Just because many of the finest restaurants in the world end amazing, multi-course meals with mediocre coffee doesn't mean you have to. A little advance planning—and some quick cheats to set yourself up to win—can ensure your post-Thanksgiving (or post-any) feast ends on a high note. Though it may seem like a herculean effort to worry about having a beautiful coffee experience at the end of All. That. Food.—it doesn't have to be. What follows is some practical advice to impress everybody and serve a lot of coffee that tastes awesome.
1. Shop ahead.
Coffee is seasonal, just like the ingredients you've served at dinner. Now is the time to select the coffee you'll be serving at the end of your epic Thanksgiving meal. A little planning will ensure you have beans that are freshly roasted (but have had time to rest a few days, for the best flavor), and a selection of coffee that presents the flavor profiles you think best suit the meal. If you're going to be preparing for a lot of folks, it will be easiest to just stick to one variety. Some current selections perfect for Thanksgiving are Olympia Coffee Roasters' Colombia San Sebastian Reserva (which has hints of caramel apple), Ecco Caffe's hugely juicy, smooth Colombia Piendamo, or the elegant 2011 Costa Rica Los Lobos from Barismo—or whatever the baristas at your best local cafe recommend for the occasion.
2. Plan your brew method.
Two of the easiest ways to do manual brew in quantity are Chemex and French Press (both of which range in size from average to truly gigantic). If you've got either on hand, it wouldn't hurt to borrow a second (of the same) brewer from a friend. Being able to brew multiple pots of coffee simultaneously will save you trips to and from the kitchen, and allow you to sit down and enjoy a cup yourself while still offering something far more special than Mr. Coffee ever could. Whichever method you're familiar with, make a test batch or two during the days ahead to make sure you've got your grind settings, water, and coffee measurements where you'd like them to be for the best taste.
3. Grab your gear.
Besides brewers, you'll need a few other things to seal the deal for your holiday coffee. Obviously a French Press won't need filters, but if you go Chemex you'll want to keep a fresh box of filters handy (especially if your family is a thirsty one). And if you're serving for a large number of people, borrowing an extra water kettle is a great idea, too.
To best store and serve a lot of coffee, you'll do well to have a thermal carafe to bring to the table. This can be anything from a Thermos to, if you're feeling particularly sexy, one of those stylish thermal Danish carafes, like this from Bodum or this hot number from Eva Solo.
A one-liter carafe will hold about four regular-sized cups of coffee—and if you're using your fancy teacups, you can probably pour double the number. Decanting into a thermal carafe will not only keep your coffee warm and look awesome, it frees up your brewers for another batch to be readied while your elf serves coffee to the eager guests (and in the case of French Press brewing, allows you to keep leftover coffee handy without letting it overextract as it stews in its own grounds).
4. Plan your grind.
If you don't grind at home—for whatever reason, we won't judge—try to get your coffee ground the morning of your meal, or the night before. The minute coffee is broken up into smaller particles, oxygen hits it and flavor loss begins. You want to serve your food as fresh as possible, so apply those rules to your coffee, too.
5. Make it happen!
You've finally made it through the big holiday meal without passing out in your candied yams, so once the dinner plates are cleaned up it's a great time to set your kettle(s) a-boilin'. While you're waiting for coffee to brew, it's a great idea to pre-warm your cups by filling them with hot water (which you'll remember to dump out, of course) to fool your guests into thinking you're a real pro. (And buy you out of a little trouble if your Chemex cools off while you're serving it.)
Brewing in multiple batches will let you pour off each batch into your carafe, thermos, or other heat-safe pitcher, and get another round going right away. You and your guests will be impressed with how actually simple it is to prepare truly delicious coffee at the end of a perfect meal—and they might even revive enough to help you clean up.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is bad at keeping up her coffee-world blog at twitchy.org