Choosing the espresso machine that’s right for your business - part 2
Expected Usage Servicing and Support

2. MACHINE CHARACTERISTICS
Brew groups:

While some businesses will choose a 1-group (expecting minimal to average usage) and still others a 3-group (which can handle extremely high traffic), the most popular machine remains the 2-group. One or two experienced baristas could work very comfortably on a 2-group machine and produce a great number of high-quality beverages.

The way you control the total volume of each espresso shot can be either manual or automated. A “semi-automatic” (manual) espresso machine pours the shot by pressing a button or lever to start the espresso shot, then again to stop it when it reaches the correct amount by volume or weight. A volumetric machine measures the total volume of water passing through the coffee grounds and group and then stops automatically to make a consistent shot (e.g. “single long”, “double short”, etc.)

 
Commercial or semi-commercial:

For quality, durability and performance, a commercial espresso machine is best; but for an office or very small establishment expecting only minimal demand (10-20 cups per day), a semi-commercial or “prosumer” machine may be ideal.

 

The Nuova Simonelli Musica and the Pasquini Livia G4 are 1-group semi-commercial machines that can simultaneously brew espresso, steam milk and provide hot water for tea or other hot drinks. They won’t handle large orders like a fully-commercial machine (with its larger boiler capacity and higher wattage) but they will pump out continuous delicious espresso shots and cost much less.

Steam wands:

One steam wand will handle an average flow, but two are preferred for managing more traffic, especially if there is more than one barista working directly on the machine during peak times. Most 1-group and some “compact” 2-groups come equipped with only one steam wand, while larger machines come with two. Aside from this manual wand, some machines can also be equipped with an automatic milk-foaming device designed to create a uniform milk-foam “automatically” when a trained Barista is not available.

 

The Elektra Kappa, K-UP and Aletta offer a unique variation: built like a production line, two powerful steam wands are located side-by-side so one Barista can prepare espresso on the right side of the machine (where the grinders are set up) while one or two Baristas can be steaming milk, preparing beverages and handing them to customers on the left side of the machine.

 
Water boiler:

The power rating (measured in watts) and the boiler size will vary depending upon the machine. A quality 2-group commercial machine will be 6 to 13 litres in size and 3000 to 5000 watts.

It is important to note that as the boiler size and/or wattage diminishes, the machine’s performance could suffer as well (i.e. the steam & hot water recovery time and the heat stability critical for high quality espresso). Generally a larger high-wattage boiler will produce more steam (and quickly replenish as required) with no adverse effect on the production of high quality espresso.

It is important to note that the boiling water produced under pressure inside a boiler may actually be 20% hotter than boiling temperature. Though several Nuova Simonelli and Victoria Arduino models will allow you to adjust the boiling water temperature, most will not, so many cafes will invest in a separate hot water tower for making tea or Americanos, or use the hot water spout from their drip/filtered coffee brewer.

 

Independent boilers:

A variation of the traditional design has one central boiler making steam (100+ degrees), while a separate boiler heats water for each brew group (under 94 degrees). The Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II T3 – the officialWorld Barista Championshipmachine – takes this several steps further. T3 incorporates a main bolier for steam and independendant boilers for each group. As well, an innovative "PID"system actively manages 3 separate parameters (steam pressure, group heat and group water temperature) in order to grant maximum thermal stability.

 
 

Added to this, the PIDs (e.g. the Victoria Arduino Adonis 3-group T3 uses SEVEN PIDs) can be read and adjusted to 0.1 degree celsius directly from the full-colour graphic TFT display panel by the Barista. Each individual group can be independently adjusted to a specific temperature, allowing for the best extraction and crema of different espresso blends if required by the Barista or Coffee Roaster.

Special features:

Computerized controls (such as volumetric espresso shot controls and auto-steam) can also help manage quality and consistency, and provide more uniform results when there are many users. The full-colour graphic TFT display panel built into several Nuova Simonelli and Victoria Arduino models not only allow the Barista to adjust the various PIDs (on the T3 models), but also to manage other features such as automatic back flushing, grind check, shot time, pre-infusion time adjustment, water softener replacement scheduling, etc.

 

If only occasional or limited demand is expected, you might start with a smaller machine such as a one-group or the compact Elektra Sixties 2-group (with single steam arm or steam wand) and upsize later if demand increases (reputable companies will allow you to trade-up for a higher-volume machine). In their first location, Jimmy’s Coffee (on Portland Street in Toronto’s King West) started with a Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2-group but upgraded to a 3-group after only about 6 months due to their huge success.

Another shortcut is a portafilter adapted to use espresso “pods” or capsules. Although they simplify the process, the espresso quality can be greatly diminished compared to what a trained server can produce manually, and the cost of each espresso can be many times higher.

Quality of components:

Quality of components: An espresso machine is an integrated system involving hydraulic, electrical, mechanical and electronic components. To achieve long-term durability, reliability, efficiency and heat stability (to consistently create hotter espresso and better crema) a manufacturer must invest time and resources into R&D, so don’t accept any machine just based on a low price.

Reputation of manufacturer:

There are many manufacturers to choose from, but look for a manufacturer specializing in espresso machines for a significant period of time. The most reputable companies are Italian and have been building machines for 60 years or more, while the younger Swiss companies were mainly responsible for developing “super-automatic” technology.


Glossary of Terms:
“volumetric controls”

– these machines have 4 programmable buttons (for short/long/single/double shots) plus one manual button; buttons are programmed by Barista; more expensive than semi-automatic/manual machines, but makes it easier to manage consistency of shot-lengths & drink recipes between staff.

“semi-commercial...

...or prosumer design"
– unlike the large, rugged machines found in most establishments, these scaled-down lower wattage versions use 110 volt and have a built-in water supply and drainage; originally designed for home use, they also work for offices and very small establishments because they are self-contained, and for catering small events because of their portability

“automatic milk-foaming device”

– a special steam wand that draws air into the steam when placed in the cold milk to automatically foam the milk as it heats, instead of the Barista introducing air manually; some types automatically draw cold milk inside the machine, mixing air and steam and dispensing hot foamed milk; a good auto-steamer allows you to adjust the air intake to make a creamier milk foam and a temperature probe that will stop heating the milk when a pre-programmed temperature is reached in the cup.

“boiler”

– the heart of the espresso machine, where water is boiled for steam & tea-water, and where the water for espresso is heated in a “heat exchanger” as it passes through on its way to the brew group

“hot water tower”

– a separate brewer for hot water only; some models allow Barista to pour different pre-programmed volumes and temperatures automatically (higher temperatures for black tea and lower temperatures for green or white tea and Americano); some are integrated into a drip/filtered coffee brewer as a hot water spout but often these have undesirable results

“World Barista Championship”

– theWBC” is the world’s largest barista competition, where a Barista has 15 minutes to prepare 3 rounds of espresso-based drinks under the scrutiny of 2 teams of judges (technical and sensory); typically, winners of regional competitions compete for their national title, with those winners competing for the world title; started in Norway in the late 1990’s, it is owned and run by the Specialty Coffee Associations of America and Europe (SCAA and SCAE)
“PID”


– a “proportional-integral-derivative” controller on an espresso machine employs a combination of digital pressostats, temperature sensors and switches to actively maintain precise pressure and temperature levels, thereby sustaining temperature stability and accuracy from one drink to the next.

“espresso pods or capsules”


– pre-ground espresso compressed into a small tea-bag-like disc or a plastic cup that allows the machine operator to skip the whole process of fresh-grinding, dosing, tamping and knocking out loose espresso grounds.

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