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We Want an Office Coffee and Espresso Machine. What Should We Get?

We Want an Office Coffee and Espresso Machine. What Should We Get?

An emerging trend that we (at The Coffee Brewers) are seeing is that as small businesses in America proliferate (including us), many small offices and businesses are interested in installing quality coffee & espresso service for their employees. (Rest assured that The Coffee Brewers has exceptional office espresso.)

This is an excellent "perq" for employees, and it also keeps the employees in the office longer. Why should they run out to Starbucks and spend a fortune, when they could make quality coffee or espresso at the office (and continue working)? Or at least, your employees could increase their communication and teaming within the office by chatting at the coffee machine. This is much better than having them run across the street to Starbucks, and your employees will be grateful to you for sparing them the money this would cost at Starbucks.

We frequently get calls from offices (usually by an Administrative Assistant that was assigned to figure this out), and most of those calls are very similar. There is usually a long list of functionality and other requirements that were specified by "the boss" who doesn't understand very much about coffee and espresso equipment. Most of the functionality and "requirements" that we hear are the same in every office. And of course, there is a budget.

At The Coffee Brewers, we fully understand that most working people who are not in the coffee business don't have much familiarity with how coffee and espresso drinks are made, nor do they have a realistic expectation as to what certain functionality is likely to cost. Many times, the list of "requirements" are mutually conflicting requirements, and the budget is a number made up by someone who doesn't know what espresso equipment should cost.

To give you an example, try going to your local car dealer and saying, "I want a nice car. I would like enough room to fit my 4 kids and their friends and their sports equipment when we go to games, but I also like the feel of the road, and would like to be able to do some sporty driving. When cruising on an open highway, I would like to be able to accellerate to 120 MPH (of course, without the kids in the car) and want the car to handle pretty well at that speed. And by the way, when I go on vacation to the lake, I need to tow my boat with it. I also believe in conservation, so I want something that gets about 35 miles to the gallon. My husband/wife says that we can afford to spend about $15,000, but not much more."

An unscrupulous car dealer would tell you that he has just the car for you, and would sell you a $15,000 car that would not meet any of your objectives. A scrupulous dealer would have an honest talk with you, and would figure out which of your "wants" is the most important to you, including your budget. We, at The Coffee Brewers, don't want to sell you something that you won't be happy with. The purpose of this article is to explain what your reasonable expectations should be, both in terms of pricing and functionality for office coffee equipment.

The truth is that you will likely not get every feature that you want, and you will likely spend more money than you had initially guessed to get good quality equipment that will work well for you. But if you heed our advice, you will not waste your money on equipment that won't really do what you need it to.

We will explain all of this by running through the usual features that are sought in office coffee and espresso service. We will explain what each general feature entails, and we will offer a few pointers and suggestions.

"We Want Push-Button Simplicity"

Usually, the first requirement that people have is that the machinery have push button simplicity so that people need not know much about how to operate the equipment. They would like for any employee to be able to simply push a button to get their choice of coffee, espresso, cappuccino, latte, or tea, with the coffee ground fresh to order. This is a very reasonable and a nice objective, but not a realistic one unless money is of no consequence.

We do carry commercial equipment that will do all of this for you. For example, we carry a Rancilio Egro 5511 Superautomatic which grinds the coffee to order, and makes a range of coffee drinks with the push of a button. It does not froth the milk and add it automatically. A steam wand on the machine must be used by the operator to froth the milk in a pitcher, and then pour it into espresso for cappuccino. This retails for about $13,000. For $19,000, the Rancilio Egro 5513 Ultra Automatic will automatically froth milk and add it for you. We have similar machines by FAEMA in the same price range. Our guess is that this is a lot more than you had planned on spending for "simplicity."

We do carry home versions of espresso machines that can do similar things for about 10X less in price. Under our "Superautomatic" and "Ultra-Automatic" categories in our "Home Espresso Machines" section, you will find some very nice models made by Bosch, Gaggia, Saeco, and Solis. Any of these will work nicely in the home, but you should only consider the higher-end (over $1,5000) for office use. And there are some big caveats that come with this:

  • These machines are not made to produce large volumes of drinks (e.g., 50+ per day). They are meant for home use (e.g., 10-20 drinks a day). While you can use them more heavily than this, you should expect to wear the machine out pretty quickly if you do.
  • It is not a good idea to have many people playing around with the machine and constantly changing the settings. Two things will happen if you do. First, those who don't know how to use the machine will tend to get random strengths and volumes of coffee, as the settings are always being changed. If the coffee is not consistent, people will not like it, and will stop using it. This defeats the purpose. The only way to avoid this is for everyone to know how to change the settings, and for everyone to change them to their liking for each cup. This is no longer "push button simplicity." Second, sooner or later you will break the machine - especially if you keep adjusting the grinder. If you get a machine like this, it is best to have one person set it up, and to tell everyone else to leave it as is, and not to keep altering the settings.
  • While the "Ultra-Automatics" have what is usually called a "cappuccinatore" feature (a mechanism that draws milk from a container, froths it, and adds it to the coffee), this is more of a curiosity in machines in this price range, and you may be disappointed with the results. While these can work for you, don't count on it. This feature works great in our $19,000 commercial machines. In home machines, it is usually more trouble than it's worth. The fact that all of these machines also have an external steam wand (for the manual frothing of milk) belies the fact that you are generally better off doing it yourself. So plan on everyone learning to froth milk. It isn't hard to learn. The problem is that people will have to be considerate, and clean up after themselves.

In a small office (say 5-6 people) a superautomatic in the $1,500+ range can work nicely if you follow the advice above. In an office of 20+ people, you shouldn't try it. You should look at the small espresso machines made for commercial use. These do not grind the coffee and do everything at the push of a button. People will have to learn to make espresso.

If you have a medium sized office and can afford it, there are medium sized commercial superautomatics that are about half the price of the large $14,000-$19,000 machines that we've already discussed. In fairness, the large machines that were discussed are capable of making 100-200 drinks per hour. You probably don't need this in an office (unless you are a huge company).

In the $8,000 range, we carry a line of mid-sized superautomatic machines will do it all at a more moderate volume (e.g., 100-200 drinks per day). This is well above the capability of a home machine, but below what you would need in a busy coffee shop. It might be just right for a medium to large office. Take a look at our WMF Series 1400 superautomatics in our Commercial Espresso Machines section.

WMF is a company that has been providing high-end restaurants and hotels with fine dining equipment (including tableware) in the US for over 150 years. The WMF Series 1400 superautomatic coffee and espresso machines were designed and manufactured in Germany for upscale hotel use. There are three models of the WMF Series 1400 superautomatic machines.

All WMF Series 1400s have two hoppers for coffee beans so that you can have two different coffees: an espresso blend and a regular coffee blend. Two of the models also have a third hopper for cocoa powder that allows you to make hot chocolate, mocha, and other chocolate-based coffee drinks. One of the machines has a split hopper for powders so that you can use a second powder (e.g., vanilla). And all of these machines have a cold milk input, and will froth or steam the milk to order. While you can simply run the milk line into a milk container on the counter, the WMF Series 1400 machines have an optional milk refrigerator that fits inside the machine and keeps the milk cold.

But if the WMF Series 1400 machines are outside your budget, another option that you should consider is getting one of our "Single Brew Hot beverage Systems" by Cafejo. These do not make canonical espresso, but they make a wide range of hot coffee and tea beverages in single cup servings using pods.

The CJ-1000 is a pod brewer. You simply choose a coffee pod or tea pod (we carry 22 different kinds of coffee pods and 13 kinds of tea pods), place it into a tray, and push a button. The CJ-1000 also has a hot-water spigot so that your employees can make hot cocoa or soup (e.g., ramen). It sells for about $1,000.

The CJ-2000 is a little fancier. In addition to the features of the CJ-1000, the CJ-2000 also has two internal powder hoppers, and will automatically blend cocoa or vanilla powder into your pod-based coffee or tea beverage to make a much wider range of drinks, including one called "cappuccino" (which is not a canonical cappuccino, but which is rich and creamy nonetheless).

"We Want Coffee, Espresso, Cappuccino, Latte, Etc."

Again, this is totally reasonable, and it is good to offer the entire range of hot beverages. While you many not be one of them, many people that ask do not realize (at first) that coffee and espresso are different concoctions, and that each requires different equipment. (Cappuccino and latte are beverages based on espresso.)

Thus, there is no such thing as a "Coffee & Espresso Machine," although some of the superautomatic espresso machines will make a more voluminous and diluted espresso drink (called an "Americano") that is similar to coffee. If you want espresso, and if you also want good drip coffee, you will need to buy an espresso machine AND a drip coffee machine. That's the fact.

If you have a large office, you should consider getting a commercial drip coffee machine. The very low end of this category are simple pourover drip coffee brewers that we sell for under $400. (A "pourover" is a machine that you fill with water manually.) Plumbed automatic coffee brewers will run $600 or more, and the fancier digital precision coffee brewers (with microprocessor controls to do brewing profiles) will run at $800-$1,000.

If you want to spend a little less, look at our coffee brewers in the home and office category. These are nearly the same machines. The difference is that the commercial machines are NSF certified, which is a required certification for commercial food service (e.g., in a restaurant). They are slightly more rugged, although the machines in the Home and Office category will work just fine in a medium sized office (30 people or less).

For espresso, if you have read the preceding section, and think that you can get by with a home superautomatic espresso machine, then fine. But if you have a larger office, you should probably get a small commercial espresso machine, which will cost about $2,000. People that want espresso will need to learn how to load the portafilter with coffee, how to tamp the coffee correctly, and how to turn the machine on and off (there are semiautomatic and automatic versions).

More importantly, people will need to learn to be considerate, and to clean up when they are done. In addition, to keep your espresso machine functioning for a long life, you will need to use softened (or distilled) water, and you will have to clean it daily by running a backwash. Everyone in the office needs to be told not to fill the machine with tap water.

You can read about how to do all of these things (tamping coffee, and operating and cleaning the espresso machine) in our articles under "Barista Techniques." None of them are hard. But someone in your office will have to be responsible for cleaning the espresso machine every day. It should be backwashed at least weekly, and even more if used heavily. If you don't do this, the machine will break down and become unusable over time.

"We Want Freshly Ground Coffee"

This is an excellent idea, and it will make for better coffee and espresso. In fact for espresso, it is almost a "must," as the quality of espresso can be very sensitive to the recency of the grind. In addition, doing a good espresso extraction requires that the granularity of the grind be "just so," and sometimes the grind needs to be adjusted. The best way to do this is with an espresso grinder.

An "espresso grinder" is just a coffee grinder that is set up to accommodate the portafilter from your espresso machine. (The portafilter is the handle and basket that holds the ground coffee.) Many espresso grinders have a "dosing function." The "doser" is a cylindrical piece in the bottom of the grinding chamber that has (usually) six compartments, each of which holds a dose of coffee. The dosing lever is on the outside of the coffee grinder. When you pull the dosing lever, the doser is rotated 1/6 of a turn, and it drops a dose of coffee into your portafilter basket.

To grind coffee for espresso, fill the hopper with coffee beans, and turn the grinder on to fill the dosing chamber with ground coffee. Use the doser to fill the portafilter, and then make espresso. Whenever the level of coffee in the dosing chamber gets low, you will need to turn the grinder on to refill it. At the end of the day, you should not leave ground coffee in the dosing chamber. It will lose flavor, and will absorb moisture. This is bad for the espresso, and bad for the grinder.

Empty the dosing chamber by repeatedly pulling the dosing lever. You can even open up the chamber and sweep it out with a grinder brush. You should pour any unground beans left in the hopper into an airtight container for storage overnight. Similarly, save the ground coffee in an airtight container. You should not use leftover ground coffee for espresso, but it will be just fine for drip coffee.

If you have a small office (5 people), a home grinder in the $200 range will be adequate. For a medium to large office (20+ people), you will need to get a medium sized commercial coffee grinder, which will cost $400-$600. If you choose the same brand grinder as your espresso machine, the loading bay of the grinder will fit your portafilter.

We do not recommend using the espresso grinder to grind coffee for your drip coffee. Drip coffee requires a coarser grind, and it is not advisable to keep changing the settings on your espresso grinder, or your espresso will not be consistent. The taste of drip coffee is not as sensitive to the freshness of the grind. If you are on a budget, use pre-ground coffee for drip coffee.

But if you want to grind fresh coffee for drip coffee, you should get a second grinder. If you have a very large office, and will be grinding LOTS of coffee, consider buying a retail coffee grinder. This the type of grinder that you see in grocery stores, for grinding bulk roasted coffee beans. These will cost between $700-$1,000.

We also carry commercial drip coffee machines that have grinders in them, and that grind coffee "to order" immediately before brewing it (see our "Grind-and-Brew Systems"). These are very nice, and make great drip coffee. But many people are shocked to learn that they cost over $2,000.

"We Want a Coffee Maker That is Connected to Plumbing"

This is a good choice if you will be making lots of coffee and/or using the hot water spigot for tea. But if you are on a budget, you should look at the "pourover" systems. A pourover coffee brewer is one that you fill with water manually. For an office, you should get a pourover espresso machine. You will not need to plumb an espresso machine unless you are a commercial coffee shop, like Starbucks. But you might want to plumb your drip coffee machine.

Plumbed coffee machines cost a few hundred dollars more than the pourovers. And you might need to pay a plumber to connect it. Our automatic drip coffee machines will function either way. You might consider buying one of those and operating it as a pourover initially. You can connect it to a water line later if that seems to make sense, and you decide to hire a plumber.

The coffee machines in our Home and Office section can be connected to plumbing by anyone (i.e., you do not need a plumber) using our Plumbing Installation Kit. All you need is access to a water pipe. This connects to your water line using a "saddle valve" which fits over the water pipe and punctures it in a controlled way. While saddle valves are not the ideal way to connect to plumbing, they can be installed by anyone with no special equipment.

We do not recommend that you connect our commercial machines with saddle valves. Instead, have a plumber install a water outlet with a shutoff valve near the place in which you are going to locate your machine.

If your building does not have a water filter, we highly recommend installing a water filter (see our "Water Filters" section) to remove any particulate matter, and to reduce scaling. As we have already said, for plumbed espresso machines, you MUST use a water softener (in fact, most warrantees will be void if you do not). For pourover espresso machines, use softened water or distilled water mixed with a small amount of tap water.

...written by your friends at The Coffee Brewers