Buying a commercial espresso machine

Whether you’re looking to upgrade your current machine to meet growing demand or simply want to expand your current menu, there are many benefits to buying a commercial espresso machine.

It’s not just coffee shops that can benefit from serving quality espresso based drinks either. Whether you’re a small café, medium-sized bar or large restaurant, coffee should be an essential part of your drinks menu. In fact, quality coffee can help you win new customers and encourages those customers to return time and again. From the morning rush to after dinner drinks, today’s customers expect a wider range and better quality of coffee than ever before.

To cash in on the country’s love of coffee you’ll need to buy the right commercial espresso machine. With so many features and options to choose from, plus prices of over £6,000, this decision can be a confusing one, not to mention costly. Choosing the perfect coffee machine is made much simpler with an understanding of the key features, which is where our handy commercial espresso machine buying guide comes in. Here we’ll cover what you need to consider when choosing your espresso machine and the main options available to you.

What to consider

Before you choose your coffee machine, it’s important to know your beans from your cups, or should we say bean-to-cup. Bean to cup coffee machines are predominantly used for self-service uses such as in cafeterias or domestic applications. These machines grind the coffee beans and prepare the milk within one machine to produce a ready-made coffee drink.

This buying guide will focus on the traditional espresso machine. These commercial coffee machines are much more reliable and are operated by baristas to provide exceptional quality coffee that can be adapted to create your own specialised blends. This type of coffee is essential to differentiating your coffee offering and providing the best quality to your customers.

Before buying your commercial espresso machine, here’s what you need to consider.

Size of business

The size of your business or, more specifically, the volume of coffee you expect to be serving, will be the main consideration when choosing your machine. You’ll see volume is the key determinant for most of the options below, with additional features mostly dependant on your personal taste or skills.

Don’t forget to consider future demand and the type of business you have. A dedicated coffee shop may see their daily coffee volumes grow considerably over time as their customer base grows, so opting for a bigger machine early might be a smarter investment. Alternatively, restaurants, bars or cafes with a focus on food or other drinks may find that even as their business grows their coffee volume specifically won’t increase as much.

Budget

You’ll find espresso machines range in price from less than £1,000 to well over £6,000. While price is largely dependent on the size and capacity of the machine you choose, you’ll also pay extra for additional features and more automatic functionality. If you’re confident in your baristas capabilities, you may be able to save on some automatic functionality and find a cheaper model that still meets your volume demands.

It’s also important to remember that price will always have a lot to do with quality, so simply opting for a machine with minimum features and the smallest price tag isn’t always the best choice long term.

The number of group heads is the first and main decision you'll make when buying a commercial espresso machine

Main options and features

Number of group heads

This is the first and main decision you’ll make when buying a commercial coffee machine. Each espresso shot is extracted from a group head, with a single group head capable of making two shots at a time. Simply put, the more group heads you have, the more coffee you can make. Espresso machines can have up to 7 group heads, with most commercial machines having 1 to 4 group heads. Here’s a guide to choosing the right number of group heads to meet your demands.

1 group head – produces around 50 cups a day, ideal for small bars or cafes with minimum coffee output.

2 group heads – up to 150 drinks a day, perfect for small or mobile coffee shops and cafes.

3 group heads – 150 to 250 drinks a day, typically used by mid-sized dedicated coffee shops or other businesses with more high volume dedicated coffee output.

4 group heads – over 250 cups a day, typically for high street coffee shops with high footfall and fast-paced demand.

Boiler size

The boiler size is usually dictated by the number of group heads and all quality machines will have a boiler size optimised for the coffee output it can handle, but double check that the listed boiler size is right for your needs. The boiler will give you steam power plus hot water supply for both coffee and tea, so it’s important that it can meet your day to day demands. Here’s a brief guide to boiler sizes.

A one group head machine should have more than 6 litres.

A two-group head machine needs to have around 10 litres.

A three-group needs to have 14 litres plus.

This three group espresso machine has a 20 litre boiler to keep up with every day demand

This three group espresso machine comes with a 20litre boiler to keep up with day to day demand.

Automatic functionality

You’ll find all commercial espresso machines listed as either fully automatic or semi-automatic. This refers to the automatic functionality that goes into producing the coffee and can potentially affect the control you have, and the quality of coffee produced.

Semi-automatic

Semi-automatic machines have an on and off button that controls the amount of boiling water that goes through the coffee and the group head. While in theory, this gives skilled baristas more control over the coffee, it is also less consistent and harder to operate.

Ideal for…

If you’re opting for a one or two group machine and have a capable barista, you can opt for a semi-automatic machine to save money.

Fully automatic

Fully automatic machines have pre-set buttons for the amount of water that goes through the machine. Many of these machines allow you to programme the coffee dose in millilitres or by time, as well as allowing you to set up different programmes for different days. This gives you complete control over the extraction and production process while automating for consistent and quality coffee every time.

Ideal for…

Any business with medium to high volume demands or looking for ease of use will need a fully automatic machine.

Get ease of use and consistent, quality coffee with by buying a fully automatic espresso machine

Steam wands

Steam wands are used to steam milk for making latte type drinks such as cappuccinos. Some one group machines may not have a steam wand, but most machines with two group heads or more will have at least one steam wand. The number of steam wands you want will mostly depend on the number of baristas you’ll have using the machine at the same time, which is mostly dependant on your daily coffee volume. Usually, manufacturers will include an appropriate number of steam wands for the size of your machine.

One group head machines will usually only come with one steam wand, while two group heads and more can come with two steam wands, one for either end of the machine.

Additional features

The additional automated features and style of your espresso machine simply will simply come down to personal taste and how far your budget will stretch. You’ll find many machines now allow you to control and automate almost every part of the extracting process, from coffee dose and boiling water, to steam temperature. Plus, most manufacturers offer at least silver and black colour options for a single machine and many even offer an entire range of eye-catching colours to suit your current décor. If you’re not concerned about any of these features, you can save money by opting for a simpler automatic espresso machine.

Espresso machine accessories

Don’t forget you’ll need to save some budget to buy your grinder, knock out drawer and other espresso machine accessories. Since many of these additional extras are vital to producing quality coffee, we’ve got all the espresso machine accessories you could need all in one place.

This Expression espresso machine comes in a choice of either white or black and features a range of automatic settings

Ready to choose your espresso machine?

Take a look at our huge range of machines made by the best brands in the industry including Iberital and Expobar. If you urgently need a new espresso machine but don’t quite have the funds just yet, you can also take a look at our affordable finance options.