Recommendations and tips from our Wholesale Manager Ben Riley and Andrew Lowe our Coffee Machine Manager.
We get all sorts of questions about coffee machines.
We also spend a good bit of time chatting with cafe-owners and cafe-owners-to-be about the best machines for their business.
With so many options out there, scrolling through lists of coffee machines won’t be much help unless you know exactly what you need.
Luckily, you have us to help.
How do I choose a coffee machine for my cafe
Just like choosing the best wholesale beans, it can all depend on the type of cafe or coffee shop you run.
As a starting point, think about these questions:
- Do you plan on having trained baristas using the coffee machines or are you looking for something more simple and automated?
- What’s the size of your business and how much space do you have? Is your counter space limited?
- Is coffee what your customers come to you for or is it more of a secondary offering?
- How many cups of coffee do you serve per day? A medium volume environment is a business that gets through about 60-120 cups per day while anything between 180-240 cups would be considered high volume.
You’ll see as you read on, how these answers and the overall setup of your cafe determines the type of machine you need.
What coffee machines are used in cafes?
Any business that’s serving coffee needs to know about two types of commercial coffee machines. These are traditional machines (also known as espresso machines) and bean-to-cup machines.
Both can produce all the espresso-based drinks a cafe needs - your lattes, flat whites, cappuccinos etc.
But, there’s some big differences.
Bean-to-cup machines don’t need baristas. These are the push button machines that can be pre-set and fine-tuned to automatically grind the coffee beans to produce all your different drinks (depending on the model, the milk can be managed manually or automatically). These are perfect if you just want a simple way of making consistent great quality drinks.
Traditional espresso machines, on the other hand, are used by skilled baristas to grind fresh beans (in a separate coffee grinder), tamp the coffee, and if they feel like it - get a bit creative with their latte art.
Bean-to-cup vs. espresso machine — which is better for my cafe?
As long as you have a good-quality brand and model, you can get great tasting coffee from both types of machines.
We tend to recommend espresso machines for most cafes and coffee shops (it’s what we use in all 17 of our coffee shops), but not always.
Instead, think of it this way: if coffee is the primary offering in your cafe - if it’s what customers come to you for - lead with an espresso machine. They have better capacity and better features that help you cope with volume quality.
If coffee’s a secondary offering (and you don’t plan on having baristas), a bean-to-cup machine may be the best choice for your business.
Fully automatic vs. semi-automatic coffee machines — what do I need?
In your search, you’ll probably come across the option of choosing between fully automatic or semi-automatic machines.
Without getting too technical, the main thing to understand is that you can get different kinds of automatic functions for both bean-to-cup and traditional espresso machines.
Such functions give you the flexibility to manage things like water, steam and milk temperatures, which give you more control when it comes to tweaking your coffee production.
If you want to understand more about the types of automatic functions for different commercial coffee machines - get in touch. As proud coffee geeks, we’d be happy to discuss this topic with you in more detail.
How many espresso machines does a cafe need?
Ever noticed how some cafes have one big monster machine, while others have a mix of smaller and medium sized ones?
This might make you wonder whether you need an espresso machine and a bean-to-cup machine - or even two espresso machines?
Really, it’s less about how many espresso machines a cafe needs, but more about the exact model of machine and how many group heads it has.
Group heads are a machine component found on every traditional espresso machine (more commonly known as the “group”).
The groups are one of the key components that influence the amount of coffee your business can produce at a time.
You can get one-group machines, two-group machines and three-group machines (generally speaking, the more groups a machine has, the larger the machine is).
If space is no issue and your budget is bigger, we’d say that a three group machine is the dream option, but rarely a necessity.
Instead, for most cafes and coffee shops, a two-group machine is a great starting point. Unless you are a very busy cafe, in which case you might want to consider a machine with more groups.
In our own stores, we use a three-group machine (the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle to be precise). But as long as you go with the right brand and model, a two-group machine will be sufficient for a busy coffee shop.
We wouldn’t normally suggest compact two-group machines. Neither would we recommend a one-group machine unless it is a cafe where coffee is one of your secondary offerings (let’s say most people come to you for cocktails rather than coffee).
And bear in mind that if you do have a one-group machine, if one group head ever goes down (this shouldn’t happen, but has been known to), you won’t have a back up.
And this is exactly why espresso machines are great: they can work for different sizes of cafes - whether you’ve got a small cafe, a spacious cafe, or something somewhere in the middle.
Can you use a home coffee machine in a cafe?
This one’s easy. No.
We get why you’re asking; If you want a cup of tea, you need a kettle. If you want toast, you need a toaster. But if you want to make coffee in your cafe you cannot (we repeat cannot) use any old coffee machine.
The reason? Quality, but mainly capacity.
Even if you were running a tiny micro-cafe, you’ll soon discover that domestic coffee machines are not built for commercial use. While a domestic machine might have a lifespan of about 1000 products - or 1000 cups of coffee - in our own coffee shops, that is the amount we often get through in 2 days (yes our beans are pretty delicious).
So as tempting as it might be, there’s no getting away with it. Even the most high-end domestic machines won’t cut it.
It’s better to stick with a professional-grade coffee machine that’s in line with the capacity you need, so you can keep up with the coffee you're selling.
How much do commercial coffee machines cost?
The coffee-machine world is a bit like the world of cars. Everything exists from the Royals Royce of coffee machines, to your Audis - with price tags and performances that follow.
If you’ve never bought a machine before, the cost might come as a bit of a surprise. And we know it’s easier said than done - but try not to let your decision be 100% budget-driven.
We supply a range of commercial coffee machines that suit cafes of all different sizes, set-ups and budgets - but quality always has to come first.
A high-quality machine is the gateway to producing the best coffee for your cafe, and a good machine will last you years.
How to use a coffee machine in a cafe?
It’s all very well having a nice new shiny coffee machine, but knowing how to use it is also a good idea.
Ease-of-use is a big thing when it comes to choosing a coffee machine, and you want to feel confident using your machine, whatever the type or model.
We run professional training courses for all the machines we supply so that you or your baristas can get skilled in using your new equipment.
Best Commercial Coffee Machines for Cafes and Coffee Shops 2022
Now for our machine recommendations.
As owner-operators of 17 coffee shops, we know a thing or two about what machines are best for cafes and coffee shops.
We partner with a range of great coffee machine suppliers and these are some of our top-picks on the market:
Victoria Arduino Black Eagle
Black Eagle is a machine as epic as it sounds. It’s a traditional espresso machine that’s secured the prestigious World Barista Championships’s stamp of approval.
Our thoughts: This is the coffee machine we use in our own shops and if it fits your budget and setup, we’d recommend it to everyone. It really is a supreme machine. The model we use has three groups, but we also supply two-group machines.
Suitable for: medium to high volume environments
Victoria Arduino Eagle One
Another great machine from Victoria Arduino - Eagle One is born in response to the new generation of coffee shops where design, performance and sustainability are determining factors to create a pleasant and memorable experience.
Our thoughts: This Rolls Royce of a coffee machine is perfect for a medium to high volume coffee offering. This machine would be in the “best” category of a good, better, best offering.
Suitable for: medium to high volume environments
Thermoplan B&W 4C
The Thermoplan B&W 4c is the world's most compact bean-to-cup machine at this level of performance. It's simple to operate via an intuitive full colour touchscreen and delivers consistent, exceptional coffee with micro-foam from its built-in fridge.
Our thoughts: A beautiful, modern looking machine with performance to match. The Swiss engineering delivers the perfect espresso from it's twin hoppers, matched with perfectly textured milk. It's also incredibly simple to clean and look after, minimising any downtime.
Suitable for: medium volume environments and businesses with no barista
Simonelli: Aurelia Wave
The global espresso standard. The future of espresso extraction. This advanced technology is encased in the highest quality materials, built by Nuova Simonelli’s expert team in Italy, making it as reliable as it is versatile.
Our thoughts: There’s a reason Simonelli Group’s traditional espresso machines take centre stage at the World Barista Championships – their solid performance, accuracy and quality are unmatched. Its T3 technology provides baristas with revolutionary temperature control and guarantees world-class performance and consistently great tasting espresso.
Suitable for: medium volume environments
Coffee machine extras and bundles.
If you are buying an espresso machine, you’ll also need to think about things like milk jugs, grinders, delivery, installation, and even barista kits.
There are all sorts of other bells and whistles you can add to your machines - optional extras that help you consistently nail the coffee making. We assist with it all.
Still feeling confused?
Buying a coffee machine is a big deal and can be a bit of an overwhelming process.
If you want to chat about any of this with us, we would love to learn more about your business and discuss the machine that will work for your specific setup and budget.
How to Choose the Best Coffee Machine for a Cafe — Key Takeaways:
- The best coffee machines for cafes are either bean-to-cup machines or commercial espresso machines
- If you have baristas on-site, we recommend a traditional espresso machine
- The number of groups an espresso machine has is one of the key features for influencing how much coffee you can produce at a time (the other components for capacity are the boiler size and general quality of the machine itself).
- If you don’t have baristas on site, go with a bean-to-cup coffee machine
- Choose a commercial coffee machine for your cafe. Always. Never use a home coffee maker for your business.