Coffee warmers come in two varieties - commercial, and for home use, and these are usually quite distinguishable by the price tag. However, this line is increasingly being blurred by coffee enthusiasts who have the money and want to replicate the cafe experience in the comfort of their own home. There are warmers that will warm your pot of coffee, and those that will just warm the cup. Some of the cup warmers are designed to be used before the coffee is poured into the cup, others to keep the cup warm whilst you drink it. This article will describe some of the different options available, who they are designed for, and why.
Coffee warmers that warm the whole pot are like the plates that the glass coffee decanter sits on in the brewers. Generally, most homes will not need this if they have a brewer, unless they have a lot of parties where they want the coffee sitting on the table and kept warm for guests. But it could be good for offices, and of course, cafes and restaurants. However, some people who drink a lot of coffee may find this useful to keep a second pot warm. They come in single or double warmers, so it's perfect for those households that have different preferences - perhaps decaf and regular, or flavored varieties and regular. Overall, these are inexpensive items, so worthwhile if you do entertain a lot.
Cup warmers are generally geared to the home market, though there are some important exceptions. There are larger scale warmers that will heat 24 or so cups at a time, and the price tag for these is quite a bit higher. At first glance, these seem like a ridiculous proposition, especially with the price tag. However, they do have an important commercial function. To understand this, knowing a little bit of insider barista information helps.
The nature of the aroma and taste of coffee is such that the temperature of the cups it is served in is important, just as is the temperature at which it is brewed. If you're fortunate enough to find truly good cafes, serving espresso, lattes, flat whites, and cappuccinos, you'll know the difference. I'm afraid Starbucks, Gloria Jean's and those chains don't count! And for American style coffee, these differences don't amount to much.
Cafes keep their cups on the hot coffee maker for good reason. Preparing coffee in a cold cup causes it to lose its’ flavor. The crema on the top - crema that is part of the coffee, not relating to the milk foam that is placed on cappuccinos - traps the aromatic molecules in the freshly prepared coffee, and it is these molecules that form part of its’ flavor. A cold cup causes the crema to disintegrate, and the result is a slightly bitter coffee. Even a temperature drop of half a degree or less can do this.
These differences are most pronounced for those drinking espresso style coffee - that is, without any milk. But as a milk drinker (soy actually), I can vouch for a noticeable difference in taste in flat whites I've had.
However, these issues usually don't concern home customers. Aficionados will warm their cups with hot water before serving coffee in them. Commercial coffee cup warmers are too expensive, unless perhaps you want to impress your friends!
The most popular type of coffee warmer most consumers are concerned with are those that keep a cup warm whilst you drink it. These are like smaller versions of the warmers used in catering that keep the glass carafes warm. They serve to keep coffee at a regular temperature, without burning it. And they are quite versatile. They can be used for soups, tea, and hot chocolate as well. Actually, as a tea lover, I think it's not a bad idea. . .
As tempting as the commercial coffee products are, unless you're committed to the whole set-up - including a professional coffee maker and grinder - they usually aren't worth it for home use. However, one cup coffee warmers are quite inexpensive, and can be a great solution for those that drink a lot of coffee - or those who drink it at a more leisurely pace. They are also great for work, when interruptions can mean you don't get back to your coffee until it is usually cold.
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