If you are opening a coffee shop or a café, the espresso machine will be the heart of your business. This is probably the most important purchase for your shop, and therefore, you must pay special consideration when choosing a commercial espresso machine.
Choosing a commercial espresso machine is not as simple as buying an espresso machine for your home, though. Commercial espresso machines are more complex and come with bells and whistles that make it easy for the baristas to serve a large number of customers at the same time.
In this guide, we explain what a commercial espresso machine needs to have to best fit your coffee shop’s needs.
There are four types of espresso machines that come with their own set of advantages. Depending on your coffee shop’s needs, you can buy one that offers you the most benefits.
Manual espresso machines do not have any pumps that create the pressure to extract the espresso. You need to manually create pressure by using a lever on the group head. This is where the term “pull a shot” of espresso was originated.
The barista pulls the lever with their hand to force the water through the coffee grinds to make espresso. Since these machines have a basic design, they require more skill on behalf of the barista.
Semi-automatic machines have a single button on each group. The barista needs to start and stop the brewing process of the espresso and manually measure the volumes of the shot. Again, the barista needs to have some skills in operating the machine to achieve this.
Some coffee shops prefer semi-automatic espresso machines, which are placed near the counter so that the customers can see the barista at work and appreciate the theater of the process.
Semi-automatic machines are also more economical than automatic and super-automatic espresso machine models.
Automatic espresso machines come with four programmable buttons on each group and a single manual button. The program buttons can be set to create a specific volume of espresso. Once the set amount of espresso has been extracted, the machine will shut itself off automatically.
Automatic espresso machines create more consistent shots of espresso than semi-automatic machines and are much easier to use as the barista does not have to measure the volume of espresso shots. However, these machines can be around 25% more expensive than semi-automatic machines.
Super-automatic or fully automatic espresso machines come with built-in grinders. All the above espresso machines we mentioned come with a separate stand-alone grinder. With this technology, the espresso machine will grind the coffee beans and brew the espresso with a single press of the button.
As you can see, using a super-automatic machine is very easy, quick, and convenient, particularly if you work in a coffee shop with heavy traffic. These machines produce the best consistency of espresso and do not require many skills from the barista.
However, they are the most expensive type of espresso machine to purchase, require more maintenance, and do not offer as much drama and theater as a traditional manual espresso machine.
Super-automatic machines come in “one-step” or “two-step.”
One-Step Espresso Machine: A one-step super-automatic espresso machine has an automatic foaming system as well as a refrigerator for milk and allows you to make different kinds of beverages with a single click.
This machine is 30% more expensive than two-step models. It also offers less flexibility with controlling the final milk temperature and can only use two types of milk.
Two-Step Espresso Machine: A two-step espresso machine will allow you to make espresso by clicking one button and steam the milk for you when you press a second button. This machine offers more flexibility when it comes to milk temperatures.
It also allows you to use several different types of milk, including whole, skimmed, or soy. You can also steam hot chocolate and chai using its steam wand.
Number of Group Heads
A group head, shortened as a group, is the component that holds the portafilter to brew the espresso. Once you fill the portafilter with coffee grinds, you attach it to the group head to start the brewing process.
Espresso machines typically come with 1, 2, 3, or 4 group heads. The more groups the machine has, the more amount of espresso it can extract at any given time.
1. One Group Machines
One group machines are good options if your shop does not have a large volume of orders for espresso. This machine operates at 120 volts and can make a maximum of 75 drinks per hour. These machines are ideal for restaurants or upscale residences.
2. Two Group Machines
Two group machines are the most popular choice for traditional espresso machines.
These machines are ideal for moderate volume operations and allow you to prepare about four espressos within an average of two minutes. This means they can create about 120 shots of espresso in an hour.
3. Three Group Machines
Three group machines are ideal options for a shop that experiences high coffee order volume.
If your shop is busy and requires two people to operate the espresso machine, you will probably require a three group espresso machine. A three group espresso machine can make a maximum of six espressos at a given time.
4. Four Group Machines
A four group espresso machine can be seen in the busiest coffee shops and cafes and can produce eight cups of espresso at the same time. However, these machines can be a bit impractical unless you operate in unique circumstances.
Each type of espresso machine will be able to handle different volumes of espresso production.
To find the one that suits you best, you need to pay attention to various factors like customer volume at different times of the day, including peak volume time, and how many customers you will need to serve in a day.
Here are some things that can help you consider these factors:
Total Output Capacity
The first thing you will need to figure out is how much espresso you need to produce — specifically, how many cups of espresso will you be able to make in an hour during peak times. Some questions that you need to ask yourself are:
- Do you operate in a coffee shop that aims for 150 drinks per hour in the morning peak time?
- Do you operate in a shop where coffee orders are fewer, like a restaurant?
- Do you operate in a bookstore or a high school or college study spot?
All of the above businesses require different espresso production volumes from their machines.
Size of the Steam Boiler
You can also compare different features of the espresso machines like its steam boiler or heating element.
Although they won’t give you an exact number when it comes to your machine potential, an espresso machine with a bigger steam boiler will have a bigger steam capacity than a smaller version. In the same way, low power in the boiler's heating element means a longer recovery time between uses.
Cafes that are looking to make about 50 espresso drinks in an hour should consider investing in a seven to 10 liters steam boiler. However, if you believe that your business requires larger output, you need to buy a machine with an even bigger boiler size.
Most commercial espresso machines come with a 220v power capacity. Typically, 110 volt machines are better suited for residential use or commercial spaces which have low volume or orders so you don't need to make drinks consecutively.
Many cafes do well with a two group machine operating with 220v power; however, if you run a busy coffee shop that sees over 50 espresso drinks in an hour, then you should consider getting a three group machine with a bigger boiler and a higher-powered heating element.
The boiler set up in your commercial espresso machine will determine how your water is stored, heated, retained at the right temperature, and used for different components of the machine.
Commercial espresso machines typically are of two types: heat exchange machines and dual or multi-boiler machines.
1. Heat Exchange Machines
Heat exchange machines are equipped with only one boiler which serves the dual purpose of producing steam as well as heating the water for brewing coffee. This boiler is kept at an above boiling temperature to create steam pressure.
A copper line is coiled through the boiler and carries the super-heated water to the group head, heating the fresh water instantaneously and ensuring your espresso brews hot.
However, heat exchange machines are likely to lose steam pressure and water temperature in the boiler quickly, which does not make them very suited for cafes or coffee shops with a high volume of espresso orders.
2. Dual/Multi-Boiler Machines
Dual or multi-boiler machines have more than one boiler and serve two purposes: one is used for producing steam while the others are used to heat water. This gives the barista more control over the brewing temperature and also provides good temperature consistency when making espresso back to back.
In addition, you also need to note the size of the boiler. A large boiler will take longer to boil the water but will retain the heat for longer as well.
For example, if your espresso machine has a one-liter boiler, it can only produce up to three shots of espresso before becoming almost empty. It would then have to be refilled and take time to boil the water.
However, if your machine has an 11-liter boiler, it would be able to make three espressos in two minutes and will still have more than 90% of the tank full.
It will also be able to set itself automatically without allowing a significant decrease in the temperature of the water, ensuring sufficiently hot espressos.
Water filtration is one of the most important features of your espresso machine and can help it last for a long time.
This feature removes sediments and chlorine from the water, which if not removed, can form a residue inside the machine, which can lead to operational problems. These include pipe blockage, the buildup of debris inside the boiler, and issues with water temperatures.
Water filters need to be changed regularly as well. We recommend that you change your water filters at least once a year to prevent buildup within your espresso machine.
Espresso machines also come in a wide variety of styles, designs, add-ons, and upgrades, all of which can help you pick your product.
The simplest upgrades include personalized exteriors which can range from brass and copper to powder-coated hardware and stained wood for the body of the espresso machine. This can help you fit your espresso machine according to the esthetics of your place.
Some other features include auto-steaming options or cool-touch steam wands that allow baristas to easily use steam milk without risking burns.
Many good-quality espresso machines also come with Proportional Integral Derivative, which notifies you if the temperature of your boiler deviates from your settings, ensuring consistent extractions and brew temperatures.
How Long Does a Commercial Espresso Machine Last?
As is with everything, a commercial espresso machine that is made by a top-of-the-line manufacturer will have a better likelihood of lasting longer than cheap or off-brand machines.
Typically, an espresso machine can last up to 15 years with good maintenance and care.
You now have a basic idea about what to consider when choosing a commercial espresso machine for your business. Do some research to make sure you buy the best options from the plethora of espresso machines in the market.
Always be aware of hard selling on a specific feature or model as it could mean the salesman has their own ulterior motives in mind.
Make sure that you buy espresso machines from well-known brands that are known for their high-quality and superior performance and come with parts warranty and guarantees.
High-quality commercial espresso machines may be a bit expensive, but with them, you will be able to recoup the cost in a short time.
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