If you are going to open a commercial food-service business, you will be scrutinized by your local Board of Health, who will likely inspect your equipment before issuing the requisite permits to open. Therefore, you will likely need equipment that has been "NSF Certified." The NSF is the National Sanitation Foundation. It was founded in 1944 to create and enforce certain standards having to do with safety and sanitation.
Equipment that is designed and built for commercial use should be NSF Certified. Most equipment made for home and office use is not. NSF Certified equipment is designed and built to last for many years of high volume use. If you try to use a typical home/office espresso center (even a very good one) in a high-volume setting, don't expect it to last for more than a year or so. There is a reason that the NSF certified equipment is much more expensive. Further, many municipalities will require this. You should check with your local Board of Health to see whether they will.
Just like clothes dryers, many restaurant appliances - including espresso machines - require higher voltage than the 110-120 Volts that a standard outlet provides. Check what voltage you will need, and make sure that your electrician locates an outlet for that near where you will be placing your machine(s). Many machines can pull fairly high current as well - some over 20 Amperes. Check the specifications on the machine that you think will suit your needs, and make sure that the circuit into which you are going to plug it will provide adequate current.
Most commercial espresso machines are built to be connected directly to the plumbing in your building so that they have a constant supply of water, and do not need to be filled manually. Make sure that your plumber can provide a connection where you would like to locate your espresso machine(s).
Also, commercial espresso machines will have a drain hose so that the liquids in the drip tray will have a place to go. In many municipalities, zoning laws will require that this drain dose be run to a floor drain that is within a certain distance of the machine. You should check with your local zoning board to see what the requirement is for your location.
The biggest enemy of espresso machines is mineral buildup. If you intend to do a high volume business and want years of use out of your espresso machine, you must either use distilled water or you must invest in a water-softener to be installed in-line with the water supply to the espresso machine. You should also faithfully clean the machine (typically using a de-scaling agent and a blind-filter) in accordance with the manufacturers recommendations. Similarly, you should periodically clean the in-line water softener. You also need to keep the portafilter clean so that the pressure does not vary.
Choose the right number of "groups" (these are the brewing heads) to handle your peak volume at rush hour. Most commercial machines have 1, 2, 3, or 4 groups. An experienced operator can knock-out the used coffee grounds from the portafilter, refill the portafilter with new coffee grounds, put the portafilter back on the brewing head, and hit the "brew" switch in just a few seconds. (You will need a large knock-box conveniently located to temporarily hold the discarded coffee grounds.) Since an espresso takes 20-25 seconds to brew, a single (skilled) operator can handle up to four groups (brewing heads) at a time, but not more. This is why you seldom see more than four group heads on a machine.
In American espresso bars, most customers do not order plain espresso. Most customers order cappuccino, machiatto, latte, etc. These drinks require steamed or frothed milk. (And there is a difference between steaming and frothing - see our article.) In our fifth point (above) we established that a four-group machine will have a throughput of one espresso every 5-6 seconds. When you run an espresso bar, you will find that the real limitation is not the rate at which you can brew espresso. Your limitation will be the rate at which you can steam and froth milk. All machines have at least one frothing wand. Some machines (like the La Pavoni Bar models) have two.
However, it is the size of the boiler that will limit how much frothing you can do. For a boiler capacity of about 9 liters, you will be able to froth milk continuously using a single frothing wand. For boilers much smaller than this (say, half this size), you will be able to froth enough milk for about a dozen drinks, and will then have to let the machine recover for several minutes. If you will be running two frothing wands continuously, then you need an even larger boiler - 15 or 20 liters. We sell the La Pavoni machines because they have the largest boilers of any commercial machines. This is not so important in Europe (where most customers drink plain espresso), but it is essential in the US.
You will need to keep several kinds of milk. Whole milk has a creamy texture that most customers will enjoy in a latte, and it can be steamed nicely. But whole milk cannot be frothed, as required for cappuccino. (Read our article to understand the difference.) In the frothing process, you create a "foam" made of "microbubbles." The surfaces of the microbubbles are actually well knit proteins. Fat in the milk will interfere with the ability of the microbubbles to form. In fact, skim milk is the best milk for frothing.
Therefore, you will need skim milk and whole milk, and maybe 1% or 2% milk. And you might even have customers that request soy milk. In addition, you may also have customers who enjoy cream or half-and-half in other coffee drinks. If you are going to provide whipped cream, it is much better to whip it fresh. (Our commercial packages contain equipment for this.) Not only does it taste much better than the canned whips (many of which are made with corn oil), but it doesn't hurt the ozone layer.
Just like you need an espresso machine made for commercial use, your grinder(s) should also be built for continuous use. Do not attempt to use a home/office grinder in a high volume setting. It is not made for it. A simple way to judge whether a grinder is made for heavy use is its weight. If a grinder is 25 pounds or more, this is because it has a large and powerful motor that can produce lots of torque at a relatively low speed. This is important because it will grind the coffee beans without heating them. (Heat will dissipate the coffee flavor.) And it will do this without much strain. This means that you can grind coffee all day without wearing out the grinder. Smaller motors will burn-out with continuous use.
If you are going to serve flavored coffees, you will need at least two grinders: one for plain coffee, and one for flavored coffees. If you try to grind both kinds of coffee with the same grinder, you will inevitably get traces of the flavorings (vanilla, chocolate, hazelnut, etc.) transferring to your regular blends. While many of your customers might not mind this, the espresso purists will not like it at all.
To most of you, "cost" should actually be first on the list. If you are a newcomer to the espresso business, you are probably shocked to learn what large commercial espresso machines cost. They are different than home and office espresso machines. They are much larger and much more durable. They are made for daily continuous use for many years. A machine that would be great in your home could not do this.
But keep in mind what the financial picture really is. Not only is the cost of your machine deductible to your business (as a capital expense), but if you can drive a reasonable volume, these machines will pay for themselves surprisingly fast.
For a numerical example (that you can adjust based on what your actual pricing and anticipated volume is), let's assume that you sell an espresso drink for $3 (which is very conservative), and that the coffee grounds and milk for the drink costs $0.50 (which is probably high). Your gross earning is then $2.50 per drink sold. If you average 100 customers per day (which is a very small business), then your gross earnings are $250 per day. In 10 days, this is $2,500. In 20 days - or about 3 weeks, this is $5,000.
If we change the numbers even slightly, the results can be dramatic. For example, if you sell an espresso drink for $4, and have a gross earning of $3.50 per drink, and your volume is 200 customers per day, then your gross earnings will be $700 per day. You will make enough in 7 days - just a week - to pay for a $5,000 machine.
Therefore, even with a relatively small volume, and relatively low pricing, you should be able to pay for your machine within just a few weeks, depending on your sales. And the machine will continue to drive your revenue for many years, with proper maintenance.
...written by your friends at The Coffee Brewers