Illustration by Sam Brown.
When I became a barista, there was a universal understanding in my family that, from here on out, I would always provide the holiday coffee. It was a role I cooly accepted, but I soon realized I had no idea what I was doing. It turns out that making coffee for hundreds of people a day doesn’t really translate into making coffee for a couple dozen of my closest friends and family. I tried a few different approaches.
The Passive Approach
In the early years, my way of providing the holiday coffee was to just bring the beans and use whatever was on hand to brew the coffee. After a few get-togethers spent finding the right grind, figuring out how to work unfamiliar machines, and spending what seemed like hours to make a mediocre 8-cup brew, I decided I needed a new approach.
The Overkill Approach
My next approach was to just bring all of my brewing equipment with me. I would ignore the stares as I unpacked my grinder, V60, range server, gooseneck kettle, and special bamboo stir stick. When it came time to brew, I required no less than four feet of counter space and two outlets. Then I would brew single cups of pour-over coffee for 45 minutes until everyone was served. Lugging everything around was a pain, not to mention I was really starting to annoy everyone, so I tried a third approach.
The “Create Your Perfect Setting” Approach
This was the shortest lived approach, and it’s pretty obvious why. Basically I just bought brewing equipment for family members for Christmas and birthdays. A Chemex for my sister, Baratza grinder for my mom, a Bonavita brewer for the in-laws. It was a weird and spendy approach. I’m still reaping the benefits, but it’s just not practical as the holiday hosts change each year. Also, if I’m being honest, it was a little selfish.
The Foolproof Approach
So after all these years of trial and error, I’ve developed what I think is the perfect approach to holiday brewing. I’ve compiled it here in a convenient list to make your holiday preparation a cinch.
1. Start with fresh coffee.
I’m talking about Tonx, of course. No matter how you brew, you have to start with great ingredients.
2. Choose a big, easy to clean brewer that you’re comfortable with.
The Chemex is a great choice. You can brew about 30oz comfortably and it’s easy to just discard the filter and grounds. This year, though, I’m going to go with the French Press. It’s a little trickier to clean, but it’s less hands-on than the Chemex, and since we have a new addition to our family who requires constant monitoring, I want this year to be easy.
3. Bring something to hold the brewed coffee.
Bring a receptacle to hold your brewed coffee, so you can immediately start another brew. You can get creative with this. If you happen to have an insulated airpot or something like that, great! I don’t have one of those, so I’m going to bring a glass coffee server I have. You could also use the host’s coffee pot to hold the coffee, but don’t assume they’ll have a traditional coffee pot!
4. Pre-dose your coffee.
Know what size of brew you’re going to do and have your coffee dosed out, and store each dose in a seperate tupperware or plastic bag.
5. Grind your coffee at home before you go.
I know, grinding your coffee right before you brew is key to keeping it as fresh as possible. But it is far more reasonable than using and hand mill grinder, bringing an electric one along, or tinkering with the host’s. Grind your coffee right before you leave and keep it sealed up until you use it.
6. Pack extra filters and extra coffee.
You have to plan for some mishaps. I’ve accidentally poked holes in enough filters while brewing to know to always bring extra just in case.
7. Brew ahead of time.
No matter how much you prepare, brewing coffee takes time. Try to read your crowd and get the coffee rolling before you plan to serve it.
8. Don’t fill the cups.
This depends on what you’re serving the coffee in, but a lot of coffee mugs out there are around 16 oz, which is a lot of coffee. Even if it’s a 12 oz mug, don’t fill it up all the way. Very few people want to drink that much coffee after a turkey dinner, and it’ll just go to waste, so start with pouring 5 or 6 oz servings and then offer refills after everyone is served.
9. Last but not least, don’t sweat it.
It’s the holidays! This time is stressful enough. Brew up some coffee, do your best, and rather than critiquing your brew, sit down and enjoy a cup. You deserve it.