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Opening a Business? What Does an Espresso Machine Cost?

Opening a Business? What Does an Espresso Machine Cost?

At The Coffee Brewers, we frequently hear from people that are starting a coffee shop and want to buy an espresso machine. For those that are not familiar with the basics of making espresso-based drinks, some are surprised by the list of basic accessories that you’ll need if you are really going to do this.

This list looks long. The good news is that after the espresso machine, only ONE item costs some real money: the espresso grinder. The other (numerous) items are inexpensive. They are the “odds and ends” needed for the basic operation of your espresso machine, and for keeping it clean and well-maintained so that you’ll produce good espresso, and you’ll avoid costly repairs.

Quite reasonably, we frequently get calls from people that are opening a new business, and want to know "the price" of an espresso machine. This makes sense: if you go to Williams Sonoma and buy an espresso machine for home use, it has "a price."

On the commercial side, like buying a new car, in addition to "the price," there will be other costs and expenses that you'll need to incur to get your machine freighted and installed. While these are not part of "the price," they are additional costs that have to be part of your budget.

The added costs have to do with freight, installation, a required water softening unit, and other odds and ends. These things all depend on where the machine is being installed (both geography, and specifics of the space itself), what kind of machine it is, and a handful of other things.

If you contact us or any other dealer, while we can quote you "a price" on the machine itself, all of these other costs depend on lots of other details that we can't know until we get further into the process. Just know that when someone quotes you "a price," it likely doesn't include some other substantial costs. So calling different dealers on the phone to "compare prices" can be very misleading: you might be comparing apples to oranges, and you have to understand what costs are included in each "price."

Roughly speaking, in addition to the cost of the espresso machine, your other costs (getting it shipped, installed, and connected with a water softener) will be in the $500-1000 range. Finally, if you're buying a commercial espresso machine, you WILL need an espresso grinder ($350-1000), and you'll need some odds and ends to make a useable barista station and to maintain your machine and keep your workspace clean ($100-200). We will explain ALL of these pieces.

The Espresso Machine Itself: Freight, a Water Softener, and Installation

First, there’s the espresso machine. Choosing the machine depends almost entirely on how many drinks you think you’ll need to produce. This has two components to it: 1) the total number per day, and 2) the rate at which you need to make them during your rush.

If you are operating a moderate restaurant where the occasional diner would like an espresso, both of these numbers are small. If you are operating a large coffee-house in a busy city, both of these numbers are large.

When the numbers are small, you can likely use a 1-group “pourover espresso machine.” The “group” is the head and handle on the front of the machine that you’ll load with ground coffee to pull a shot of espresso. Obviously, the more groups the machine has, the more expensive it will be. But there are two other factors.

The Group and the Portafilter

The “Group” and the “Portafilter”

First, a 1-group espresso machine can run on 120 Volts. This likely means that you’ve got existing electrical outlets that you can simply plug the machine into. If you’ll need a 2-group espresso machine (or bigger), you will need a 240 Volt outlet. While there are a few models of 2-group machines that can run at 120 Volts, they really need 240 Volts. They’ve been re-outfitted for 120 Volts, and cannot heat up as fast not perform as well as you might like during a rush.

Espresso Machine in 1-Group and 2-Group Configurations

An Espresso Machine in 1-Group and 2-Group Configurations

Very simply, once you are running 2 groups, and certainly 3 and 4 groups, you’ll need lots of power. Since Power = Voltage X Current, at 120 Volts you’ll need twice as much current as you would at 240 Volts. For standard wiring at 120 Volts, the circuits in your building likely can’t deliver enough current to power a 2-group espresso machine. So if you are looking to buy a 2-group espresso machine (or larger), you’ll need an electrician to install a 240 Volt outlet near where the machine will go. You should NEVER use an extension cord with this kind of current.

Second, if the number of espresso that you will likely make in a day is small (say, 40 or fewer), the “pourover” is a simpler (and less expensive) solution than getting the machine plumbed. A pourover is a machine that you manually fill with water. Nearly all machines made for home use are pourovers.

Single-group commercial espresso machines can hold about a gallon of water (64 ounces). If you make espresso shots that are 1.5-2 ounces, once you’ve filled the machine (in the morning, say), you’ll be able to make 30-40 espressos. Not bad! There is no reason to run expensive plumbing if this is the kind of volume you are expecting.

But note: for pourovers, we do not recommend using tap water. Tap water can have small but hard particles in it (which will damage the machine), and it can have a large mineral content (which will build-up on the interior water channels, and will throw the pressures needed way off). Instead, we recommend using bottled spring water.

Bottled spring water has already been filtered (so it should not have minuscule sand-particles in it), and it is usually relatively soft (so you will not have much mineral content). The really good news is that you can buy bottled spring water in gallon jugs. You can buy them in any supermarket for about $1 per jug.

One dollar to make 40 espressos? This is not bad! In the morning, open a jug of spring water and fill the machine. It takes less than a minute. If the water gets low by the afternoon, open another 1-gallon jug, and fill the machine again. This is NOT hard.

If your volumes will be much higher than that, or if you’ll be needing 2 or more groups, the larger machines aren’t made as pourovers. You will need a plumber to run a water supply line to where the espresso machine will go. Our technicians (that come to install the machine) are not plumbers. They expect to connect your machine to an existing water line, and to plug it into an electrical (240 Volt) outlet.

There are two more things that come with having to connect your espresso machine to a water line. First, your local Health Inspector (not us, but a local person that works for your town that issues you a permit) will likely require that any piece of commercial equipment that connects to a water line also connects to a drain line. So you WILL need a drain line somewhere.

When cleaning your espresso machine (a daily ritual), you will have some water runoff, so you’ll WANT a drain line.

And second, you’ll need a water filter and softening unit to remove particles and minerals from the building’s water. Remember our discussion of water, and how we want it filtered and softened? Since plumbed machines will be connected to your building’s water lines, you’ll need a water softener.

The water softener will protect your machine, will keep it from being damaged by particles, and will prevent mineral buildup that will take life out of your machine. The warranty on any commercial espresso machine will require that the machine be installed with a water softener.

Water softeners cost $200-$350, depending on how big they are. The thing to know is that the cost of the water softener is NOT included in the price of the espresso machine.

If you are buying a pourpover espresso machine, your total cost will be the price of the machine, plus freight. Since commercial pourovers weigh between 40 and 100 pounds, freight might be $50-100. But that’s it. You simply plug it in, fill it with water, and you’re good to go.

If you are buying a 2-group or 3-group machine, which can weigh 150-250 pounds, freight will be more (typically $150-250). Note that the freight charge will depend on whether the delivery truck needs to have a lift-gate (which is a platform on the back of the truck that the operator can lower to the ground to unload a large item).

If your building has a loading dock (a dock that is built for truck deliveries so that the truck can simply back up to the loading dock and unload), the freight charge is purely based on weight. If your building does not have a loading dock (most restaurants and shops in strip-malls do not), the freight company needs to know this so that they will send a lift-gate truck. The freight company will charge an additional $40-50 for this service, since they need to move the machine from the large cross-country freight truck to a smaller lift-gate truck that they use for local deliveries.

So for a plumbed espresso machine, you will need to hire a plumber and an electrician to put in water and electricity (if it is not already there), and you’ll need to pay a freight charge of $150-200 (a rough guess). And if you don’t have a loading dock, the freight will cost another $40-50 for lift-gate service. You will also need to spend $200-350 for a water softener.

The plumbed machines will be professionally installed by technicians that know all about the machine. We will NOT simply ship you the machine, and let you figure it out. It’s too complicated: parts of the machine need to be calibrated and tested during installation, and sometimes technicians need to alter various things depending on the electrical supply and the plumbing.

The good part about this is that the technicians who install the machine will show you how to use it, and will usually give you a mini-lesson in making espresso.

But note that in addition to all of the other items, there could also be an installation fee. In some brands, this is included in the price; in others, it’s extra. What it costs depends on where you are. In large cities, the rates are higher, but the technicians won’t have to travel far. Out in the country, technicians might have to include the cost of driving to your place and back – which could be a couple of hours.

The Coffee Grinder: Do You Need One?

The short answer is YES. Many that are not familiar with espresso machines notice that you can buy pre-ground espresso in the supermarket. This pre-ground espresso is ground for use with a stovetop Moka pot (a stovetop espresso maker).

Making espresso on the stovetop is NOT the same as making it with an espresso machine. On the stove, extraction is done at a boiling temperature with very moderate pressure (about 2 Atmospheres). The stovetop pot was invented AFTER espresso machines were in existence.

They were invented to allow people to “make espresso” at home. While many Americans grew up with this, and think that espresso SHOULD taste the way that it comes out of a Moka pot, most people that are new to espresso would find the Moka preparation too bitter.

Espresso machines do espresso extraction at about 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit (much less than boiling), but the extraction pressure is closer to NINE Atmospheres. This produces a more flavorful and less bitter extraction.

To pull a good shot of espresso, the extraction should take 20-25 seconds. If it goes much longer than this, the espresso will be bitter – a lot like the Moka pot. If it extracts quicker than this, the espresso will be weak and watery.

What determines the extraction time? THE GRIND! When you set up your espresso service, pull a shot of espresso, and time it. If it extracts in 10-15 seconds, the grind is way too coarse. You’ll see that the espresso looks (and tastes) weak and disappointing. THIS is what you will get with espresso that was pre-ground for use with a Moka pot – the canned espresso in the supermarket.

Remember: the Moka pot extracts at only 2 Atmospheres, and the espresso machine is extracting at 9 Atmospheres. Pre-ground espresso is relatively coarse (for 2 Atmospheres), and 9 Atmospheres of water pressure will blast through it very quickly without extracting much flavor.

So if this happens when you pull a shot, you need to adjust your grinder to give you a finer grind, and then pull another shot.

If the shot takes 30-40 seconds to extract, it will be “rich,” although it will be overly bitter. The reason that an extraction runs long is because the grind is too fine: the water can’t get through it quickly enough, even at 9 Atmospheres. So the extraction (essentially) “cooks” the coffee, just like the Moka pot.

So if this happens, you need to set the grind a little coarser. And then pull another shot! When you hit a 20-25 second extraction, this is where you need to be.

Notice that if you change the coffee you are using (having a different oil content), and/or if your local humidity changes a LOT, the extraction time could be different. By and large, in an operating shop this shouldn’t happen much. But you should time the shots every once in a while just to make sure that you’re not drifting.

So you WILL need an espresso grinder – one that YOU can adjust as needed. What will this cost?

If your volumes are small (say, less than 50 espressos a day), you can get by with a relatively small grinder. These will cost $300-500. If your volumes are larger, you’ll need an industrial-sized grinder. These will be $500-1000. There are grinders even bigger than this, if needed.

There is one option in a grinder: whether it has a “dosing chamber” or not. If it does not, it’s called a “doserless grinder.” What is a dosing chamber?

If you look at the home grinders on our site, you’ll see that most of the home grinders simply have an exit chute that the ground coffee comes out of. These are “doserless.” If you look at the commercial grinders, you’ll see that most of these have a second cylindrical chamber below the grinder, and the exit chute comes from this chamber. This is the “dosing chamber,” a.k.a the “doser.”

The Same Grinder Shown Doserless, and with a Doser

The Same Grinder Shown Doserless, and with a Doser

In the picture above, the grinder on the left is doserless. It simply has a chute that the ground coffee comes out of. This IS what you want if you'll be grinding single doses on a "per use" basis (i.e., what you'd use at home). The grinder on the right is the SAME grinder with a dosing chamber. This is you'd want in a high volume coffee shop.

The doser has a lever on its side (which is not visible in this picture). If the doser is full of coffee, and you pull the lever, the doser will drop one dose of coffee out of the shoot: about the right amount to make a shot of espresso. The doser gives you faster operation, and less of a mess. This is why coffee shops (and commercial grinders) tend to use dosers.

However for espresso lovers, many feel that the coffee should be ground freshly; right before pulling the shot. They feel that if the ground coffee sits for ½ hour or more before doing the extraction, it loses “something.” Does it? Maybe.

If it does lose some flavor, then you don’t want to pre-grind your espresso. For a Moka pot, this doesn’t matter much; it’s a high-temperature extraction that will be strong (and bitter) – too strong (and too bitter) to worry about “nuanced” flavor.

This is why espresso grinders made for home use do not have dosing chambers. The dosing chamber needs to be full for the doser to work. This means that you have to grind enough coffee for 10-15 espressos for the doser to work. If you are a high-volume coffee shop, this isn’t a problem. You’ll use all of that coffee pretty quickly. If you are at home, and making 1-2 shots for yourself, you won’t. So there is no reason to have a dosing chamber for home use; it simply gets in the way.

Besides the cost of the grinder, there will be a shipping charge. Do you need anything besides the espresso machine and the grinder? Yes. But these are all little odds-and-ends. They are the small and inexpensive accessories needed to make espresso and a small range of espresso-based drinks. These are described below.

What Else Will We Need?

The small items that you’ll need are relatively few, and comparably inexpensive. We will go through these pretty quickly:

A Coffee Tamper

You will NEED a coffee tamper. These are used for compressing the ground coffee into the group before pulling your shot. Because shots are pulled under high pressure, you’ll want to compress the ground coffee so that its fluid resistance is uniform throughout the puck of coffee in the portafilter.

A Coffee Tamper and a Tamping Mat

A Coffee Tamper and a Tamping Mat

This will give you a full and consistent extraction. If the coffee has not been compressed, you cannot possibly pull uniform shots. So you NEED a coffee tamper.

This is the MOST expensive “extra” on the list. You can get tampers that give you a high-quality consistent tamp for $30-60. There are tampers that are much more expensive than this, but these are more for the hobbyist than for the professional coffee shop. Almost all commercial espresso machines will use a tamper that is 57 mm. or 58 mm. in diameter. Check the specs on the machine that you’re interested in.

Frothing Pitchers

These are steel pitchers that you use to froth milk to make cappuccino or latte. The standard sizes are 12 ounce, 20 ounce, and 32 ounce sizes, but you can even get bigger ones if you want to. A 12 ounce frothing pitcher is large enough to froth milk for 1-2 cappuccinos, at most. A 20 ounce pitcher will give you enough for 3-4.

To froth milk, you’ll fill the frothing pitcher no more than 1/3 of the way. The frothing operation approximately doubles that volume. So a 12-ounce pitcher will use about 4 ounces of milk, and will produce about a cup of froth. A 20 ounce pitcher will use about 6-8 ounces of milk, and will produce 12-16 ounces of froth.

You will likely want at least one 12-ounce pitcher and one 20-ounce pitcher. You may find that it’s convenient to have more. Frothing pitchers cost $10-30 depending on their size, and whether they are “fancy.” You won’t need fancy ones (that look pretty and/or that induce certain types of turbulence that are useful in barista competitions, but not for a coffee shop). Frothing pitchers are NOT expensive.

Three Frothing Pitchers and a Knockbox

Three Frothing Pitchers and a Knockbox

A Knockbox

After you pull a shot, how do you empty the portafilter? Where do you dump the used puck of coffee grounds? In your knockbox! You simply rotate the portafilter handle so that the puck is facing downward, and you strike the portafilter on the rubber bumper that runs across the top of the knockbox.

That relatively light tap will cause the spent puck to dislodge from the portafilter, and fall into the knockbox. This is quick and easy, and it keeps the barista station clean and orderly.

This is another MUST. How much does it cost? These cost between $30-60. This is about what the tamper costs, although it’s very easy to buy at the lower end of this range. You can get knockboxes that are more expensive (> $100), but most of these are just for “show.” They’re for the espresso enthusiast that wants his home coffee bar to look impressive.

Do you need a big knockbox? It depends on your volumes, but the short answer is NO. Even with a small knockbox, once it is full (after 12-15 shots), the barista can simply dump its contents into the nearby garbage can. This just takes a second.

A Tamping Mat

These are hard, thick, rubber mats that you put on the counter, which you’ll put the portafilter down onto to tamp the coffee. When tamping the coffee, you’ll use 30-40 pounds of downward force.

Do you need a tamping mat? NO. But since the portafilter has a spout on the bottom of it, you will be gouging your table with that spout every time you tamp a shot. If you don’t care about gouging the table, you don’t need a tamping mat. If you’d rather not gouge, these are $10-15 dollars.

Cleaning Supplies

You WILL need to clean your equipment and your work area. These are simply a few cleaning compounds and a few tools both are inexpensive.

The Necessary Cleaning Compounds and Cleaning Tools

The Necessary Cleaning Compounds and Cleaning Tools

The cleaning compounds that you’ll need are Cafiza (a powder) and Rinza (a liquid). Cafiza is for backwashing the group head. You should do this every day at closing, otherwise the screen up inside the group will accumulate used coffee which will make tomorrow’s shots bitter. Rinza is for removing milk that is coated onto the steam wand. A milk coating can be a health hazard, and it looks gross. If your customers will be able to see it, you’ll want it to be clean.

You will also need a few brushes: the group brush ($5-10) is for scrubbing up inside the group to clean the screen. You should do this every night when you clean the group with Cafiza. A steam wand brush ($2-5) will get milk coatings out of the inside of the steam wand. A countertop bush ($10-15) will keep your work area clean.

The Group Screen is Removed with a Screwdriver

The Group Screen Should be Removed with a Short Screwdriver

You will also need a short, stumpy screwdriver ($5) that allows you to reach up inside the group head to get the filter screen off. This should be taken off and cleaned (soaked with a Cafiza solution, and scrubbed) periodically.

Bar Towels - You WILL Need a Few of These

Bar Towels - You WILL Need a Few of These

Finally, it’s useful to have a few bar towels lying around to clean up spills. These are very inexpensive. We sell packs of 4 for about $5.

Can’t I Buy a Superautomatic Machine Instead?

YES, that’s correct. But the superautomatic (which is an espresso machine that has a grinder inside of it) will cost about twice what a standard espresso machine costs. All of the other items (including the grinder) that we’ve mentioned will add $500-1000 to your purchase. This is a TINY addition compared to the cost of a superautomatic.

And with a superautomatic, the plumbing and electrical work, freight, installation, and water filters will all be the same (or even slightly more).

Superautomatics that froth the milk too will require a special milk refrigerator unit that connects to the machine with a hose. Your Health Inspector will require this. The milk fridge will add another $1000-1500 to your cost. But you won’t need frothing pitchers. Big deal.

Superautomatic espresso machines also have many more controls and moving parts. You will certainly need more service calls. And you’ll need many of the same cleaners that were mentioned above. This will add to the cost of ownership.

You might be thinking: “But with a superautomatic machine, I won’t need to train anyone. All they’ll have to do is to push a button.” While that’s (mostly) correct, learning to make a good shot of espresso, and learning to froth milk isn’t that complicated.

If you have VERY high volumes (like a downtown Starbuck’s - which now all use superautomatics), you might want a superautomatic because it can produce a drink faster.

And superautomatics CAN produce drinks faster: all that you need to do is push a button. But note that if you are a downtown Starbucks, your main costs AREN’T equipment. Your main costs are employees and the lease on your floorspace. You’ll NEED to have rapid turnaround to justify these. (And if you do, you’ll amortize the machine cost pretty quickly.)

You’ll find that with a new espresso machine, even if you’ve never done this before, if you experiment for about an hour, you’ll learn enough to competently and consistently pull good quality espresso shots, and to use the frothing wand to make cappuccinos and lattes that are quite decent.

Once YOU know how to do these things (and none of them are complicated), you can train any of your staff to do the same in even less time. It will take LESS time to train someone because you’ll be able to guide them directly, and they won’t have to waste most of the hour that it took you to learn by experimenting. Once YOU know how to use the equipment, you can probably teach your employee in about 15 minutes.

We hope that this article has helped.