You’ve nailed the appetizers. Your entrée brought water to the mouths of angels with its heavenly aroma. The craft beer and wines you paired with both showed absolute genius. Now, how are you going to finish off your epic feature of culinary quintessence? The after-dinner coffee bar, of course. Your guests will rave, and you will have ruined them for every dinner party (but yours) ever after.
The beauty of the coffee bar is that you provide the tools and the panache and everyone else does the work.
Offer both regular and decaf and make sure the pots are bottomless, as they say. Put the brew in insulated carafes or pump pots, and label them clearly. As far as the actual coffee blends go, stick with your favorite; a medium-to-strong blend that can hold up to mix-ins is ideal. Buy whole beans and grind them at the store or at home. If you have been told that your coffee is terrible, enlist the help of a trusted friend or barista for advice.
You don’t need to get a flavored option unless you really want to, since you’re offering mix-ins. If you get a flavored coffee in addition to plain caffeinated and decaffeinated, be sure to label the serving carafe.
Mix It Up
The barest must-have essentials in the mix-in category are half-and-half, granulated white sugar, and maybe some Splenda.
• Cream, half-and-half, whole milk, and/or skim milk
• White sugar (granulated or cubes), turbinado sugar, brown sugar (loose or cubed), honey
• Artificial sweetener: Splenda, Nutrisweet, Stevia, Sweet’N Low
• Flavored syrups
• Peppermint sticks
• Chocolate-dipped coffee spoons
• Flavored creamers
• Whipped cream—plain and flavored
• Chocolate syrup
• Ground cinnamon
• Lemon and orange peel twists
Liquors and Liqueurs
If you’re putting full-size liquor bottles out, it’s a great idea to invest in pouring spouts. Not only do they facilitate pouring, but they make it easier to control the amount of liqueur your guests are adding to their coffee — which is a nice feature if they want a little Amaretto with their coffee and not the reverse.
• Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
• Bailey’s Original Irish Cream
• Irish whiskey, e.g., Jameson’s
• Raspberry liqueur
• Godiva Chocolate and/or White Chocolate Liqueur
An after-dinner coffee bar without some sort of dessert will likely provoke ill will, no matter how exotic and wonderful the coffee offerings are. Make sure you keep this in mind and put out a decent spread of sweets. You don’t have to go Sugartown crazy, but some classy cookies or decadent little pastries will do seriously awesome things for your star power.
• Biscotti — a classic. Anise, almond, chocolate.
• Cookies — again, classic. Do something nice. Shortbreads, rolled cookies, delicate lacy nutty things like tuiles and Florentines. Save the homely chocolate chips for another day.
• Mini creampuffs — obviously.
• Tartlets, petit-fours, artfully cut lemon bars.
• Fancy chocolates and truffles.
Glassware and Tableware
• A variety of mugs — footed cocktail mugs are pretty, but sturdy coffee mugs your less-delicate guests can wraps their paws around are also welcome.
• Spoons and stirrers and a shallow dish to put them in after use.
• Sugar spoons, or tongs if you’re using cubes.
• Small plates and cocktail napkins.
Not strictly necessary but super-nice touches — the kinds of details that separate the Marys from the Marthas (Stewarts, that is).
• Pitcher of ice water and glasses.
• Coasters that guests can write their names on, and Sharpie pens to do so.
• Breath mints — because no one likes to make conversation with coffee breath.
Now sit back, enjoy a cup of your own interpretation of java perfection, and let the adulation roll over you. All you have to do is keep a fresh pot brewing. And try to look humble.
Photo Credits: author, author, author, Wouter Hagens, and Sandra.