You may make the best coffee in town, but if you keep your customers waiting in line forever, you might as well kiss them goodbye! No, I’m not trying to scare you out of business but rather emphasize the importance of proper, powerful equipment for a coffee shop. As the owner of Joe’s Fine Coffee, Joseph Pilat puts it, the essential components for a successful coffee shop are QUALITY, simplicity, and speed.
The speed and quality of your brew always rely on the espresso machine you choose. Will it be able to withstand peak hour demand? Can it allow more hands on deck? Also, what should your budget look like?
I am sure you have everything else figured out ( sourcing beans, location, hiring baristas, your POS system, e.t.c). Now let’s focus on the backbone of your coffee business; the espresso machine.
Important Factors To Bear In Mind
You have to consider the below factors before buying a best commercial espresso machine. While doing so, keep in mind your business set up. For instance, coffee demand for a student’s cafe or even a book store cannot compare to the clamor of a drive-through or grab-n-go coffee shop.
How many drinks do you make in your busiest hour
Novice coffee shop owners often factor in the average number of drinks required per hour. This is a grievous miscalculation when determining the machine to buy as it always yields a lesser capacity. Instead, focus on the number of drinks required during peak hours.
For instance, a busy coffee shop makes approximately 420 cups per day. This can be broken down into 75 cups per hour for the 2 hour morning rush and 45 cups for the 3 hours mid-morning period.
The number of cups per hour drops to about 25 cups during lunchtime, which further drops to 15 cups per hour for the 7 hours in the afternoons and evenings.
If you were to buy an espresso machine based on the average cups per day, you would end up with a machine that makes about 30 cups per hour. This would end up overworking and eventually blowing up your espresso maker during rush hour, which demands 70 cups per hour.
What is your business setup?
There are about nine different types of coffee shops, each with varying demands for coffee. Drive-through coffee shops make 75% of their revenue from selling coffee beverages (the other 25% is from snacks and pastries). Such a setup requires heavy machinery to be able to provide quality drinks as fast as possible.
For businesses that focus mainly on selling coffee, it is wise to consider having a machine with multiple brew heads. This will speed up production as well as allow more than one barista to use the espresso machine at a time.
For businesses like a catering service, a book shop, or a bakery where coffee is a secondary commodity, you may get away with buying a less powerful machine. For catering services, consider using a machine that does not plumb in since you will be on the move.
Budget: Let’s Talk Money!
Commercial espresso makers cost a pretty penny! In fact, professionals always advise against any machine that is within or below the $2000 price range for any business setup.
While it is typical to aim at reducing your budget as much as possible, this can be an expensive mistake when it comes to buying a commercial espresso machine. Make sure that your machine has enough power and features to meet the busiest hour’s demand in a day. For most businesses, this means having a budget between $5000 and $10,000 for the espresso machine. Meanwhile, starting a drive-through coffee shop or an equally busy shop such as an airport kiosk requires a powerful machine costing between $12,000 and $30,000.
Not everyone has piles of money lying around, which raises the question of whether to rent or buy your machine in installments. The cost of renting varies depending on the type, size, and brand. However, the rental price is at least $100 per week. Each option has compelling advantages, but if you plan on running a full-time setup (unlike catering services), the cost of renting can quickly add up.
The best advice I have heard on budgeting for an espresso maker is to view it as an investment rather than a cost. This is especially since commercial espresso machines are durable (last ten years and beyond) when well maintained.
Every country has different food safety laws; however, there are no doubts that your machine will have to pass safety laws to be used in your shop. Ensure the machine you are eyeing comes with necessary certifications.
Common certifications in the US and Canada include NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) and ETL (Electrical Testing Laboratories). NSF is quite important as it guarantees that the raw material used in making your machine is FDA approved. Having an NSF approved device almost guarantees a pass from the health inspector. The good news is, most high-end commercial espresso machines come with NSF certification.
ETL is an equally important certification that generally guarantees the electrical safety of products. Again, this is a common certification in commercial espresso machines, especially in the US and Canada.
You want an espresso machine that is easy to clean daily and in the long haul. The good thing about commercial espresso makers is that all that money is not for nothing. These machines always come with self-cleaning and descaling mechanisms. Some are so advanced that a quick self-cleaning cycle takes place after every shot. Nonetheless, you ought to descale the machine every few months, especially if your area has high mineral content water.
Maintenance also involves the ease of repair in case of a breakdown. Make sure you buy from a reputable manufacturer and, most importantly, ensure you get a decent warranty.
The grinder you choose for your setup is equally important. You need to buy a grinder that can handle rush-hour demand. This means getting one with very fast grinding speed and can grind the kilos of beans required during peak hours.
Instead of ending up with a shelf full of blown up grinders, invest in a powerful one that will get the job done. A durable commercial grinder can cost well over $1000, but it will be worth it.
Features To Look Out For In A Commercial Grinder
Automatic vs. Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
The type of machine you choose should depend on your business setup and the traffic. A shop that makes back to back espresso drinks can benefit from an automatic brewer. This is because tamping, grinding, and milk frothing are all done by the machine, which is not only time-saving but also efficient for poor multitaskers. You can also eliminate the drawn-out training process for your baristas as the shots pulled are uniform.
However, super-autos deny you the freedom to customize your shots, which can hold you back from unveiling your true brewing potential. Besides, manually grinding, tamping, and making unique latte art is the craftsmanship that will attract clients and look great on your social media pages.
Commercial espresso machines have either dual boilers or heat exchangers. You will never find a single boiler in a commercial machine for the apparent reason that they have a very long recovery time. Single boilers also deny you the ability to pull a shot and froth simultaneously.
Dual boilers are excellent at temperature control since steam and brewing water are heated in separate chambers/boilers.
However, there is a steep cost attached to this convenience; hence many people settle for Heat Exchanger boilers. These allow you the convenience of brewing and steaming at the same time, but it all happens in the same boiler.
Another factor to consider is the boiler size. The size of the boiler plays a role in heat exchanger steaming and brewing/boiling ability. A bigger boiler offers better thermal stability as well as a shorter recovery time. This means that you will experience a less dip in temperature between brewing and frothing.
The power of your machine
Generally, the bigger the machine, the more it’s electrical power draw; hence the faster it’s recovery. This means that 2 group machines which typically have 3000-4000 Watts are more powerful than one group espresso makers.
However, it is essential to note that power varies greatly depending on the manufacturer. For instance, Rancilio espresso makers have a variety of two group machines, each with different wattage. The Rancilio 2-group Classe 6,7,8,9 and 10 are all machines with 6000 Watts, which is equivalent to 3-group machines from other manufacturers.
The Number of Group heads
Commercial espresso machines come with 1, 2, 3, or 4 group-heads whereby each head can make two drinks at a go. So if you have a four group machine, you can easily brew eight drinks at once. The size of your machine dictates how many baristas can work at the same time.
Three and four group machines are excellent for bustling shops as they allow mass production of drinks. The best part of having 3 and 4 group espresso makers is that they have two steam wands. This further speeds up drink output and makes it easier for more hands on deck.
A one-group espresso maker would suit a small coffee shop, especially where the customers are seated, allowing more time to prepare drinks. While considering the number of group heads, keep in mind that the more the heads, the more counter space required. And while more group-heads mean more money and space, they improve on service time hence worthwhile.
The Creme De La Creme: Top 5 Best Commercial Espresso Machines
Manufacturers all over the world are releasing new and improved versions of commercial espresso makers every so often. This makes the process of selecting an espresso machine for your establishment quite daunting.
Are you starting a small food truck that serves coffee delicacies, or do you want to go big and open a high-volume drive-through? The below review features the best machines for whatever setup you have in mind, be it small, big, or somewhere in the middle.
Nuova Simonelli AURELIA WAVE DIGIT Espresso Machine – Suitable for large coffee shops in high-traffic locations and specialty coffee shops.
Nuova Simonelli specializes in making machines for medium to high- volume cafes. Their latest invention, the Aurelia Wave, is chock-full of exceptional features to accommodate experienced and beginner baristas. You can’t help but notice the sleek design of this machine, which is further enhanced by the high-resolution touch screen display. The display allows seamless control of the machine enabling you to initiate volumetric dosing, pre-infusion, and even energy-saving features.
Smart Water Technology is a feature that sets the Aurelia Wave apart from all other high-end commercial espresso machines. It detects changes in water and immediately alerts the operator. For instance, it can detect changes in water temperature and pressure and inform the barista in real-time.
It also features a T3 system that incorporates 3 to 4 boilers, which allow the barista to set the temperature for each group head independently. The soft infusion system allows for proper coffee extraction eliminating the need for perfect tamping. It also comes with raised group heads to fit tall to-go cups.
Other features of the Aurelia Wave include surface LEDs for visibility, auto-steam capabilities, bar pump pressure gauge, and auto-cleaning. You can choose between a three or two group machine depending on the size of your business. The wattage for the two and three group machines are 4700 and 5400 Watts respectively.
A standard warranty of 2 years is provided, which can be upgraded to a gold standard warranty at a fee. You can also throw in some extra cash to get the machine in customized colors and an installed water filter.
- Easy to operate for all levels of expertise
- Highly customizable to fit different business setups
- Ample power draw to facilitate proper temperature control
- High-resolution touch screen display with lighting
- Smart water technology feature
- Volumetric dosing with auto-cleaning of each group-head independently.
- Many automated features may restrict the control of an experienced barista
- Many optional features which require additional fees to acquire
La Pavoni Bar 3L-B Lever Espresso Coffee Machine– Suitable for average coffee shops serving quality coffee
There is no doubting the beauty of the Pavoni 3L-B. This machine will surely make some exquisite pictures for your Instagram page! While it is excellent for pulling quality shots, the manual lever mechanism makes it less ideal for high-traffic locations.
The Pavoni 3L-B is not just about the looks. It packs some decent features as well. For one, it features chromed brass groups that not only add to its aesthetics but also provide temperature stability and durability.
It also features a huge 23-liter boiler with a pressure gauge to monitor the pressure as you brew. A hot water tap comes in handy when you want to make hot beverages like tea.
Two steam wands are strategically placed at each side of the machine enabling multiple users. Both wands have an anti-vacuum valve installed to prevent the milk from being sucked back up when steaming.
- Beautiful traditional design
- A manual lever allows for complete control over the extraction process
- Safety reset thermostat that keeps the machine from overheating
- You can choose from 4 different power settings and save on energy when traffic is low
- Durable chromed brass group-heads
- Requires skill to operate
- Pulls inconsistent shots
Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II Espresso Machine – Suitable for high traffic shops and can handle peak hours
If the Aurelia Wave is too much for your shop, perhaps scaling down to it’s smaller brother, the Aurelia II should suit your business.
The Aurelia II packs some pretty decent features similar to the Wave, such as pre-infusion, which eliminates the need for perfecting your tamping technique.
It also has two swiveling steam wands with cool touch to protect the operator when frothing milk.
The Aurelia II comes with a two or three group-head both with double boilers for enhanced temperature control.
However, unlike the Wave, the Aurelia II has a fixed temperature for all group-heads, whereby you cannot control each individually. It also features lights on the front and the milk wand for visibility. You can get this machine in stainless steel, metallic design, or custom made to white, red, or black finishing.
- Raised group-head to accommodate long cups
- The commercial steam wand makes rich milk froth
- Quiet operation thanks to the installed rotary vane valve
- Pressure gauge for monitoring pressure
- Enhanced visibility thanks to lighting at the front and steam wand
- Maintenance and cleaning takes some work
- The steam wand takes time to master
Nuova Simonelli Appia II – Suitable for seated customers and where coffee is a complimentary drink
Unless you have a busy shop, getting the Aurellia II would be a waste. This is why the Appia II is an excellent buy for shops with less demand for coffee or even shops that are not bustling with customers during peak hours.
The Appia II offers flexibility by offering both volumetric and manual dosing. This allows both experienced and novice baristas to be able to use it.
It also has removable cup raisers to hold small espresso mugs in place and move aside for long to-go cups.
The touchpad on the Appia II allows you to program the machine down to the critical details. It also features soft infusion to ensure near-perfect extraction.
Milk steaming is made easier by the swivel steam wands with protective cool touch. You can also control the amount of steam produced per wand giving you control over the frothing process.
Other features include a pressure gauge, a hot water function for making water-based drinks, water boiler indicator and automated cleaning. You can also get the Appia II in red, white or black.
- Flexible offering volumetric and manual dosing
- Easy to clean with auto-clean capabilities
- Offers hot water for alternative beverages
- Easy monitoring with pressure gauge and water boiler indicator
- Great steaming capabilities
- Top-notch boiler technology
- Decent warranty which can be upgraded
- Does not have surface LED hence visibility can be difficult in poor lighting
- Charges an extra fee for most upgrades which can add up pretty fast
Rancilio CLASSE 9 USB Tall Espresso Machine – Suitable for busy coffee shops
Rancilio is well known for making five-star commercial espresso machines for all kinds of setups, especially high-traffic shops. And Rancilio machines always come with competitive prices despite their high-end features.
Their ability to increase the size of their machines providing up to four-group head options, is quite applaudable. We can see this in the Classe 9 USB Tall espresso machine where you choose from 2,3, or even 4 group head machines.
The Classe 9 USB features an LCD display with shot timers, which allow for programmable brew doses in each group head. The LCD display also comes with work area LED lights that enhance visibility.
An ergonomic steam wand handle allows for safe and fast frothing. The pull out tray gives way for long cups and provides a high enough base for standard espresso-size mugs.
As far as durability goes, the Classe 9 USB Tall is quite reliable, featuring a stainless steel body. An automated daily cleaning program ensures that your machine stays clean after use. You also get a year’s warranty on the parts.
- Options for 2,3 or 4 brew head
- LCD display with LED light for illumination
- The self-cleaning mechanism at the end of the day
- Durable stainless steel body
- Great for experienced baristas as it allows control of the brewing process
- Few color options
- A one-year warranty feels limited
La Pavoni PUB 1V-R 1 Group Volumetric Espresso Machine – Suitable for small establishments with medium volume
The Pavoni PUB 1 is a one-group machine best suited for medium to low volume setups. This includes shops that sell coffee as a complementary commodity such as a bakery or a food truck.
It features a copper boiler with transversal heat exchangers for fast heating action. The group head is made of press forged brass and is chrome plated, making it durable and good at retaining heat.
The vertical pre-infusion chamber in the group head ensures proper extraction resulting in uniform shots every time. It also eliminates group dripping.
Dosing is electronically controlled with digital control pads. You also get to choose from 4 different cup sizes with continuous brewing and a stop button.
Additional features such as a water softener and an anti vacuum valve are included in this unit. The softener will come in handy in hard water areas, which can alter the taste of the coffee. The valve eliminates liquid from back flushing into the steam wand.
The Pavoni PUB 1, just like its bigger brother – Pavoni 3L-B, is NSF certified. This makes it safe for commercial use in food production. It will also give you an easy time when the time for a health inspection comes around.
- NSF certified
- Volumetric dosing allowing for uniform shots
- Pre-infusion paired with pressurized portafilter ensure proper extraction
- Mounted gauge to monitor boiler presser
- Compact design with small footprint equipped for tight spaces
- Very unforgiving
- Requires skills to operate
I believe I have covered the bases in helping you find the right machine for your dream shop. The most important takeaway from this guide is to get a machine that can handle your busiest hour. Bearing this in mind, and the type of business setup you have/desire, you will be able to budget for a commercial espresso machine correctly.
Usually, I would announce the best machine overall at the end of this guide. However, when it comes to a top commercial espresso maker, it is best to match your needs to the right machine size, as we have done in my review.
You will be wasting money and a sound machine if you buy a powerful espresso maker where there is little to no traffic. As for the opposite, overworking your machine will lead to its early death, which will cost you more in repairs and inevitable repurchasing. It might even cost you your clientele!
As I wind up, I have to say the machines we have reviewed above are all capable of stellar performance. They won’t let you down when paired correctly with your business setup.
Nuova Simonelli, Rocket, La Marzocco, and Rancilio. These are 5-star commercial espresso manufacturers that you can never go wrong with.