantage of the service by Starbucks who have 12 x 8 ounce (240 ml) option to take away, or a series of these. It is called their coffee traveler.
It might be a better idea to order in advance, especially if you are ordering a few of their coffee travelers.
Frequently Asked Questions About Making Coffee For A Crowd
How Do You Keep Coffee Warm For A Crowd?
There are many ways to keep your coffee warm when making it for a crowd. The two most effective ways are to use a coffee urn and remove the coffee after it has brewed and a large thermos.
Note: If you forget to remove the coffee grounds from your urn after it has brewed your coffee will continue to brew and eventually the whole urn will become over brewed and bitter.
How Many People Can 1 Gallon Of Coffee Serve?
A 1 gallon coffee maker will help you to serve coffee for 50 people, assuming nobody requests a second cup.
How Do You Keep Hot Coffee Fresh?
Keeping hot coffee fresh is easy. For one or two people, simply using a coffee mug with a lid or a thermos will help to lock in the flavors and aromas.
For a crowd, a coffee urn is the best choice as the larger ones can keep 100 or more cups of coffee fresh and hot at a time.
What Container Keeps Coffee Hot The Longest?
For single use or less than a few cups of coffee a Thermos is the best option. A coffee urn for special events will keep reheating your coffee. Just be sure to remove the coffee grounds.
How Long Is Coffee Good For After Brewing?
A coffee is good for 3 to 4 hours after it has been brewed. If you have milk or creamer of any kind to it, this reduces to about 2 hours.
How Long Does Coffee Stay Fresh In A Coffee Urn?
Straight black coffee in a coffee urn is good for 12 hours after it has been brewed. Coffee that has been brewed longer than 12 hours don’t throw it down the sink as that is such a waste. Use the coffee to water your garden, plants etc as it still full of nutrients.
Frappé-ing It All Up – Making Coffee For A Crowd
Making coffee for a crowd of people, no matter how big or small, requires preparation, planning and having the equipment ready at hand and bigger than normal coffee brewing equipment than what you would use at home.
Be ready, be prepared to put a lot of thought into it and, above all, serve great coffee in every single cup.
Do you have your own tips and tricks for making coffee for a crowd?
Share them with us on our online coffee community on Facebook/Meta.