Nearing the peak of the American third wave coffee movement, started by local boutiques specializing in transparent coffee sourcing and top quality specialty coffees, it is more important than ever to make sure your business offers the best of the best.
Espresso is rapidly becoming the American go-to choice for morning coffee and afternoon pick-me-ups. Walk into your local corner-side boutique cafe and you'll find them equipped with one of the latest and greatest, or alternatively one of the tried and true, models of a commercial espresso machine.
Offering top quality espresso to every customer every time should be the goal of any serious cafe or coffee shop owner, and that can only be achieved with a high-quality commercial espresso machine. In this list, we've distilled ten of the best machines on the market, as well as some vital information for choosing the machine that's right for you.
When considering cost, you must take into account order volume. How much espresso are you selling, and how many do you expect you can sell with a more capable machine? If you serve dozens a day, you may expect to pay as little as $1,500 and as much as $5,000. If you serve up to or just over a hundred a day, you may need to look at machines from $10,000 or just less than, to $15,000 or just over. At the top end are machines built to make hundreds of espressos a day for years and years, and can cost you $20-25,000 or more.
What basic features should I consider before buying any commercial espresso machine?
What are the more advanced features that I should consider in commercial espresso makers?
La Pavoni is the one of the first in the commercial espresso machine industry, having begun production in 1905, and still innovates to this day. The Bar-T 2V-B commercial espresso machine is a traditional style machine with a lot to offer to the modern kitchen in terms of reliability and consistency.
This machine is just about two thousand dollars more than the top end of the lower-grade machines, making it great for small diners, cafes, and any place that makes several dozen cups of espressos daily.
While advertised as a traditional espresso machine, the Bar-T V2 has a number of useful modern features. It has a digital face and analog buttons for controlling the process and can be operated by more than one user at a time. It has two separate flexible steam wands on opposite sides for multiple users, as well.
It can accommodate four cup sizes, has programmable features, and can be set to continuous brewing for extended operation. It also includes a water softener, in order to preserve taste, but the piece must be installed in order to maintain the warranty on this machine.
Compared to other commercial espresso machines offered by La Pavoni, this machine is made with a focus on output and ease of use, while still maintaining the quality of traditional methods.
This machine is a bit plain for the price, which is likely derived from the features which allow multiple users, the size of the boiler, and the brand name. Because La Pavoni is an Italian company, and an older company at that, they have lagged at updating their online information in English, so finding detailed information about this product may prove a little difficult at first for intrigued readers.
Finally, this machine is not suitable for higher volume business and sits at an awkward price between lower volume and mid-volume business without offering much more to either side.
Bezzera is like La Panovi, one of the founding fathers of the espresso machine, having begun production in 1901. The Bezzera Magica is one of their latest flagship products, representing the shifting technologies and new materials of the modern era.
The Magica is a semi-professional machine for small time business, running at just under two grand and coming in at the low end of the low volume price range.
The Magica E61 represents one of Bezzera's higher-end low-volume commercial grade machines. It operates with a manual level grouphead, and uses a number of automatic features which are fairly standard for modern espresso machines.
It includes a manual steam wand and hot water nozzle. This might seem excessive for such a small boiler, but the Magica includes a high-end heat exchanging system that allows for multiple functions requiring heat to be performed at once, speeding up production.
All manual knobs are joysticks instead of manually tightened knobs, which is easier on the hand and overall easier for the user when using the various function on the machine. This also has the added benefit of keeping the knobs from being overtightened, which will make the machine more user-friendly over long periods of use.
Finally, it generally needs a 220-volt outlet to operate, as most commercial machines do. However, it may be converted to a 110 volt for smaller kitchens and bars that only have 110-volt outlets.
A major customer complaint centers around product defects and how Bezzera handles them. Bezzera has fairly tight, though admittedly fairly standard, policies about returns, refunds, and general customer service.
Customers who do not know these guidelines meticulously may be dissatisfied when Bezzera won't help them because some part of the policy has been violated.
Aside from that, this machine is not suitable for more than a couple dozen cups a day, as it has a small boiler and is quite small overall. This machine could almost be classified as a commercial-grade consumer product, though this would be a bit of an overkill for a single household.
Some customers have complained that customer service lines were more like salesmen instead of providing solid support, as well.
Next, let's take a look at the Aurelia II by Nuova Simonelli. Nuova Simonelli is a similarly old company to the two above, founded by two of the first espresso machine designers beginning in 1905, and continuing to deliver dependable, reliable products to this day.
The Aurelia II is a fairly low priced mid volume machine with a wide range of additional features that can improve its quality for a cost. For just over ten grand, you can pick up the basic model and on their website, you can add the additional quality-boosting features and bring the price point up over fifteen thousand dollars.
Now we have arrived at the first really pricey option on this list. The Aurelia II represents the basic standard format for most commercial espresso machines for this mid-volume price range. It shares a few distinct similarities with the Bar-T V2, but the key to the increased price lies in their differences.
To start with, both machines have 2 groupheads, but the Aurelia as the option for a third. Both have digital faces, but the Aurelia has the ability for baristas to custom program the exact volume they want to produce without having to perfectly time their lever pulls, resulting in consistent cups every time.
This feature also helps improve the speed of business and decreases the amount of skill needed to operate. The automatic functions of the Aurelia, including automatic cleaning, make it suitable for most diner and cafe settings. This machine is likely capable of providing multiple dozens of cups daily.
Being right at the entry price for mid-volume equipment, the Aurelia is not suitable for small-scale ventures, nor is it capable of providing the output necessary for larger scale operations. Like some of the other pieces listed before it, it has an awkward place in the cafe scene, especially for the price.
For some, the price may be too steep for what is offered, and while it beats out the Bar-T V2 in some areas, such as overall quality, it may be that the Bar-T sits within the specific market that the Aurelia sits just outside.
As far as customer reviews go, there were a few complaints. For one, the 14L boiler was not quite enough for some when considering the price. Second, the 2 grouphead version is limited in its output capacity, which is remedied by the additional grouphead in the extra options. Unfortunately, this carries a heavy additional price.
Profitec was a marketing company for Italian espresso machines in the 1980's, and in the 90's, began designing and manufacturing their own espresso machines under the Profitec name.
The Pro 700 is Profitec's second most advanced semi-professional espresso machine and is perhaps the better deal than its superior Profitec model for almost all the same features.
This machine sits near the bottom end of the low-volume price range, making it suitable for small cafes and corner side boutiques, and perhaps as a high-end office machine.
This machine is remarkably similar to the Bezzera Magica, even down to the aesthetic. Both machines are a single grouphead, multi-capable voltage, and semi-automatic manual driven espresso machines. Largely the differences are in the quality of construction, but the Pro 700 has a couple of distinct features that warrant investigation.
First of all, the double boiler is important to note. Most of the machines we have covered so far are single boilers that use heat exchangers to achieve faster results at the cost of stable temperatures and thus consistent flavors.
With this machine, more consistent flavor can be achieved at the price of speed. This is an especially important feature when considering the context of your business and its clientele.
Additionally, the Magica has joystick valve controls, which are designed for ease of use, while the Pro 700 uses the more standard twistable knobs. The benefit of the knobs is that a skilled barista will be able to adjust them more finely and thus use them in a more consistent manner, thus improving the overall consistency of the espressos produced.
Even though the Pro 700 is more expensive than the Magica and has a slightly larger boiler, the nature of the double boiler and the single grouphead limit the output volume for this machine and is therefore only suitable for small cafes or any situation requiring good quality espresso in fairly small quantities.
Two major customer complaints have cropped up about this machine. One is that it can be difficult to get more than 8 bar (116 psi) when pulling a shot, which may depreciate the crema and the overall quality of the espresso. Others have reported some quality issues with the outer case, claiming that it is somewhat flimsy.
Breville is a kitchen appliance brand from Australia that was founded in 1932 in order to deliver high-quality machines to home and commercial kitchens.
The Oracle is one of their latest and greatest pieces of equipment, with a host of modern technological features accompanying it.
The Oracle is placed squarely at the low end of the price range for low-volume machines. It compares to the Pro 700 and the Magica for size, price, and function.
Compared to the last four items, this machine is a fairly different beast altogether. It is a fully automatic pump-driven espresso machine, meaning that everything you need for making espresso is available on a digital touchscreen. No hand levers or twisting knobs.
Perhaps one of the most notable features is that this machine auto-grinds beans, automatically doses them, and then auto-tamps them. It has a bean hopper with a 1/2lb capacity, so espresso can continuously be made without needing to refill the grinder.
It also has hands free milk texturing and even has an espresso shot clock in order to pour espressos with greater consistency. To top it all off, this machine is a 110 Volt, meaning that it can generally be used in a wider range of locations.
This machine is not suitable for commercial scale beyond an office feature or very small boutique. Otherwise, it may function well as a coffee and espresso feature in a luxury goods store, like for example a pipe tobacco or cigar shop.
The two major customer complaints on this machine are about cheap parts and poor customer service. Apparently, some customers have had issues with internal mechanisms from several of the machine's systems failing, and hardly receiving any useful customer support for the problems.
Next on our list is another product by Nuova Simonelli. The Musica is a smaller, home and low-volume commercial machine in stark contrast to the other Nuova products on this list, the Aurelia II Volumetric and the Aurelia II Digital Four Group.
The Musica is comparable in price to the Profitec Pro 700, putting it neatly in the low-volume price range and making it practical for small cafes, offices, and luxury goods stores who want to serve espresso.
The Musica is categorized the same as the Aurelia II by Nuova Simonelli, which is to say that the Musica is classed by Nuova as a 'traditional machine'. This is likely because it has a manual lever for pulling shots of espresso, as well as some manual valves for pressure control.
The Musica is essentially a consumer-oriented version of some of Nuova's more commercial products. A term exists for consumers who buy professional or semi-professional commercial-grade products, called 'prosumers'. The Musica works in the home, the office, and is even capable of performing a few dozen shots a day in a small cafe or boutique setting.
The Musica also has the capacity to grind, dose, and tamp coffee beans with an additional attachment purchased separately. This, along with its capacity for 220 Volt outlets, makes the Musica a comfortable entry-level machine in low-volume commercial settings.
For those with an established business who are looking for an upgrade to their existing machine, do not let the price of the Musica fool you. This machine doesn't do much more than its comparable machines, like the Magica, and it costs quite a bit more than them.
While it does have a couple of features that make it stand out, it doesn't do or have anything that really sets it above machines that come in at 500 dollars cheaper.
The biggest customer complaint, besides the price of the features, was in regards to the instructional booklet. Nuova is an Italian company and seems to have trouble translating their instructional booklet without several mistakes, which can make it difficult to operate this machine if you're new to espresso machines.
Gaggia is the company through which the Italian inventor Achille Gaggia survives. Gaga invented the first espresso machine that didn't use steam in 1938, and his company continues to manufacture espresso machines to this day.
The Accademia is Gaggia's model for the modern era, including some of the latest in ergonomic technologies. It also happens to be one of the least expensive machines on this list, coming in at $200 less than two comparable models and just over $200 more than the most inexpensive model on this list.
The Accademia is a significant leap forward in technology over previous models on this list. It is practically entirely automatic and would be entirely so if it were able to hook up to a plumbing network.
The Accademia features a digital screen with a wide range of programmable custom cups and actions, including creating a specialty drink for which it has a half liter container for.
The machine has a fully automated 8-setting .6 liter grinder with a 12 oz. capacity bean hopper. It also uses a dual boiler for improved temperature regulation, and when combined with the various automatic features further controlling consistency, every shot should come out almost exactly the same.
Just like other similar size and priced models, this model is not really practical in a mid-volume commercial setting. For the Accademia especially, home use, small office use, and very small cafe use are the only really practical settings.
For those who prefer manual controls for a more personally controlled environment when pulling shots, this machine is not for you. This machine is made for use by practically anyone, meaning that skilled baristas will only waste their talent on this machine.
There have been a number of somewhat serious customer complaints about the overall quality of this machine. Specific complaints addressed the problems with heat regulation, cheap construction, and small capacities for the water tank and bean hopper.
Quickmill is a high-end Italian coffee machine manufacturer that seeks to balance affordability with top-shelf quality. The Alexia is one of the top-selling affordable commercial-grade espresso machines, covering all the basic functions of an espresso machine while remaining simple to use and high quality in design.
This is the cheapest espresso machine on this list, and for commercial grade espresso machines, the price doesn't get much lower than this. For such a low price, it is to be expected that this machine is only capable of family low-volume output and is only capable of the basics.
The Alexia has all the most basic features one can expect from a commercial-grande espresso machine. It is a single boiler with a single grouphead and a 3-liter water reservoir.
It is built with a couple of features that make everyday operation easier, including a hinged cover on the reservoir for easy refilling and an accessible expansion valve so the user doesn't need to take apart the machine.
This machine provides everything you absolutely need from an espresso machine for the price, which is $200 less than the next cheapest model. With this in mind, the Alexia is still suitable for office use, very small cafe use, and use in luxury goods stores that wish to serve espresso.
This machine is not really suitable for commercial use in general, beyond settings where very few cups of espresso are served. While this machine does output quality espresso, it only has a .75L boiler, making it almost useless for more than a couple dozen or fewer cups a day.
This machine is also very basic in general, and will not provide the features necessary to produce truly top-quality espresso. This also means it is limited to a fairly small range of drinks that it can produce.
The last Nuova Simonelli product on this list is an advanced high-volume version of the Aurelia II model. The Aurelia II Digital is a very high end, high-volume machine built with several advanced features that make it one of the more progressive machines on the market in its price range.
The Digital is a true commercially priced machine, sitting well over the $15,000 at the top of the mid-volume price range, putting this machine closer to the high-volume end of the market.
The Digital is the first high-volume machine on this list, intended for coffee shop chains, large cafes, and other high-quality high volume business requiring espresso and specialty coffee drinks.
The Digital is a larger, more advanced version of the Aurelia II Volumetric. They are essentially two versions of the same basic model and thus share the same basic format. However, the Digital has a few unique features.
For one, it has a digital face allowing for advanced programmable functions including on/off times, preset maintenance, self-diagnosis for problems that may arise, and is even capable of connecting via USB to a computer.
The Digital also has a small one-liter boiler for each grouphead that holds fresh water away from heating elements, so that water can be replenished internally without alkalinity spikes associated with stagnant water.
Although it may be obvious, this machine is not appropriate for mid-volume business on the lower end of the mid-volume price range. It can be difficult to determine how much business constitutes the need for a machine like the Digital, but if you serve less than 200 cups of espresso daily it may not be for you.
While the digital features are nice, the boiler is a bit small for the price. It also has just one steam wand, which limits the speed at which certain drinks can be made in high-volume settings. It requires skilled baristas to use its manual levers, as well.
Finally, we have the La Marzocco Linea PB. La Marzocco began in Italy in 1927 with the first dual boiler espresso machine and also claims to be the first to design and use fully programmable pressure profiling for more consistent extraction.
The Linea PB is La Marzocco's last update to the long-running Linea line of espresso machine models. The PB has a number of advanced technological features that improve the ability of the barista to control each shot.
The Linea PB is currently more expensive than the Aurelia II Digital, making it the closest to a truly high-volume machine on this list.
Despite being a grouphead short of the Digital, the PB is nearly a thousand dollars more expensive. Both models are for high-volume business in coffee chains, large venues, and other comparable settings. Why is there such a price disparity?
For one, the PB is a true dual boiler system, meaning that it is one of the most consistent, efficient ways to pull shots across the market. True dual boiler systems make for large, expensive machines that make up the bulk of the high-volume market due to their reliability and unsurpassed efficiency.
Also, while the PB doesn't have a digital screen, it has plenty of digital features that allow the barista to better control the internal environment of the machine for better consistency and control, just like the Aurelia II Digital.
Like the Aurelia I Digital, the PB is not suitable or practical for anything less than high-volume use. If you own a small or medium sized cafe and are considering boosting your espresso output, this is not the machine to turn to.
Additionally, it only has 3 groupheads, which limits its output versus the cheaper Digital. Also, without the digital screen or advanced automation features, it lags behind a bit in technology.
Building a successful coffee shop is a major challenge in today's market. If you are well informed and know what makes a great cafe stand out from the sea of decent ones, you are already a step ahead of the game. With a good espresso machine and a great staff, you'll find that you can provide customers with a standard that they won't be able to resist coming back to. We hope that, with the information and products showcased on this list, you will be able to take your business to the next level!