Whence comes sediment-free after-dinner coffee?
February 16, 2008 7:31 PM   Subscribe

Please tell me about the coffee I'm often served in restaurants after dinner (especially in hotels) and at event receptions (especially in hotels).

It seems to be totally sediment free and tastes "cleaner" and simpler, perhaps less roasted, than your typical cup of drip coffee. Is it a special type of coffee, or is it prepared a special way? Does it have a name? Could it be percolated?
posted by Mapes to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've worked in various capacities in many restaurants over the years, and the overwhelming majority of them served Ellis coffee, which is drip. It's very smooth yet strong and satisfying and just a great cup of coffee. It's the kind of coffee that makes you slam your fist on the table and exclaim, "Damn! That's a good cup of coffee!" A lot of people swear the secret is in the packaging, although the coffee just looks to be in silver plastic-y vacuum-sealed bags - nothing special. I'm not sure, but think Ellis may be East Coast US-centric.
posted by iconomy at 7:53 PM on February 16, 2008

From your description I'd guess you've enjoyed coffee brewed from concentrate, or a "cold-brewed" extract. Typically very clean cupping, and quite flavorful, with very little acidity (brightness) and only some loss of aromas. Cold-brewed extracts can keep refrigerated for a couple of weeks.

You can make cold-brewed coffee at home... look for a Toddy coffee maker or similar.
posted by deCadmus at 8:00 PM on February 16, 2008

based on my experience as a banquet service captain at a resort, i'd guess it's that you're drinking decaf. the standard practice where i worked is to serve everyone decaf at evening banquet events, regardless of what they requested. the reasoning was that the guests tended to leave sooner if they didn't get a hot caffeine injection.

also, accidentally serving caffeine to someone who requested decaf was certain to generate a bitter complaint; serving decaf to people that thought they were getting regular seemed to be a deception that was without ill consequence. what was funny was when someone complained about being served caffeine when we knew for certain that that was impossible, but couldn't tell them of our subterfuge.
posted by Hat Maui at 8:55 PM on February 16, 2008 [4 favorites]

It seems to be totally sediment free

That could be a by-product of how it's brewed, which is usually done in multi-gallon, commercial -quality, drip-brewing machines. No piss-ant Mr. Coffee back there, that's for damn sure.

You can always ask the employees for the brand of coffee, which as iconomy says, likely comes in vacuum bags in commercial quantities, often with the quantity tailored to the machine itself (e.g. so it's impossible to screw up -- one bag per brew, just open the top, dump in the coffee, press the button and walk away).
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:31 PM on February 16, 2008

Let me just say: Robusto.
posted by parmanparman at 9:42 PM on February 16, 2008

Rubusta coffee is cheap, but not tasteless. Most all of it is awful* -- completely unpalatable -- with burnt rubber flavors and aromas. P&G, Nestle and their ilk steam the hell out of the green robusta coffee (which they buy tons of) prior to roasting to diminish the ick factor.

* There are exceptions, such as some super-grade, high-grown robusta which is immaculately prepped and used in some espresso blends to add body.
posted by deCadmus at 11:03 PM on February 16, 2008

I always thought that it was because the coffee was prepared in giant percolators.
posted by gjc at 5:54 AM on February 17, 2008

Percolators do not make coffee that you might enjoy, but coffee that is overextracted: bitter, sour and acrid. More, the lovely coffee aromas that percolators waft through the entire house? Those are aromas that aren't in your cup any more.

Percolators are evil.
posted by deCadmus at 8:41 AM on February 17, 2008

You can always ask the employees for the brand of coffee, which as iconomy says, likely comes in vacuum bags in commercial quantities, often with the quantity tailored to the machine itself (e.g. so it's impossible to screw up -- one bag per brew, just open the top, dump in the coffee, press the button and walk away).

The variety of answers in this thread is amusing - Cool Papa Bell pretty much has it, though.

I've worked in 4 fine-dining restaurants, and all of them used a very good, industrtial-tough Bunn coffeemaker and pre-packaged coffees. They were of different brands, but restaurant coffee is remarkably consistent not because of the coffee brand (in the 4 restaurants we had maybe half a dozen different brands, Caravan being one that was favored in two different places- whatever's a good value from your food distributor) so it's not a single universal brand) but because of the pre-measured package and the high-quality, consistent drip coffeemaker.

Coffee being decaf shouldn't matter, because the taste is indistinguishable, and concentrate is pretty expensive and very inconvenient for large numbers of service - particularly at a banquet when everyone is eating at the same time.
posted by Miko at 8:51 AM on February 17, 2008

And also, all the coffees I remember using were arabica.
posted by Miko at 9:01 AM on February 17, 2008

Some coffee roasters produce special blends that they keep exclusive to each client hotel or restaurant, but this is usually just for four-star type places.
posted by Brian James at 9:40 AM on February 17, 2008

You mean it's not Folger's crystals?
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:02 AM on February 17, 2008

It is very hard to produce a good cup of coffee with a percolator, but it IS possible in the hands of a capable coffee cook. What you describe is overcooked, burnt, old coffee. A proper cup of coffee needs to have been licked by fire, just a little...

I'm not claiming that's me. But I have had excellent coffee out of commercial percolators. But I mean a gas-fired, measured in gallons kind of thing, not the 30-cup church basement percolator.

In addition, other posters are correct in that they standardize on a type of coffee and a water to coffee ratio that makes the best coffee. Home coffee makers rarely get to the proper temperature, and people rarely use the correct amount of grounds for that temperature.
posted by gjc at 2:59 PM on February 17, 2008

Sorry, forgot about this, too: A commercial-grade drip coffee maker has a tank of water that is pre-heated to the set brewing temperature, so that when you hit the brew button, the water flows out at the preset temperature and rate. There is also a nozzle that distributes the hot water in a set pattern.

This is in comparison to a Mr. Coffee at home where the water is cold in the tank, and is heated by an electric heater/pump thingy. It is a heated tube, with check valves that only allow water flow in one direction. The water goes into the heater, a little of it boils and squirts out the other side, eventually dripping down into the filter basket. That's where the characteristic gurgling noise comes from. The speed and temperature are practically uncontrollable.

(I've been to coffee school. And coffee maker repair school.)
posted by gjc at 3:07 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whether gas-fired, electric or nuclear, percolators brew coffee by repeatedly passing boiling or near-boiling water over a basket of coffee grounds for twenty minutes or more, resulting in the extraction of bitter compounds (largely chlorogenic acid lactones and phenylindanes) that really ought to stay in the coffee grounds, and *would*, using most any other method of brewing. More to the point, I can't imagine any restaurant or hotel food service employing a percolator today as not only do they brew terrible coffee, they take an inordinate amount of time to do so.

The OP's question was about coffee that is virtually sediment-free, clean and less roasty tasting than your typical cup. I still think it's quite possible that the OP describes coffee from concentrate. If not, then it was likely brewed in a quality, pulse-extracting commercial auto-drip brewer (e.g. Fetco, et al.).

Perhaps the real point is that the OP can likely make coffee as good, or better, by choosing a fresh-roasted, light- to medium-roast Central or South American coffee (me, I'd suggest a Panama from the Boquete region for excellent coffee flavor, very clean cup characteristics and no bitterness at all) and by grinding at home just before brewing.
posted by deCadmus at 6:21 PM on February 17, 2008

What no one has mentioned yet is the liquid concentrate some places serve. I know Dewey Eggbert (sp?) is one, and the coffee is really great, very smooth, with no sediment, just as you described. They used to have it at one of my spouse's work locations. I know one of the hotel/restaurants in town serves it for a fact, as we asked about it specifically. It can be dispensed by the cup, with no waste, which makes it perfect for a place like that.
posted by annsunny at 10:32 AM on March 5, 2008

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