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 Commercial Espresso Machine Buyer’s Guide

Coffee Machine Depot USA

Selecting the right commercial espresso machine for your needs can be a confusing and daunting task. For those that are new or even those that have a significant amount of experience in the coffee industry, the process of finding the right machine to fit your needs shouldn’t be a stressful experience. With a little help from us in the form of this buyer’s guide, we hope most of your questions are answered and have a state of mind while selecting your perfect machine. For any further questions regarding equipment, specs, customizations and anything coffee related, feel free to reach out to us via email or by phone and we’ll be happy to help.

Understanding Commercial Espresso Machine Components

Group Heads, Boiler Size and Power

The number of groups that a coffee machine has, its boiler size and the electrical rating (generally the element power) determine the number of drinks produced per hour. An essential feature to consider in commercial machines is the number of groups.

Over the years we have found that two and three group machines have been the most popular for a variety of coffee serving scenarios. Four groups should be considered in high volume locations, which allows two baristas to work simultaneously during morning and lunch rushes. As a matter of fact, four group barista espresso machines are a growing percentage of the commercial coffee machine market.

For those looking for a small package, a one-group machine can be great for small operations like smaller restaurants where demand may be lower and seated customers, can wait a few extra minutes for their drinks to arrive and of course one group machines are great for those that want to serve their friends and family the best ristretto espresso at home.

Coffee Machine Boiler Size

Boiler size plays a role in the ability to deliver steam and hot water. Boiler size for one group machines can range from 1.8 - 5 Liters, for two group machines from 5 - 12 Liters, three group machines from 11 - 18 liters and 20 - 22 Liters for most four group machines. Espresso production is the least affected by boiler size; using hot water (for tea and Americanos) is the most power consuming. Therefore, it is important to consider whether you are making a lot of doubles as opposed to singles, as well as the size of drinks. If your business is comprised of selling takeout drinks in 16 Oz. grande and 20 Oz. venti sizes, you’ll need much more performance from your machine, than in a restaurant situation where the drinks will be 6 and 8 Oz. single cappuccinos.

Coffee Machine Electrical Element

The electrical draw of the machine (element rating) greatly affects the recovery power of the machine. Businesses that have a big morning or lunch rush, or that use the machines for Americanos, Crema Coffee and tea will need a higher capacity machine. As you might expect, the bigger the machine, generally the more power it draws and the quicker it can recover from a workout. However, machines can vary widely in their power and with different manufacturers. For example, smaller two group machines often have 2700-3900-Watt elements, and many manufacturers use elements around 4000 Watts on their 2 group machines. Three and four group machines can range from 4,500 – 6,500 Watts and therefore their recovery rate is much faster.

The Effect of Group Head Temperature Stability on Taste

Ensuring that the correct boiler size, number of group heads and power are correct for the intended job is extremely important. However, no other factor affects the quality of espresso as much as the temperature of the water that is used to brew it.

More poor-quality espressos are caused by brewing at the incorrect temperature than by poor grinding and poor-quality beans. A variation of as little as one degree from the optimum temperature of 95 C (203 F) measurably affects the quality and taste. We have seen machines that vary wildly – up to 12 degrees C (22 F) back and forth in the course of a few minutes. Whereas poor grinding and poor beans can be corrected, poor machine design cannot.

Three factors affect the temperature of the water flowing through the espresso grounds. Only the first can be easily controlled by the service technician or a knowledgeable barista. Boiler pressure and boiler temperature are directly related, so by adjusting the pressure stat (or possibly a thermocouple), the technician can adjust the boiler pressure/water temperature.

Many barista espresso machines use an advanced boiler management system which incorporates a highly accurate dual boiler probe system provides superior safety & greater thermal stability.

Normally, stable group head temperature is a desired feature. However, the ability to vary group head temperature during a brew (called temperature profiling) is gaining traction amongst roasters and specialty coffee shops. Just like searing a steak to lock in the juices, and then turning down the heat to finish cooking, coffee is a food and different brew temperatures can affect the finished taste. For instance, darker roasts can benefit from a lower brew temperature and lighter roasts can benefit from a higher brew temperature. Some machines have the ability to set each group to a unique temperature. In addition, each group has an adjustable pre-infusion and an exact digital boiler temperature setting. With this system, each espresso roast can be experimented with to achieve its perfect flavor profile.

Choosing the Right Sized Espresso Machine for Your Needs

A good commercial 1-group machine plumbed in and with a rotary pump will be able to deliver 15 – 25 espressos per hour, and steam enough milk for four restaurant sized cappuccinos at any one time.

Commercial 2 and 3-group machines are considered by most operators. With their power and the fact that they can brew up to four single drinks at once, their flexibility and speed also comes with having up-to two steam wands.

A powerful 2-group machine will satisfy all but the very busiest specialty coffee bars, and should be chosen when 75 to 500 drinks per day are required. Sometimes we suggest buying a 3-group used machine, which are traditionally the same price as a used 2-group machine. They also allow you to grow into the machine as your customer base gets stronger and stronger.

For those considering a 4-group machine this can be a truly game changer for your business. Size can matter. It has been our experience as owners of cafes and servicing countless others that the size of your machine can have a direct effect on your sales and espresso drink program success. You are likely to be busier with a 2-group machine than a 1-group machine and so on simply because customers perceive your business to be more professional than the one down the street with the smaller machine. This is called counter presence and it worked for Starbucks, where four group machines were installed as a matter of course. Who was not impressed with the power and the presence that a four-foot wide machines have? The same effect can also be achieved by installing 2 x 2-group machines next to each other, which will also provide a great consistency as the two machines will be operating on cruise control.

Ultimately, we are here to help and welcome your call or email to discuss which option is best for your needs.