Investing in Espresso Part 3: The Espresso Machine

Often this is where the conversation on espresso begins and for good reason. The espresso machine is the most visible and often, the most expensive piece of equipment we will ever buy for our coffee business. Espresso machines range in price from $2000 - $40,000. Why is there such a range of price in espresso machines? Ultimately, an espresso machine’s task is to heat and maintain a specific water temperature all while delivering that hot water to a chamber where water and finely ground coffee are pressurized to speed up the brewing of coffee. At a base level accomplishing this task doesn’t require $40,000 worth of specialized equipment. A great espresso machine does cost more than $2,000 though so where do we even start?

At a base level price of around $9000 you will find the most popular and durable machines ever produced. With a life span of 20+ years of daily use these work horse machines do everything anyone could ask for of an espresso machine. Their track record is proven by thousands of cafes around the world day after day. Going below this price means that something has to cost less in the production of the machine, lowering the quality and value of investment. Usually this is accomplished by using lower cost materials such as plastic which breaks or by eliminating entire systems inside of the machine such as brew timers, computer controlled heat sensors, or even entire water boiling sections designed to maintain temperatures for appropriate brewing. Investing below this baseline means losing important features that determine quality and usability.

Now that we know what is below our $9000 baseline, what is above it? Some machines have newer technology that can deliver water in user-definable times and pressure/flow rates causing improved flavor and performance. These machines are expensive due to research and development and new product marketing as well as more expensive manufacturing costs. Some of these exotic features are the future and will become our new baselines as their prices drop. Some are gimmicks designed to lure new business owners into buying higher profit margin products. Some machines are expensive simply because of elaborate industrial design or because of the exotic materials they are built out of. These machines are designed to enhance the atmosphere of a café. Some coffee business projects need these types of aesthetics to match the scale of design the project is aiming for. There is an espresso machine for every need and every budget. How do we tell the difference? Here are the parameters we think about when deciding on an espresso machine:

  1. Is the budget large enough for an espresso program?
    With the baseline machine costing $9k, an espresso grinder costing $2.4k, installation beginning at $1k and small wares needs of $800, is a baseline espresso program a reality for your project?

  2. Is the espresso machine a design element of your project deserving of more budget than the baseline?
    If the espresso machine will be in a hidden kitchen or there is a set budget around the baseline, then aesthetics can certainly take a back seat to budget.

  3. Will you be adopting newer technology and finding ways to make the added cost important to the customer?
    Often we see money invested into progressive technology only to find that the staff and ownership struggle to make that new technology work for them in a way that is meaningful to the customer. This added expense doesn’t recoup and could be better spent elsewhere.
    Once you have sourced great coffee, an espresso machine, and an espresso grinder, how do you tie it all together into a profitable, top-quality espresso service? In our final part of this series, we’ll spell that out for you.