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How to Choose a Commercial Espresso Machine

How to Choose a Commercial Espresso Machine

How to Choose a Commercial Espresso Machine

How to Choose a Commercial Espresso Machine


If coffee is your primary product then you'll have to compete with a customer's numerous other sources of coffee, including neighboring Starbucks and Dunkin'. If your coffee isn't better, why would a customer come to your business? Great coffee starts with a perfect blend of freshly roasted beans, superior brewing technique, and great commercial coffee equipment. 

For most coffee shops espresso-based drinks, like lattes and cappuccinos, make up about 70-80% of total sales, so your choice of espresso machines is critical to your business success. But don't worry, we've got you covered!


The Basics of Choosing a Commercial Espresso Machine


1. Estimate the number of drinks per day (and more importantly per hour!)

A good place to start the commercial espresso search is by coming up with an estimate of how many drinks per hour you will need to make with the espresso machine. 

  • I'm a startup business, how do I estimate that?
    • One way of doing this is by going to other local coffee shops or businesses that sell coffee and estimate how many drinks they are doing. 

This estimate will help determine the size of espresso machine that would best fit your business. 


2. Number of brew groups

The more drinks you make per hour, the larger machine you will need. 

According to an Espresso Outlet survey we conducted, about 6% of coffee shops use a 1 Group espresso machine, about 68% use a 2 Group espresso machine, about 24% use a 3 Group espresso machine, and about 2% use a 4 Group espresso machine.

Chart: What groups of espresso machines do most coffee shops have?

  • General Rule of Thumb: The more brewing groups an espresso machine has, the more drinks per hour can be made with it. 


3. Boiler size

If your business only does a few drinks per hour, you can get away with having a machine with a smaller boiler. But as the number of drinks per hour increases, the boiler size on the machines should also increase

  • What happens if my boiler is too small?
    • If you try to make a lot of drinks per hour with an espresso machine with a small boiler, you will likely run into recovery time. During recovery time, the machine doesn't have enough hot water or steam to complete the drink and has to sit idly until it recovers. 
    • Which is, of course, not ideal for customer service since the wait time for the customer will increase rapidly and exponentially as more and more customers are in line waiting for their drink to be made. 

If you plan to make a lot of larger sized milk-based drinks, this is especially important, as a small boiler will only have so much steam pressure before it dissipates. The espresso machine will need to add more cold water to the boiler, the heat the water to steam temperature again before you can use the machine again. 

There is a huge difference between the steam pressure in a 2-liter boiler vs. a 5-liter boiler vs. an 11-liter boiler. 


4. Espresso machine wattage and voltage

Voltage and amperage are important considerations in the choice of an espresso machine.

  • General Rule of Thumb: The higher the voltage and amperage, the more drinks you can make per hour.
    • For Example: A 100-volt, 15-amp machine can probably handle 15-20 drinks per hour, but will definitely not work for 50 drinks per hour. Where a 220-volt, 20-30 amp espresso machine would.


Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Commercial Espresso Machine


1. Will you have a drive-thru or a lot of commuter traffic?

If your coffee shop has a drive-thru or you are in a location where commuter traffic will be a large part of your business, speed of service will be especially important. Having an espresso machine, grinders, and other coffee equipment that can quickly produce high-quality drinks will be make or break.

If a commuter has to sit in a drive-thru for more than a few minutes, the chance they come back every day will go down as wait time increases. This is why Starbucks has systems in place to ensure that coffee products are made as quickly as possible for drive-thru customers. 

If you think you will have a lot of commuters frequenting your coffee shop, it will be good to look for an espresso machine where ease of use is an important part of the design. You might consider super automatics or you might consider a machine like a Nuova Simonelli Aurelia Wave Digit or T3 with great ergonomic features, auto purging, soft infusion, and with option auto-steam wands. While a well-trained barista can do a better job than an auto-steam wand, an auto-steam wand is a huge timesaver and still goes a good job. 


2. What is your espresso machine budget?

We frequently get inquiries from customers who are planning to start a coffee shop but don't want to spend more than $5,000 on the espresso machine and they ask us to provide espresso machine recommendations that meet the specification. 

Unless this customer has a small mobile catering service, there is no espresso machine we would recommend in this price range that can support the demand of a coffee shop environment.

While most coffee shops spend between $10,000 and $15,000 on their espresso machine, the range for a full-size commercial machine typically ranges from about $5,000 to $30,000.

  • If you are planning to stay on the cheapest end: Go with a brand, such as La Spaziale, that gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
  • If you absolutely can't increase your budget above $5,000: Try to find a good used full-size commercial machine rather than trying to make a machine that is too small or low quality work - it won't.


3. How important is drink quality?

Ask Yourself: Do you want your shop to be known for having good coffee? Better coffee? Or the best of the best?

I want good coffee. You can get a good heat exchanger machine, like a Nuova Simonelli Appia, La Spaziale S2 or S9, or Unic Mira, and they will do well in meeting that goal.
I want better coffee.

If you want better espresso, a heat exchanger machine with great thermal stability or a multi-boiler machines will give you enhanced temperature control, which will enable the production of higher quality drinks. 

Examples: Nuova Simonelli Aurelia Wave, Unic Stella Di Cafe

I want the best of the best.

You will need a machine with even better temperature control, pressure profiling, multi-boilers, advanced PID and programming options, pre-infusion, and other similar features.

Examples: Nuova Simonelli Aurelia Wave T3, Victoria Arduino Black or White Eagle, Slayer


4. Does the espresso machine have to be portable?

If your coffee business is a catering business or a mobile coffee cart, this could be something you will need to think about. 

Espresso machines are quite heavy, so if you need to be able to move it, a 1 Group espresso machine or a compact 2 Group espresso machine may be your best option.


5. What kind of automation do you want?

There are 4 types of commercial espresso machines: Manual/Lever, Semi-Automatic, Volumetric (sometimes referred to as Automatic), and Super Automatic.

Manual/Lever Manual levers make some of the best shots and have more traditional design that is attractive to some people. They are also hardest to learn how to use and it can take more time to dial them in and pull shots. 

Semi-automatics have the advantage of having a pump to apply pressure instead of a manual lever, which makes them easier to use, and requires a standalone espresso grinder. 

On a semi-automatic machine, the barista activates the brewing cycle, waits for the shot to brew, then turns off the brewing cycle. This requires the barista's attention during the shot pull which makes it harder to multi-task.

Usually there is less consistency in the shot volume which can affect drink quality. 


On a volumetric machine, the barista activates the brewing cycle, the machine runs until the shot has been brewed, and then automatically stops itself. 

With volumetric espresso machines, the shot volume is consistent, and it allows the barista to do something else (such as steam milk) while the shot is brewing.

Super Automatic

On super automatic machines, the grinder is built into the machines. The machine grinds the coffee, tamps it, brews it, and automatically stops itself and gets ready for the next show. This is all done with the touch of a button. 

The advantage of super automatic machines is they make it very easy to make espresso drinks. The disadvantage is the machines cost quite a bit more, requires more routine maintenance, and since the human element is taken out, they usually don't make drinks as well as a well-trained barista would.


6. How easy is it to find repair technicians for the commercial machine brand?

While most espresso machine service companies will work on most commercial espresso machines, with less common brands it will be harder to find a service technician that has worked on that exact machine. Therefore, they won't be as familiar with the issues it may have and may take more time to fix them effectively. 

  • For Example: If you purchase a Nuova Simonelli espresso machine, it is one of the most common espresso machine brands in the US. Therefore, it is highly likely that a repair technician has worked on that brand before. 

Espresso Outlet works with service companies all over the country on all the brands we sell. We also have and sell a directory of service companies we are aware of in the USA. You can use this directory to find a repair & maintenance company in your area. These companies also do professional installations and water tests, which we recommend for new espresso machine purchases.


Now armed with the basics and answer to important questions to find the best fit, you can do find the best commercial espresso machine for your business!

This blog post was created by Joe Kolb - Espresso Outlet.           Espresso_Outlet_Logo


Want to learn more about coffee roasting & equipment? Roasting & Green Coffee is one of Coffee Fest's education programming tracks for 2023! Check out some of the Roasting & Green Coffee classes previously available at Coffee Fest New York 2023.

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