Last Updated on May 30, 2023 by smiling-coffee-snob
When you want to brew coffee for a crowd of friends, most pour over methods are impractical. Just to be clear, I’m assuming you want to brew good coffee. Maybe not coffeeshop level coffee, but something that your guests will enjoy—that’s good enough to be memorable.
If that’s what you’re going far, coffee brewing becomes a lot more challenging. So, with that in mind, I’ve put together this guide to brewing coffee for large groups. It’s designed to be easily customized to your specific situation.
So, whether you’re dealing with a small or large group of regular coffee drinkers or you’ve got a handful of coffee snobs, you’ll be well prepared to brew fantastic coffee.
(Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored, but the links in it are affiliate links. If you buy something through these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you).
Questions to consider before choosing your coffee gear
Before we get to the specifics, you should take some time to assess your needs. This basic preparation will make the rest of the process much easier.
Here are a few questions to consider:
How much time do you want to spend making coffee?
If this is a gathering where you’ll be amongst your guests, rather than a host serving your guests, you’ll probably want to stick with the easier options. This will let you enjoy your time with friends and family, rather than spending all your time in the kitchen.
What equipment do you already have?
Everything other than the automatic coffee makers will require a steady supply of hot water and coffee that’s ground fresh—or as fresh as possible. If you’ve already got a large electric water kettle and coffee grinder, you’ll have no problem mixing and matching from the methods below.
However, if all you’ve got is an old coffee maker that’s constantly disappointing you, you’ll probably want some new equipment. Plus, you’ll need to learn how to use it well.
How much do you want to impress your guests?
Although I’m assuming you want to make good coffee, there’s a wide spectrum between good and great. If you want something closer to great, you’ll either need to be grinding fresh, or buying freshly ground coffee just before your guests arrive. However, if you get coffee ground the day before and do something like the French press method, you can get noticeably good coffee without too much effort.
5 best ways to make coffee for large groups
Quality coffee maker and an extra carafe
If you’re looking to get a new drip coffee maker to brew coffee for a crowd, go for something that meets the standards of the SCAA (specialty coffee association of America) or a similar organization. Usually, this means that the coffee maker heats water to a high enough temperature before brewing and holds the temperature throughout the brew cycle.
Most automatic drip coffee makers don’t do this. What ends up happening is that the water in the beginning isn’t hot enough and by the end of the cycle it’s too hot. If you ever bought good coffee, but been disappointed when you tried brewing it at home, this is probably why.
I’d also recommend choosing a coffee maker with a thermal carafe, rather than glass on a hotplate. Heating coffee on hotplate will also lead to a bad taste. If you’re going to have a really large group, you may want to get a second carafe so you always have a fresh pot.
Recommended Automatic coffee makers:
Yeah, these things are crazy expensive but they are one of the most highly-recommended machines around. The Moccamaster has copper heating elements that maintain the ideal temperature, they precisely drip water and are made to last a lifetime. Moccamaster has also been around since the 1960s so they’ve earned their good reputation.
Best value: Bonavita
At the other end of the spectrum is the Bonavita. Granted, this still seems expensive compared to your average coffee maker, but it’s the best overall value considering the performance. It heats water to the recommended level and keeps it there, has a well-designed brew head that evenly saturates the coffee bed and will probably last a good 5-10 years depending on how much you use it. If you brew coffee for a large group once or twice a year this would serve you well.
Pour over your current drip coffee maker
If you don’t want to get a new coffee maker, but your current one doesn’t get very good results, you can just brew it like a pour over. Rather than running the machine, you heat water separately and pour it over the grounds yourself.
This might seem a little strange, but it will probably get much better results if your coffee maker is frequently disappointing you.
You can also combine this with an insulated carafe to increase the capacity of coffee you can make. The carafe will keep one batch hot while you brew another one. You can essentially increase the number of carafes as much as you need to, depending on the capacity you’re going for.
How to do it:
If you get high-quality, freshly ground coffee you’ll be surprised by how well this can work. All you need is a timer (or even a clock that counts seconds) and a source of hot water. The ideal is a gooseneck kettle, but any electric kettle will work. You could use a tea kettle on the stove, too.
I highly recommend you practice this a few times to get the hang of it before serving other people. You need to know how much coffee is ideal for the size of your coffee maker and if you don’t have a gooseneck kettle you may need to practice pouring without spilling hot water.
- Fill your kettle with the amount of water for your coffee maker and bring to a boil. The darker your coffee roast, the longer you should let the water cool. 30 seconds for a very light roast, around 2-3 minutes for a very dark roast.
- Pour just enough water to wet all the coffee grinds and let it bloom for 30-45 seconds. If it’s fresh, you’ll see a lot of bubbles.
- Slowly pour about half of the remaining water as evenly as possible over the grounds.
- Wait about 30 seconds or until the water goes down a little more than halfway and then slowly add the rest of the water.
- Let it drain.
Chemex and Carafe
If you’re looking to really make the best coffee for a large group—plus, you’re up for some extra effort—then go for a large Chemex. It’s a beautifully designed manual coffee maker that goes back to the 1940s.
The Chemex has won design awards, made its way to museums, tv and movie screens. So, it’s sure to be a hit with a crowd for its looks. But, it also makes great coffee.
The largest size brews about 50oz of coffee at a time. Like I recommended with the other options, if you add a thermal carafe you could brew two batches at a time and keep making more as needed.
Coffee for a crowd: The double French press
A similar—but easier—option is to go for the double French press. The French press is as attractive as the Chemex, but much easier to brew with.
You could take a similar route to the Chemex and carafe method, but it may be easier to use two French presses. As long as you have a large electric water kettle and plenty of coffee you could just brew, serve, rinse and repeat as needed.
Of course, this depends on the size of the crowd you have. You could mix and match French presses and carafe’s to get the amount you need. Whichever method you take, if you want great results with minimal effort, this is only slightly more complex than an automatic coffee maker.
Cold Brew concentrate
This is going to really depend on the crowd and the time of year, but Cold Brew may be a great option to go with—especially during summer. This way, you could make a large amount of coffee in advance and not have to worry about making it over and over.
Cold brew has the advantage of working well as a concentrate. What that means is that you can make a large, heavily concentrated batch and then add water. This gives you the ability to adjust the strength as needed.
Another great option would be to mix cold brew with other types of coffee. That would allow you to do one of the other brew methods for people who like hot coffee but having cold brew as another option.
Choose your gear and get ready for your guests
Now the fun part: Choosing from the different options. These last few questions are meant to help you break down everything in this article and find the perfect combination for your unique situation.
Here are a few final questions to consider:
Is cold brew an option?
Cold brew is one of the drinks that can be a little polarizing. It’s fairly trendy right now with a lot of younger people, but there are a lot of people that hate any type of cold coffee.
If at least a portion of your guests would enjoy it, it really can make your life a lot easier. You can either make it yourself or buy some from a quality coffee roaster. That way you have either a backup or a way to just use whatever coffee gear you already have.
But, none of that matters if all your guests hate cold coffee…
How good are you at making coffee?
Ok, it’s important to be honest with yourself here. If you’re not very good at making coffee, you should probably stick to one of the easier options. This is not to say that something like a Chemex is overwhelmingly complicated, but if you’re planning to make a large batch over and over again, there’s plenty of opportunity for mistakes.
How much equipment are you willing to buy?
If you’re the only coffee drinker in the house, except for once a year when your family comes to visit, it might not make sense to buy a fancy coffee maker or a coffee grinder. However, if you’re a family six daily coffee drinkers or regularly hosting guests, it’s probably a worthwhile investment.
Coffee for a crowd: Putting it all together
I know that’s a lot of information, but hopefully you’ve been able to adjust it to fit your particular situation. While most people aren’t as obsessed with coffee as I am, I know that most coffee drinkers appreciate a quality cup.
So, if you put forth the extra effort your guests will probably notice—and, hopefully they will appreciate it. But, if not, you can use your new coffee skills to brew killer coffee for yourself!