The 8 Best Coffee Urns
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in June of 2015. The success of your next family reunion or business meeting may well be affected by the quality of the refreshments, so be sure to use one of these fine coffee urns. They're designed to keep java at serving temperature for extended periods of time, so you and your guests will never have to suffer through a lukewarm cup. We've chosen models of varying capacities, so there's one for all gatherings. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
March 20, 2020:
After some deliberation, we are concerned about the long-term durability of the Elite Cuisine Maxi-Matic and the West Bend Large Commercial, and the Sybo Catering is no longer easy to find, so we've opted to remove these. Coming out on top, however, is still the Hamilton Beach 45-Cup, which has all the features you need for simple use: water level markings, an indicator light, and a fast brewing time, among others. For a larger option, there's the Waring Commercial, a simple but sleek unit that can hold 110 cups. Note, though, that with this model, as well as most others, a "cup" refers to 5 ounces, not the larger 8 to 12 ounce cups that many people use for their morning java.
The aforementioned models are relatively attractive, but they're somewhat plain; for something with a more luxe feel, you might consider the Update International 3 Gallon. With its slightly curved shape and gold-colored accents, it's sure to be welcome at any elegant gathering. On the opposite end of the size and attractiveness spectrum, we've opted to add one smaller, lightweight model, the Cresimo Airpot. It's perhaps too small to truly be called an urn, but when you need a relatively portable insulated beverage dispenser, it will do the trick.
Cecilware Twin For home or casual social use, the Cecilware Twin is likely overkill, but restaurateurs or caterers might find it to be just the ticket. Each of its two 3-gallon urns are capable of brewing in full or half-pound batches, with controls that allow you to adjust the coffee's strength. Plus, you can count on the stainless steel construction for durability over the long haul. katom.com
Vollrath New York, New York Shiny silver with brass accents, the Vollrath New York, New York has an exceptionally eye-catching, sleek style. It offers a 5-gallon capacity, stands nearly 22 inches tall, and weighs in at under 20 pounds. It's a chafer-style model, so expect to need canned fuel to operate it. restaurantsupply.com
Expressly Hubert 50-Cup It is quite pricey for a simple, non-electric model, but that's because the Expressly Hubert 50-Cup has a handsome hammered copper finish that is sure to be the center of attention. The Tomlinson faucet is a breeze to use with most types of cups or mugs, so this model is just as usable as it is attractive. hubert.com
Capacity, Convenience, and Simplicity Are Key
The coffee urn is capable of brewing and maintaining a reserve of fresh coffee that is always kept hot and ready to dispense.
Whether you entertain a lot of people in your home or you have a large workforce at your place of business, the convenience of having a pot of freshly-brewed java ready and waiting for your guests or employees is a welcome advantage. Aside from its economic importance and ability to keep you awake, coffee has a unique way of bringing people together and making them feel welcome in a variety of settings. You can simplify the job of serving so many at once with the use of a coffee urn.
The coffee urn is capable of brewing and maintaining a reserve of fresh coffee that is always kept hot and ready to dispense. Typically powered by electricity, the urn is constructed of either stainless steel or aluminum and consists of a lid; a brew basket located directly underneath the lid and designed to hold coffee grounds, an internal metal stem running from the lid down to the vessel's base and heating unit, a plug placed into a standard wall outlet to provide power to the heating unit, and a spigot from which the coffee flows.
Unlike conventional coffee makers that brew somewhere between seven and 12 cups at a time, urns prepare and hold up to 100 cups worth of java before an additional brewing cycle is required to replenish their internal reserves. While both devices require water, their dispensing methods differ. Unlike the coffee machine, the urn doesn't require use of a separate carafe on a hot plate for pouring. Instead, it is equipped with an integrated handle or spigot for dispensing its coffee into a cup, making it easy for long lines of hotel guests or office employees to come by and serve themselves efficiently without having to pick up a bulky carafe. Additionally, the urn's coffee has minimal exposure to air from inside the unit, so it's more likely to come out piping hot from a spigot.
Brewing With Knowledge And Choice
Aside from the number of coffee drinkers accessing an urn's spigot, one must also take into account the size and style of their available cups and mugs. The larger the individual drinking vessel, the greater the volume of coffee it holds, so it's important to keep this in mind when deciding on which urn works best. For example, a business owner with a hotel known for its extra-large mugs should invest in a commercial-quality unit with a 100-cup capacity to maximize usage for each brewing cycle.
Aside from the number of coffee drinkers accessing an urn's spigot, one must also take into account the size and style of their available cups and mugs.
Consider the overall brewing time of the machine. On average, a majority of coffee urns will brew the equivalent of one cup per minute. However, some have centralized heating elements that increase this rate to as little as 45 seconds per cup, which is especially handy in situations demanding a quick setup at a venue for an upcoming catering event or celebration.
An urn equipped with both a heat-resistant base and reliable, drip-free spigot is ideal for a commercial setting to ensure guest safety and convenience as they pour their own coffee. Keeping track of the brewing cycle is also important. An on-board status indicator light at the urn's base will alert you to its brewing status, while a level gauge also makes it easy for hotel staff to determine how much liquid remains inside.
Durability of the coffee urn is necessary for withstanding dents and potential impacts or spills. Consider a unit with a double-walled steel construction. This helps protect the urn's internal components, while the extra insulation minimizes excess heat and power loss, extending the length of time the coffee stays fresh. The last thing any house or hotel guest wants is the experience of drinking a stale brew first thing in the morning. With this mind, a prior understanding of the chemistry involved with coffee beans, the process they go through when ground and brewed properly, and where to get the best blend will ensure a delicious taste. The urn is there to help prepare your coffee quickly and keep it at its best.
A Brief History Of The Coffee Urn
Coffee has a long, rich, and multifaceted history with influences from many different cultures. One strongly-held belief is that coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia some 1,500 years ago by a goat herder after noticing the highly-active nature of his animals following their consumption of wild, bright-red Arabica coffee berries. Since that time, humans have devised many different apparatuses for brewing the commodity.
Water was poured into this compartment where it would filter through the cloth sack of coffee for infusion and drainage into the bottom level of the pot.
The earliest coffee urns date back to the 7th century C.E. and consisted of simple taps attached to the main bodies of large silver, brass, pewter, or porcelain vessels. With the invention of the infusion brewing process in France at the beginning of the 18th century, considerations of practicality for urns and other vessels became more common. Invented in 1780, the biggin, for example, consisted of a two-leveled pot with coffee held in a cloth sack in its upper compartment. Water was poured into this compartment where it would filter through the cloth sack of coffee for infusion and drainage into the bottom level of the pot.
In 1869, Elie Moneuse and L. Duparquet of New York patented several designs for a coffee urn constructed from sheet copper. This early design laid the foundation for the growing popularity of the commercial coffee urn that we know today.
By 1906, H.D. Kelly of Kansas City patented the Kellum Automatic coffee urn, which operated through the continuous agitation of ground coffee prior to its vacuum percolation process. In 1920, Chicago resident Frederick H. Muller patented an improved coffee-making apparatus specifically designed for hotel use. It included a series of metal containers filled with ground coffee and placed into a perforated bucket, which rested inside the urn.
It wasn't until the latter part of the 20th century, and the invention of automatic drip coffeemakers in the 1960s, that the modern-style electric coffee urn became common.