Which Espresso Machine do I Need

Espresso Machine Buying Guide 
 
When first faced with task of selecting an espresso coffee machine, it can seem rather daunting. 
 
However the choice becomes a lot easier when you know what to look for and why you are looking for it. 
 
This espresso machine buyers guide aims to help you make an informed decision, quickly and effectively, once you have read the information below you should have a much better idea and understanding of why a particular espresso machine is the right choice for your particular needs. 
 
There are four main choices of espresso machines on the market; 
 
The amount of group heads an espresso machine has defines what group the machine is, so a two group espresso machine will always have two group heads, a three group machine will always have three group heads and so on. 
 
A group head is the part that dispenses the espresso drink, so if you have a two group machine two people can make espresso at the same time, a three group machine can have three people serving at the same time and so on. Machines are generally readily available in 1, 2 or 3 group configurations. Four group machines are available but not many outlets use them, you are often better installing two, 2 group machines. That way you never have to depend on just one machine, if your four-group machine develops a fault, you’re in trouble! In a twin 2-group scenario you always have at least, in theory, one machine that is working. 
 
In the second instance we can break these machine down into further categories and note that these machines are typically available in both semi-automatic and automatic versions, so now we see that there are basically 6 configurations of machine on offer to us, the next thing to do is decide which configuration is right for your requirements. 
 
The difference between automatic and semi-automatic. A fully automatic machine will allow you to pre-define the measure of espresso a machine dispenses, that is when the button on the machines control panel is pressed, water will run through the group head, providing you with espresso, for a set amount of time, producing a pre-set level of espresso in the cup, jug or shot glass. 
 
With Semi - Automatic espresso machine you simply press the button to start the water flowing through the group head to make your coffee and then press it again to stop the process.
 
Which group machine is right for you? 
You need a 1-group espresso machine if: You serve an average of 50 or less drinks a day and you only need hot water for making tea and chocolate occasionally from your machine. Though if your servings are averaging 50 a day and you need water for chocolate and tea regularly, you could always purchase a hot water boiler as well, or buy a 2-group machine. Never buy a 1 group machine with a boiler that has a capacity of less than 6 Litres, you’ll need a 6 Litre boiler in order to avoid waiting for the all essential continuous supply of hot water. You need a 2 group espresso machine if: You regularly average in excess of 50 servings a day and you require hot water for tea and chocolate making on a regular basis. And/or you have busy bursts of custom/demand and it is necessary for more than one person to make espresso at a time, in order to supply demand. 
 
The above requirements are better served by a 2 group machine as it will have a bigger boiler to help you with the tea and coffee, also it will have 2 group heads enabling 2 individuals to work at the same time. Look for a machine with a large boiler, a 14 Litre capacity boiler is ideal, this coupled with a 5KW powered heating element will equip you with a powerful set up to cope with your required espresso/hot water output. Also note that it preferable to buy a 2-group machine that has 2 steam tubes (which must be stainless) if you are making a variety of drinks, so that two operatives can make alternative drinks, or froth milk at the same time.
You need a 3 group espresso machine if: You have a very high output of servings and you need at least 2 and sometimes 3 operatives making espresso, tea and or chocolate at the same time. You have intense bursts of custom/demand and it is necessary for you to have the ability to supply without fail. 
It should now go without saying that the boiler on a 3-group machine will supply you with a shed load of hot water on a constant basis; ideal boiler capacity for a 3-group machine is 20 Litres. Ok so now you know your group, here’s the all important stuff YOU SHOULD ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS: Look for a machine with a large boiler (EXTREMELY IMPORTANT) 
 
The larger the boiler, the more water you have to hand, therefore the more efficient your operation will be. In other words, the more money you’ll make! Some cheap 2-group machines will only have an 8 Litre boiler; this is bad news, as the hot water to potential output ability is compromised by the limited boiler capacity. 
 
The ideal boiler capacity size to group head ratios are: 
 
1 Group – 6 Litre Boiler 
 
2 Group – 14 Litre Boiler 
 
3 Group – 20 Litre Boiler 
 
Buy a machine that has easy to remove side panels, allowing instant access to all components (EXTREMELY IMPORTANT) 
 
Without the above, you’ll be looking at high servicing and repair costs, your machine will also be down for longer as well. 
 
For example if you or your engineer  have to remove the top panel to change steam valve washers, this can take 20 minutes per valve. 
 
With ‘front of machine’ access this can be reduced to 3 to 4 minutes. 
 
If the pump head is under the boiler it can take an hour to change, if it’s at the side of the boiler it can take as little as ten minutes, big difference. 
 
Buy a machine with a STAINLESS steam wand/tube (EXTREMELY IMPORTANT) 
 
The alternative is usually a chrome type steam wand/tube, often the chrome falls off, the wand becomes very difficult to clean and looks unsightly, not to mention the potential hygiene risks involved with loose chrome particles in your milk or water. Look to buy a machine with an internal pump and motor: (VERY IMPORTANT) A machine with an external pump and motor will cause you to: a) Find space for the motor, as it needs to sit directly below the machine in order to function efficiently, unsightly and difficult.
b) Replace the motor and or pump more frequently than you would with an internal unit, as the external ones get splashed and subjected to dust, shortening the potential lifespan, an expensive problem to remedy. 
 
Look to buy a machine with an easy to use boiler drain: (VERY IMPORTANT) 
 
If an espresso is left without use for more than a day at a time it will be necessary to drain the boiler and replace it with fresh water, an easy to use boiler drain also makes servicing and general maintenance easier, quicker and therefore more cost effective.Get a 5KW powered heating element with a 2 group or higher machine: (VERY IMPORTANT) This is essential for a fast recovery time, a 5KW element will require a 30amp mains power supply, even if you don’t have one at present then the machines element can be temporarily downgraded to power as 3KW, then reverted back to 5KW at a later date if you decide you need the extra power and wish to convert to 30amp mains. Any 2 group machine with less than 5KW may have you ending up wanting to upgrade, that is, you’ll need to buy another machine. 
 
Buy a machine with 12 months parts and labour warranty (OBVIOUSLY). 
 
If a machine warranty costs you LESS than £150 per year, then the chances are you’ll not get the cover you need, or, and yes this does happen, the warranty doesn’t, in reality, even exist. Warranties never cover problems caused by lime scale, this is down to you as an individual to sort out, if you live in a hard water area YOU MUST use a water filter system. (See next point). Use a water filter: (ESSENTIAL) Most water sources these days contain hardness, which builds up lime scale. This is NOT in any way good for your espresso machine and you should therefore install a water filter, which must be monitored and maintained to ensure it works efficiently for you. 
 
A good water treatment system will keep your water tasting good and eliminate unwanted odours. This will help to give you excellent espresso that your customers will come back for time and time again. Lime scale can cause parts to function incorrectly and get you in all sorts of expensive trouble. 
 
AND FINALLY The old saying fit’s exactly when applied to an espresso machine, “buy cheap – buy twice”. If a machine deal seems to good to be true, it most probably is, use the advice above and buy wisely, spending a bit more on a well equipped machine to start with will save you a lot of money in the long run.