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Choosing the Right Espresso Machine for your Establishment


This article is aimed at commercial caterers to help them decide which type of espresso machine to go for.

A properly commissioned and maintained traditional commercial espresso machine will be an asset to any catering establishment and keep customers contented and coming back for more.

One of the most convenient ways of supplying this insatiable demand is with a traditional espresso machine.

Unlike bean to cup machines, the use of a commercial espresso machine in the making of espresso-based drinks is a more elaborate, time consuming and skilled process. This however adds to the charm and uniqueness of the drink as the customer can usually see each stage of the process and the care taken to produce it.

Watching a skilful and experienced barista operate an espresso machine can be entertaining as they go through the process of making the final delicious beverage.

There are basically two main things to consider when buying an espresso machine; how many group heads and whether to go for semi-automatic or automatic.

Most models come in 2, 3 or 4 group head varieties (occasionally just 1) with a corresponding increase in price. As each group head is capable of producing two drinks at a time (by using a double spout filter basket) machines are capable of producing 4,6 & 8 drinks correspondingly at the same time. This enables different operators (baristas) to use the machine at the same time and with training several operators could keep an almost continual supply of coffee flowing at busy periods although this is a very labour intensive process.

Generally the busier you expect to be at peak periods then the more group heads you should consider on the model of machine. Bear in mind though that if you only have one operator then they are unlikely to be able to operate more than two groups at a time.
Semi-automatic machines require more operator attention as they will need to press the button to start the brew cycle, monitor its progress and press the same button again to stop. Obviously a longer drink (more water) takes longer than a standard espresso and the operator will need to monitor and react according.

Automatic espresso machines have buttons calibrated to pre-set drink brewing times enabling the operator to simply press the button once and the brew cycle is taken care of. Buttons are easily programmed in advance for different cup sizes and drink lengths for extra convenience and flexibility. Obviously the barista still has to pre-load and tamp the basket in the usual manner before executing the brew cycle.

Depending on the number of group heads most machines come with a suitable number of steam wands for frothing milk and perhaps a hot water arms for dispensing hot water for making tea.

Since a high percentage of drinks served will likely contain frothed milk it will be a good investment of your time to master the technique of frothing milk. It takes practice and some skill, but once learned it will enable you to produce fantastic looking and tasting drinks and allows you to train others.

It is possible to buy third party semi-automatic milk frothers that attach to the steam arm of the espresso machine to facilitate easier frothing but we feel that these should be avoided (though many might disagree). Add-on milk frothers can be clumsy and not function to a consistent basis as well taking some of the charm and sophistication out of the coffee producing process.

Whilst a traditional espresso machine looks fabulous and attracts attention, the sight of a plastic milk frother attached to the machine can have be detrimental!

Traditional espresso machines are big business. There are now a large number of manufacturers of such machines and the number is growing all the time.

It is best to choose a manufacture that they have been producing espresso machines for a number of years and are familiar with the industry.

Only consider plumbed models as some single group machines are available with an integral water tank but these can cause problems with 'stale' water.
Make sure the machine is made of high quality metal and not hardened plastic. Smaller, cheaper machines are available but should really be restricted to the domestic kitchen and never used in a commercial environment. You may make great savings initially but unless you are only serving a few cups a day you will very likely wish you had bought a more durable model in quick time.

To operate a commercial espresso machine will require training. Most reputable supply companies will provide onsite training to all relevant staff when the machine is installed and commissioned.

Staff should practice many times producing different speciality coffees before 'going live' with real customers. Particular attention should be paid to the tamper and milk frothing techniques.

Even the best and most reliable espresso machine will break down from time to time. Despite careful maintenance an espresso machine could still malfunction at least once a year to the extent that that an engineer is required.

Service companies will confirm that the majority of their call outs requiring engineers are a direct result of user error and inadequate cleaning practices. Problems can arise from bean contamination resulting in grinding errors, failing to empty the used grounds tray regularly and inadequate cleaning of the apparatus.

Most new espresso machines are sold with a 12 months parts and labour service included in the price. However this type of agreement only covers genuine machine faults, and NOT faults caused by user error or improper cleaning practices. Such engineer call outs are chargeable even if they fall within the 12 months guarantee period!

Boiler inspections ' All commercial espresso machines are required to have annual boiler inspections. This is due to the high pressures involved and is a health and safety issue. This is required under UK law.

It is recommended that a calcium treatment unit is installed close to the machine to eliminate limescale build-up. For the average use medium volume machine a 18-23 litre calcium treatment unit is recommended that will last for approximately 6000 cups.

A quality traditional espresso machine can be a real asset to any catering establishment. It offers a personal, time-honoured and successful way of producing high profit speciality coffee drinks.

Don't forget to pay particular attention to the servicing costs and water treatment systems.
However a reliable and well-maintained espresso machine should give many years of profitable service and provide excellent quality delicious drinks for your customers.
For more information about coffee and coffee making equipment visit http://www.cafebar.co.uk