Espresso brewing into a white demitasse cup.

One of the biggest equipment costs for any coffee shop will be its espresso machine. This purchasing decision is important and can be complicated for a variety of reasons.

Common Mistakes in Buying Espresso Machines

The two most common mistakes people make when purchasing espresso machines is either underpaying or overpaying. Before making your purchase, have solid answers for these three questions:

  • How busy is your shop going to be?
  • What is your personal budget?
  • What bells-and-whistles are must-haves for your espresso machine?

I often use a car-buying analogy when I’m consulting with wholesale customers or students on this issue. Don’t buy an economy car when you need a heavy-duty vehicle. Don’t buy a Ferrari when your budget only supports a Ford.

You can spend a ton of money on a top-of-the-line espresso machine, but a higher price doesn’t mean that it’s the best or even the right machine for you.

Types of Espresso Machines

The first decision you will need to make is determining how big your machine needs to be.

The number of group heads, or groups, determines the number of shots you can produce at a time. Do you anticipate being a high-volume shop? You may want a three-group espresso machine. Are espresso-based drinks only a small portion of your beverage menu? You might want a one-group machine.

In addition to determining the number of group heads, you will also need to decide how much control you want to have over each shot.  

There are four types of espresso machines that each give you a different capacity to control the flavor profile of your espresso shot.  They are: Manual, Semi-Automatic, Automatic, and Super-Automatic.

Manual Espresso Machines

Manual machines require a lot more barista training, but they offer the barista more control over the flavor profiles of the end-product. On a manual machine, the barista can control the pressure of the espresso shot, which is a key variable that determines the strength and extraction of the final cup.  Most modern manual machines offer pressure profiling. This allows the pressure to be varied throughout the shot, but also set by a computer to help maintain some consistency.

Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Semi-automatic machines are generally no-frills machines where the barista must start and stop each shot.  The barista can influence the brew time (another important variable that impacts strength and extraction) by controlling when to start and stop a shot, as well as through grind size and tamp. The pressure of the water as it moves through the coffee puck is controlled in a semi-automatic machine. This is my favorite type of machine. I learned to pull espresso shots on this type of machine, and it was a great vehicle to learn about the variables that impact espresso. It is typically more user-friendly for beginners than a manual machine.

Automatic & Super-Automatic Espresso Machines

Automatic espresso machines don’t quite do it all for you, but can take a lot of the guesswork out of the barista’s hands by programming shot volumes. If you want a super-automatic espresso machine, it will pull shots, texture milk, and even auto-clean for you. You will pay for that convenience.  High-end super-automatic single-group head espresso machines can $15,000 or more. A Semi-Automatic might be priced as low as $3000.

Buyers should beware a bargain, though! If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.  It’s easy to fall in love with the price point of a $1,200 machine. Unfortunately, this is either a high-quality home machine that won’t have the power to keep up with your needs as a coffee shop, or it’s a low quality machine that claims to be commercial grade.  In my experience, a low-quality machine both makes bad coffee and breaks down frequently. When it breaks down, it will also be difficult to find service technicians and replacement parts for it, because there will be fewer of those types of machines in commercial use.

It’s important to remember that your espresso machine is where you make most of your money as a coffee shop. When it breaks, you lose money. You should invest in a quality piece of equipment from a reputable brand, like Nuova Simonelli, La Marzocco, or Rancilio, that has service available in your area.

Automatic 2 head espresso machine with two coffee bean grinders, cleaned and ready to brew. Clean coffee cups stacked on top.

2-Group vs. 3-Group Espresso Machines

Most shops do best with a two-group machine, and that means expecting to spend closer to $5,000–$11,000 (or more, depending on the make and model). Unless you know you are going to be EXTREMELY high-volume, then you can probably save the money of investing in a three-group machine.  Two well trained baristas can work faster on a two-group than one person producing coffee on a three-group machine.

Within each of these classes of machines, there are different grades. For example, a three-group Rancilio Classe 5 Automatic Machine may cost around $8,000. The same size Victoria Arduino Black Eagle Gravimetric machine, with all of its bells and whistles, can run upwards of $25,000.  At the end of the day, you can literally spend as much as you want on your espresso machine.

Choosing the Right Machine & Parts Dealer

Where you buy your machine will also have a big impact on your cost. Most of the prices quoted in this blog are from online retail stores, specifically espressoparts.com.  If you buy your machine directly from an equipment dealer or manufacturer, they may offer package deals that could include purchasing an espresso grinder at the same time.

Many dealers also include installation and warranties for the first few years.  Personally, this has always been a major selling point, especially for new businesses. You will want to minimize the downtime of your machine and be able to call a qualified tech if something breaks.  It’s also possible that the dealer will have a showroom where you can try out different machines, which is the case with my personal favorite dealer in Georgia, Espresso Southeast.

Whatever machine you choose, just make sure that you know how to use it properly.  At the end of the day, the person running the machine will dictate your drink quality, not how many gadgets the machine has.

Home made cold brew iced coffee instructions by Hannah Mercer AST

What It Is:

Cold Brew (or Iced Coffee) is a little different than hot brewed coffee. It tends to produce coffee with a creamier mouthfeel, much less acidity (about 70%), and enhances different flavor notes of a coffee than a method using hot water. Often, cold brewed coffee methods produce a concentrate, which you can drink straight for an extra kick, or dilute using a 1:1 ratio with water to produce regular strength coffee. If the acidity of hot coffee bothers you, but you don’t like drinking iced coffee, warm up the cold brew in the microwave, or use hot water to dilute the concentrate.

What you Need:

A home cold brew system like the TODDY

OR

A container large enough to hold 8 quarts of water
A strainer (like a fine mesh, cheesecloth, cotton pillowcase, regular coffee filter)
Cool, clean water
1 lb Medium-Coarse ground coffee (similar to French Press)
Time

How to Do It:

  1. Place your coarsely ground coffee in the bottom of your vessel.
  2. Add 8 quarts (2 gallons) of water slowly, making sure to evenly wet all the coffee grinds.
  3. If necessary, use a clean spoon or stick to push down any coffee grinds that did not get wet.
  4. Wait anywhere from 12-36 hours, depending on your desired strength.
  5. Strain everything through your desired strainer. The smaller the holes, the less sediment you will see in the finished product.
  6. Store your cold brew in any container you like. The concentrate will stay good for up to two weeks in a refrigerated environment.
  7. Dilute to taste and enjoy.

People ask me all the time what’s one thing they can do to step up their coffee game in the morning. Once you go beyond buying high quality, fresh coffee, the answer is simple: buy your coffee whole bean and grind it fresh every morning. With that being said… there are hundreds of grinder options on the market, and choosing the right one for your lifestyle can be overwhelming. Here are a few questions, and suggestions, to help you find the right grinder for your morning brew.

  • How does it grind? Avoid getting a cheap blade grinder, which works a lot like a blender, and spend the money on a burr grinder. This type of grinder uses serrated metal discs to grind the coffee and produces more even grinds, helping to improve the flavor of your coffee. Beware though: an automatic burr grinder under $50 probably doesn’t have true metal burrs and could end up being just as bad as a blade grinder.
  • What’s your budget? The sky’s the limit when purchasing a grinder, but how much money are you willing to shell out? Manual grinders are a less pricey option, but they take more time to use. Expect to spend at least $40, which can seem like a lot, but for something that will greatly improve your coffee’s flavor, it’s worth it.
  • How geeky are you going to get? If you want a versatile grinder that can go from French Press to Turkish grind, be prepared to spend a little extra. The ability to fine-tune your grind will be worth it in the long run. If you just want to do a regular pot of coffee in the morning, you can stick to a more basic grinder without the bells and whistles and save some money.

Now for the suggestions… Like I mentioned, you don’t want to put money into a cheap burr grinder, which discounts most automatic grinders under $75. Below is a range of options for any price point. There are certainly more out there, but here are some of the best coffee grinders I’ve found.

Best Coffee Grinders

Hario Skerton Grinder – $40

Pros:

  • Affordable and good quality
  • Replacement parts are easily available
  • Very compact, perfect for small kitchens or travel

Cons:

  • Requires a good familiarity with how finely you want your coffee ground
  • If you are brewing more than a few cups it requires some time to grind
  • No hopper to store beans for a quick morning fix

Bodum Bistro Grinder – $70-$100 depending on outlet

Pros:

  • Very affordable burr grinder from a trusted manufacturer
  • Able to do a variety of grinds with easy adjustments
  • Replacement parts are easily available
  • Comes in fun colors

Cons:

  • Can be a little noisy
  • Grind quantity is set using a dial-timer function, so it can be easy to over-grind at first
  • Cleaning can be a little difficult

Baratza Encore – $130

Pros:

  • 40 settings for any brew method
  • Quiet and fast with a small footprint
  • Extremely good grind consistency
  • Baratza offers great customer service and resources

Cons:

  • Grinding compartment can be a little messy
  • Heavy, so not one to take on the road
  • Like the Bistro grinder, the Encore uses a dial-timer, so portioning takes practice

Baratza Vario – W – $560

Pros:

  • High quality burrs ensure consistent grind over a long lifespan
  • Programmable dosing feature grinds the same amount every time
  • Hundreds of grinder settings for the true coffee geek at home

Cons:

  • Not a cheap piece of machinery
  • Small hopper only holds 8 oz of coffee
  • Only displays weight in grams, so have your calculator and conversion charts handy

As always, we recommend using fair trade, organic coffee  for your coffee brewing.  Why not try coffee from the Cauca region of Colombia– grown by our friends at Fondo Paez?  Cheers & happy brewing!

It seems in the coffee world there is the ever-present question: “Which brew method is better?”. Professionals and avid home users alike will all champion one as their favorite, swearing that it produces THE BEST cup of coffee, every time. But with so many brew methods out there, they can’t all be right, can they? Well… yes. They can.

The Aerobie Aeropress and the ever-popular French Press are two heavy-hitters in manual brewing and often get compared to one another (unfairly, if you ask me). While they have a lot of similarities (easy to use, minimal cleanup, both are full-immersion brewing methods, etc.), comparing the two is really an “apples-to-oranges” conversation. But since this question gets asked time-and-time again… let’s have that conversation.

Read more

A French Press is one of the easiest and most recognized manual brew methods. Since they come in a variety of sizes they can be perfect for making a personal cup, or a brew for six people to share. This is often described as a “set it and forget it” method – perfect for beginners or for people who want an easy way to experiment with brewing variables like time or coffee-to-water ratio. French Presses are characterized by their full body and heavy sediment in the finished cup.

Equipment Needed:

Calculator
Timer
Gram scale
Serving Vessel (optional)
Filter
French Press
Freshly Ground Coffee (coarse)
Brew Ratio: 1 gram Coffee:15 grams water
Water Temperature: 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit
Brew Time: 4 minutes

How to Brew:

1) Add 20 grams of coarsely ground coffee to the bottom of the French Press.

2) Using a scale, slowly add 300 grams of water, making sure to evenly wet all the coffee. Start your timer as you begin pouring the water.

3) Once your water is added, place the lid on the French Press, and depress the plunger just far enough to hold the coffee under the surface of the water.

4) At four minutes, press the plunger all the way down, separating the coffee grounds from the water and stopping the extraction process.

If desired, pour the coffee from the French Press to another pre-heated serving vessel for serving.