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Group Head 101: How Many Group Heads Do I Need?

How Many Group Heads Do I Need

If you have been thinking of opening up a coffee shop or even getting an espresso machine for yourself, one thing you might keep hearing about is group heads. But what exactly is a group head and why does it matter so much?

Choosing the number of group heads can be one of the most important decisions you make, especially when buying an espresso machine for commercial reasons. It can impact your output, productivity, and ultimately, customer satisfaction as well.

Since this is not a decision you can make, again and again, you have to get it right the first time. So, keep reading to find out the answer to this crucial question, “how many group heads do I need?”

What is a Group Head?

group head

A lot of people make the mistake of assuming that a great cup of coffee only depends on the type of coffee beans you use.

However, the kind of equipment you use can play just as big a role in brewing an excellent cup of coffee. And a group head is at the very center of your brewing process.

For people who are new to the world of coffee and espresso machines, the term group head might feel wholly unfamiliar. In reality, it is actually a very distinct component of the espresso machine: the part that actually pours out your coffee!

If you have ever seen a barista in action, you might have noticed that they pour the ground coffee into a spoon-like device, called a portafilter, which they fit onto the front part of an espresso machine.

After that, they press a few buttons or pull a few levers, and out comes a glorious shot of espresso.

Well, the group head is the part of the espresso machine where the portafilter is attached and where the tamped coffee grinds meet hot water for the first time.

How Does a Group Head Work?

group head

Without getting too technical, the group head basically works by sending hot water through the coffee.

Once you have fitted the portafilter into the group head and turn on the espresso machine, it pulls up hot water from the boiler and forces it with a lot of pressure through the group head and into the basket of the portafilter with the coffee grinds.

As the hot water passes through the tamped puck of coffee, it results in that concentrated shot of espresso pouring out into a cup waiting below the portafilter and group head.

Whether you want a plain Americano or a beautiful latte, it all starts with a great shot of espresso. And when you want a great shot of espresso, you need to be careful of many factors, including the group head.

Even the slightest fluctuation in the temperature or pressure of the water flowing through the group head can have a massive difference in the taste of your coffee.

Therefore, learning a bit about the espresso machine works and its individual components can help you make the best-tasting coffee every time.

How Many Group Heads Do I Need?

Coming on to the main question, how many group heads do I need? Well, it depends.

Are you buying an espresso machine for your personal use or do you plan to set it up in a shop? How many people do you plan to serve using the espresso machine in a day?

These factors can help you determine the ideal number of group heads that you should have on your espresso machine.

For Personal Use

Sanremo Cube 1 Group Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

Sanremo Cube 1 Group Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

If you are buying an espresso machine for yourself and only plan to brew a cup of coffee for yourself and maybe your family, one group head is more than enough.

Such an espresso machine will be compact enough that you can comfortably place it anywhere in your kitchen or even your office. It will also have enough power to brew a strong and flavorful cup of coffee in no time.

If you are hosting a party for a large number of people and want to show off your barista skills, using an espresso machine with one group head will technically work but it will become a long and tedious process.

Since you will be able to make just one drink at a time, it will take you a long time to serve all your guests. Therefore, if you plan to regularly host a lot of people and serve them espresso beverages, consider going for two group heads for more convenience.

For Commercial Use

Nuova Simonelli Appia Life 3 Group Volumetric Commercial Espresso Machine

Nuova Simonelli Appia Life 3 Group Volumetric Commercial Espresso Machine

If you plan to buy an espresso machine for commercial purposes and want to sell your coffee, then also you have to think about the number of people you are serving.

Some people assume that it is just best to get the maximum number of group heads, which is usually about four group heads. However, even when it’s for commercial purposes, having an espresso machine with four group heads does not always make sense.

Moreover, you also have to think about your budget as the more group heads there are, the more heavy-duty the espresso machine is, the pricier it will be.

And you don’t want to pour your entire shop investment into just one espresso machine. So, if you are still wondering how many group heads do I need for commercial purposes, here’s what you need to remember.

  • If serving around 50 cups a day: One group head
  • If serving around 100 to 200 cups a day: Two group heads
  • If serving around 200 to 300 cups a day: Three group heads
  • If serving around 300 to 500 cups a day: Four group heads

Commercial espresso machines are often classified according to the number of group heads on them since these directly impact the output of the machine.

And when you are in the business of serving coffee to customers, it's all about how quickly you can brew and serve a great-tasting espresso beverage.

You don’t want too many group heads as that will just raise your costs unnecessarily and you don’t want too few group heads or else your customer service could suffer from long waiting times.

Therefore, you have to match the number of group heads with the number of cups you expect to serve in a day.

Places like bakeries, restaurants, and bars don't get a lot of coffee orders simultaneously, so you can opt for one group head.

On the other hand, a coffee shop is always flooded with coffee orders at all times of the day, so a two or three-group head espresso machine is ideal. This allows multiple baristas to work on the same machine at the same time and fulfill customers' coffee orders quickly.

How to Use a Group Head the Right Way?

Now that you have the answer to ‘how many group heads do I need,’ it’s time to learn the right way to use group heads so that you can make the most out of your espresso machines, whether it’s for home or for a coffee shop.

Here are the steps you need to follow to brew an excellent shot of espresso using the group head.

Step 1: Pull a Seasoning Shot

seasoning shot

You can ignore this step if you’re using an espresso machine at home. However, when using one at a shop, it’s important to pull a few seasoning shots when you first start the machine, especially when it has been cleaned before.

This forces hot water to flow through the machine and the group head and forces any residue from before to be pulled out through the shot.

Seasoning shots are not meant for drinking and are simply thrown away in the sink, but they play an important role in seasoning the machine for optimal tasting beverages.

Step 2: Preparing the Portafilter


This step looks easy enough but actually requires some skill and technique. It all starts from the grinder.

When using the grinder, you want to make sure you grind the coffee beans perfectly. They shouldn’t be too fine or not fine enough as this will impact the flavor of the espresso shot.

Once the coffee is ground, you need to put the appropriate amount in the portafilter. Many grinders come with automatic dosing which pours the set amount of coffee grinds every time so this is not something you need to worry about.

Otherwise, you can also use a scale to check the weight till you learn to eye-ball it. After that comes the tamping part, which also seems pretty straightforward but requires some technique.

Tamping helps clear the area so that you can easily fit the portafilter onto the group head.More importantly, tamping helps pack the ground coffee with the right density.

Tamp the coffee too much and it will make the grinds too tightly packed together to let the water through easily. Don’t tamp it enough and the water might not flow through evenly, resulting in a weak flavor profile.

Step 3: Extraction

coffee extraction

The last step is the actual extraction process. Before you start pulling the shot, it's a good idea to warm up your espresso cup for a better-tasting cup of coffee. Load the prepared portafilter into the group head.

If the espresso machine offers the option for pre-infusion, allow the group head to soak the coffee grinds with a little bit of water. Then, after a few seconds, pull the hot water through the group head to extract a shot of espresso.

Most espresso machines set the temperature themselves. If you have a manual one where you need to manage the water temperature yourself, make sure it is between 90 and 95 degrees Celsius for the best extraction.

Typically, most extractions take about 25 to 30 seconds.

Espresso shots are best enjoyed when they are fresh and warm. Therefore, do not let the coffee just sit at any stage of the process, be it the pulled shot in a cup or the ground coffee in the portafilter, as it can start to go stale very quickly.

How to Clean the Group Head on Your Espresso Machine

cleaning the group head

Your group head education doesn’t end just yet. Another crucial aspect we need to cover is how you should clean and maintain the group head on your espresso machine.

A group head that becomes worn out or too dirty will not give you strong and flavorful shots of coffee. You might even notice some difficulty in the extraction process if the group head becomes clogged.

You can delay the cleaning at home but when at a coffee shop or restaurant, it’s important to clean the group head regularly. The good news is that it is fairly easy to do.

    1. Remove the portafilter.

    2. Use a zig-zag brush to remove any coffee grounds and particles from the group head.

    3. Load the portafilter with a blind filter, add espresso machine detergent and attach it to the group head.

    4. Turn on the water supply for about ten seconds and then release the pressure. Repeat this step 4 to 6 times.

    5. Remove the portafilter and turn on the water supply to flush out the group head.

    6. Attach the portafilter with the blind filter but no cleaning detergent and repeat step 4 a couple of times.

    7. Remove the blind filter and brew a normal cup of coffee just clean the system and get rid of any residue.

      Final Thoughts

      how many group heads do I need

      Choosing an espresso machine with the right number of group heads is an important decision as it can directly impact how convenient the espresso machine turns out for you and whether it serves its purpose or not.

      So, make sure to ask yourself, ‘how many group heads do I need’ before deciding on any espresso machine.

      For home use, one group head is usually enough. For commercial uses, two group heads are usually the safest, but depending on the demand, you can opt for one or three group heads as well.

      Are you looking for 1, 2, 3, or even 4 group head espresso machine for your home or coffee shop? We have it all in Cafe Last! Check our full range of espresso machines and coffee equipments today.

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