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Entertaining Tips: How to Brew Great Coffee For a Crowd

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[Photo: Liz Clayton]

Let's be honest. It can often be hard enough to make yourself a wonderful coffee on the best of days, so when combining the added pressures of brewing for a group sounds terrifying, a little extra planning may be needed. For those looking to offer an end-of-meal cuppa as wonderful as their holiday feast itself, we're back to offer our seasonal primer on how to serve coffee practically and excellently for a group. NB: You can cheat a little. Your guests will be in a cranberry stupor anyway.

1. Consider your beans

The myriad flavors of Thanksgiving, or any festive meal, should not stop after the last bit of wine or gravy have been dabbed from the corners of your guest's lips. Select a lovely coffee ahead of time that brings as much to the end-of-the-meal experience as all the courses which came before it. For some, sweet and spicy, fuller-bodied coffees will hit the palate better after a long session of savory cold weather overindulging, whereas others may prefer something delicate to wind down with over a slice of pie.

We've recently enjoyed Heart Roasters' Guatemala La Esperanza for its complex sweetness, and MadCap's Luis Eider Reinoso from Colombia to complement savory foods (notes of cranberry!) As always, your barista should be able to steer you towards something in season of quality that suits your last course nicely.

2. Make it easy on yourself

Plan as easy a brew method as you can. My go-to recommendations of Chemex and French press for elegantly serving a medium-large group still stand, but in the past year, automatic drip brewing has become both better and more affordable. If you have, or can borrow, an automatic drip brewer like the Bonavita—or a tonier model like the Technivorm—these brewers can be relied upon for batch-brewing coffees without the quality (temperature, flavor, etc.) losses traditionally emblematic of automatic drip coffee makers.

Whether you're brewing on multiple Chemexes or French presses, or on an automatic brewer, you'll absolutely want to lay in a spare serving carafe to keep your coffee warm and handsomely comported while you run back to the kitchen for another batch. (The idea, here, is of course to keep you out of there for long enough to enjoy your coffee and pie along with the rest of the group). Remember to practice your selected method with your chosen coffee at least once before the meal, to get the grind and dose right so that the flavor is everything you want it to be at the table.

Serving tip: heat your guest's cups by rinsing with hot water before you begin serving the table, and they won't notice as quickly if your coffee gets a little cold while you're getting around to everybody.

3. Relax

So long as you know you've got some great coffee beans up your sleeve, the hard part's already over, and people are happy to linger at the table as the scent of coffee wafts in. People will love seeing freshly made Chemexes (always beautiful at the table) decanted tableside just as much as they'll love knowing you have another French press steeping, or that you've got a great automatic machine doing the good work for you in the kitchen. Don't worry too much, just take your time, get it to the table warmly, and enjoy, sit back and sip along with the compliments.

Do your part! If you're a coffee-geeky guest and not hosting Thanksgiving this year, consider offering to bring ground coffee and a brewer to take this task off the host's hands. You'll be surprised at how far ending a feast on such a thought-out note can go.


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 currently compiling photographs of the best coffee in the world to be published by Presspop later this year.

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