Mastering the Art of After-Dinner Coffee

updated May 1, 2019
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Serving up a big dinner sometime during the holiday season? While you may have your menu all planned out, have you thought about coffee yet? In some parts of the world (France and Italy, for example), not having coffee after a long, drawn-out meal would be unthinkable. And while even in those places there are people who will opt out of after-dinner coffee, you’re always offered a small black cup to round out your meal.

But after-dinner coffee doesn’t have to be reserved for restaurants and European travels. Here are some tips for great after-dinner coffee at home.

What to Serve

The trick to serving coffee after dinner is to think about it differently than your morning cup. We’re not talking big mugs and lattes. You want to end your meal on something short and dark, be it espresso or filter coffee.

Even though I don’t own an espresso machine, I like to make a French press and serve it in smaller cups than usual. You don’t need a lot for after-dinner coffee — just a quick, simple taste to complete your meal.

→ The best French press coffee: How To Make French Press Coffee

(Image credit: Jordan Merrick)

After-Dinner Coffee Etiquette

For the etiquette of after-dinner coffee, I decided to turn to one of the experts: Amy Vanderbilt. According to her book, Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette (first published in 1952), a good hostess always makes sure the guests have a choice in what they drink.

“Many hostesses today serve only decaffeinated coffee after dinner. However, if it’s possible to serve both regular and decaffeinated, it’s thoughtful to offer guests a choice,” she advises.

To accommodate your guests, you may also want to serve a little milk or cream, as well as sugar.

When to Serve Your Coffee

While some people assume that coffee and dessert go together, traditionally, after-dinner coffee really does come at the very end of the meal. It’s the last thing you put on the table. Vanderbilt explains how to do that in the classiest way possible:

“At the most formal, traditional kind of dinner, at the end of the dessert course, put your napkin on the table, rise and tell the women sitting closest to you to follow you into the living room for after-dinner coffee and liqueurs. On the way, stop to ask if anyone would like to use the bathroom.”

The reality is that not all of us have living rooms where we can retreat (especially in such gendered fashion!). If you’re living in a small house or apartment, don’t feel bad about drinking that coffee at the table. In fact, even Vanderbilt points out that sometimes, “The conversation at the table is so animated and spirited, you may decide to have the coffee served at the table so as not to break the mood. If this is the case, alert the butler to the change in plans.”

That’s right, don’t forget to tell the butler.

Of course, if you wanted to spice up your dinner party, you could always go with an after-dinner coffee cocktail instead.