Choosing Coffee Equipment for Your Business

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Choosing the right equipment for your new or existing business can be a daunting task.  Though unboxing that new equipment can make it feel like Christmas morning, in business the equipment dependability matters more than excitement.  At Velodrome, we try to make the equipment purchasing process as in depth as possible -  thoroughly considering what your equipment needs are and making the right selections can spark that excitement and support your bottom line for years to come.

Our hope is that the following post can be a springboard to future conversations with us in your equipment selection.  Having an overview for you to reference will help initially connect your needs with options.  We end this with our top recommended complete set ups.

Espresso Equipment  

There's a couple different avenues when it comes to espresso equipment.  You can take a classic approach with a separate espresso machine and espresso grinder, or the automated option where a single machine will grind the coffee and produce a shot of espresso.  Let's call these camps "classic" and "automated."

Classic Espresso Set Up

This is what you are used to seeing in most 3rd wave / quality driven cafes.  Generally, the espresso machine will have group heads, where hot water, under pressure, is dispensed to "pull a shot."  Before pulling a shot, a separate espresso grinder is used to finely grind the coffee into a "portafilter."  The portafilter is locked in to the group head, and then a shot can be pulled.  Along with almost all commercial espresso machines is a way to steam milk.  Most common espresso machines come in configurations of 1-3 group heads, and 1-2 steam wands. 

Pros:

This set up has been the industry standard for decades.  One of the best things about a classic set up is allowing for the craft of a barista to be implemented.  From dialing in the best tasting espresso, to steaming milk perfectly, to pouring latte art in a cup, this set up is a tool for the barista.  Since it's the standard set up, there's many different options and models of equipment to choose from to meet your shop's aesthetic.   Most espresso machine and grinder companies offer great support and are ready to ship parts when repair is needed.

Cons:

One possible shortfall of the classic set up is in-fact the thing that also makes it great, the barista.  Having a well trained staff is paramount in running a classic set up.  If standardized training is not implemented, quality will suffer greatly and there will be no consistency.  A barista must be counted on to use the exact same technique from beverage to beverage.  Also, if speed of service is also important to your business, training for efficiency will also be required.  One last thing to mention about the classic set up is the amount of space required.  Even with the smallest set ups, plan for at least 3 feet of lateral counter space.  The more group heads your machine has, the more room it will take up.  Also plan for 2 espresso grinders, one for regular, one for decaf.  In most cafes you will find a milk pitcher rinser near by to accommodate cleaning the milk pitchers between drinks.  Altogether this is a bit of counter space - plan accordingly.

If some of the cons listed above concern you, consider these slight variations within the classic setup:

- Consider a dosing espresso grinder that also tamps the grounds into the portafilter like the La Marzocco Swift. This adds a layer of consistency by always dosing the proper amount of coffee into the portafilter.  Furthermore, it saves on counter space by having 2 hoppers, one for regular, one for decaf.  Lastly, it adds another level to speed of service.  While the Swift is preparing your portafilter the barista is freed up to accomplish another task.  A tool such as this takes a little pressure off the staff to precisely prepare the portafilter for each espresso while simultaneously avoiding the physical strain of tamping the puck.

- Check out a volumetric espresso machine.  Modbar (see above) as well as other La Marzocco espresso machines can be programmed to only dose a predetermined amount of water when pulling a shot.  This frees up the baristas attention from having to stop the water flow by pressing a button again and adds more consistency that is not dependent on the barista.  A volumetric espresso machine can help speed things up and get drinks out the door that much quicker.

Automatic Espresso Set Up

An automatic espresso set up, or "one step" machine is a self contained unit that can produce a wide range of beverages.  All the operator needs to do is add coffee beans, milk and any flavoring ingredients and the machine will do the rest. The machine will have a way to grind coffee, extract espresso, and steam milk.  Many come with the ability to add flavorings or powders in the drink as well. We work with Franke Coffee Systems, an intuitive one step system with a brilliant touch screen display that can guide a barista or customer (in 2 separate operational modes) to create their own beverage.  From a simple espresso to a large decaf skim iced vanilla mocha, the machine has a wide array of menu capabilities. 

Until recently, automatic espresso machines were viewed as a less-then-ideal way to make coffee, but there's a reason why automatic espresso machines are popping up more and more these days... mostly this is due to the recent advances in automatic espresso machines to create a very high quality beverage.  It's becoming increasingly more difficult to tell the difference between a hand crafted and machine produced espresso beverage.  The engineering companies such as Franke have taken on to create a machine that produces incredibly high quality beverages is setting the stage for the future of specialty coffee. 

Pros:

One of the best things about a super automatic espresso is the increased consistency.  Let the machine repeat the same process over and over again so the barista can spend more time and energy on engaging customer service.  Also, since you don't need to be a trained employee to operate this machine, super automatics are very popular for self service.  Any customer can be guided along in their drink creation through the onboard touch screen.  Another thing to note about automatics if their efficiency.  Not only will an automatic be able to produce beverages quickly, but it will also save on waste product... no more wasted steamed milk down the pitcher rinser, the machine will only dispense what is needed to create the drink.  Automatic espresso machines also tend to use less electricity and water as well as keep a cleaner presence on the counter.  Lastly, it would be a shame to not mention the level of customization that is possible with these machines.  There are dozens of variables that can be programmed to yield some incredible espresso extractions, coupled with incredibly accurate metrics.  Almost all elements of the machines ability to create a beverage can be manipulated and tweaked exactly to your liking.  For companies hoping to scale or have multiple locations, programming your menu into the machine is simple and copying it across your fleet of machines is also fairly easy.  This allows a customer to walk into any of your stores and receive an immense level of consistency in their beverage.  

Cons: One of the biggest hurdles with automatic espresso machines is honestly convincing baristas and coffee snobs of how far the technology has come recently. Some still equate automatic espresso machines with poor quality coffee, though with the proper programming and high quality ingredients, the only thing missing vs the classic set up is the latte art.  The high tech nature of automatics can also be hinderance.  Sometimes a qualified technician is required to repair these machines.  They can be touchy and must be set up properly. Unlike with classic set ups, it's much more difficult to find parts online and do the work yourself.  That said, these machines are becoming increasingly more modular and easy to work on, in many cases a couple handles, knobs, and locks allow access to the main wearable parts with no disassembly or tool use.  One last thing to note is that these machines tend to sit high on the counter and should not have their backs facing to the customers like a classic set up generally does.  If you are planning to use an automatic machine, I recommend putting it against a wall for the best aesthetic.  

Batch Brewing Equipment

Batch brew/drip/auto drip, whatever you want to call it, is a staple in places we drink coffee.  In most quality focused establishments a batch brewing set up includes and brewer and grinder.  In most restaurants you will only find a brewer as they likely use preground frac packs of coffee. 

Hot Plate vs Thermal Carafe

There's really only 2 different main styles of brewers, those that heat the coffee after its brewed on a hot plate, and those that brew into an insulated carafe.  Simply put, there's no good reason to use the hot plate brewers if you are trying to serve a quality cup - more on that here!  They destroy the flavor of the coffee, use far too much electricity, and are also a workplace hazard.  From here forward we will be talking only about brewers that brew into a thermal carafe.

Size

One of the biggest aspects to consider when selecting a drip brewing set up is the size.  Brewers range from single cup capabilities all the way up to 6 gallon extractions.  In most cafes across the country I see 2 liter brewers, or up to 1 gallon brewers.  The other equally as big of consideration is your service style.  For many churches and large venues, they want self service and should be ready to brew additional carafes quickly.  If your service style is barista service for drip, then consider how quickly you can pour cups of coffee when considering size of brewer.  

Cafe Recommendations

Welcome to my soapbox, I have pretty strong opinions about drip service in cafes.  I pride myself as a roaster on having really tasty drip.  The following is my strongest recommendation to maximize the flavor of our roasting approach. 

When it comes to a cafe with 50-200 daily total transactions, here is my tried and true recommendation for service and quality: save time, space and energy by utilizing a SINGLE 3 liter brewer.  I see many cafes with double brewers and there is no reason for it, using both sides at the same time almost always effects the flow rate and water temperature for each brew.  With the single 3L brewer, I recommend only brewing 64oz of coffee at a time straight into a vacuum pourable thermal carafe.  This will keep the coffee the hottest and will allow the barista to swirl the carafe before pouring each cup, something not possible with pump airpots.  Also, having a 3 liter brewer only brew 64oz allows for greater temperature stability of the water during the extraction.  I program a brew time of 6 minutes to again aid in thermal stability. If the water is flowing into the spray head at a lower rate, the brewer will have time to recover the boiler temperature as cold water enters the boiler and the brew cycle continues. Further, this allows for quicker recovery between brew batches as well.  Additionally, since you are only brewing 64oz of coffee, there's less grinds in the brew basket.  Less grinds in a nice shallow depth allows for less channeling and a more consistent extraction each time.  Using this method even in high volume cafes is possible because you can easily brew 5 - 12oz cups roughly every 7 minutes. (It takes at least 90 seconds to take each customer's order and transaction.)  In rushes you can brew additional pots to have backup stock ready, and in slower times this method keeps the coffee hot best.  To help even more, preheating the thermal carafes with hot water before using them to hold coffee will add even more time to pouring a high quality cup.  I strongly recommend a refractometer to check your brew for TDS.  The return on investment in this expensive devices comes in being able to hone your drip coffee recipe in to a 18 of 17:1 ratio and save cost on beans with every brew.  I've pieced together this recommendation from tips of several coffee professionals and have backed it up with serving the best drip most people have had at Velodrome for the last 3 years.  It's fast, simple, and fresh!

 

Automatic Drip (One Step)

 One last consideration for a drip set up is an automatic machine.  These come in a number of shapes and sizes, but we like the Franke Fresh Brew for this.  An automatic drip machine grinds the coffee and extracts individual cups.  Many times these machines are set up for self service as most have a customer facing interface that allows customers to make a selection.  These are becoming increasingly popular in gas stations and convenience stores.  Instead of holding large volumes of coffee in an airpot and keeping it warm, the automatic machine allows for on demand production and allows great customization to the customer.  

For example, the Franke Fresh Brew comes with 3 bean hoppers and has the ability to program a coffee menu item that uses coffee from each hopper.  This makes creating a regular, decaf, or half/caf option easy.  We see most clients offer a light, dark, and decaf option in the hopper and then build a few blends for by the cup dispensing.  Along with coffee selections, the machine also lets you choose between hot and iced coffee - again adding another by the cup / on demand customization.  Lastly, the machine adds another level of speed and consistency to service as you are able to remove the human variable in making the coffee and turn more attention to service just like using an automatic espresso machine.  Just like the automatic espresso machines, the level of detailed tweaking you can do to ensure the cup tastes exactly like you plan is impressively comprehensive.   

All said, if you have the capital to invest initially, the Franke Fresh Brew will save you thousands over the life of the machine vs the traditional drip set up.  Less coffee waste, less electricity use, and great customer on demand options all contribute to a better bottom line.  

Additional Equipment for your Business

When it comes to outfitting your business with coffee equipment, espresso and drip machines is just the start.  Don't forget to price out and plan for the following supplementary items:  

- Milk pitcher rinser (for traditional espresso set ups)

- under bar refrigeration (for traditional espresso set ups)

- espresso puck collector or chute (for traditional espresso set ups)

- airpots and thermal carafes for drip set ups

- scales for dosing out drip coffee, espresso specific scales for dialing in

Our Top Recommended Set Ups

Low-Medium Volume Classic Espresso Set Up: La Marzocco Linea EE single group + La Marzocco Swift Grinder (or La Marzocco Lux D grinder)

Medium-High Volume Classic Espresso Set Up: La Marzocco Linea PB 2 group or Mod Bar steam and espresso (as many goups as needed) + La Marzocco Swift Grinder

Automatic Espresso Set Up: Franke A1000

Low-Medium Volume Classic Drip Set Up: Curtis 2L Brewer + Curtis batch grinder (possible auto dose grinder if desired)

Event / Banquet Center High Volume Brew: Curtis dual 3 gallon brewer  + Curtis batch grinder (possible auto dose grinder if desired)

Automatic Drip Brewer: Franke Fresh Brew A800

 

When to Reach Out

Wether you're just forming your business plan or have a location ready to open, we're ready to chat.  We've helped several new businesses implement incredible coffee programs and can help guide you in the equipment selection process.  We represent a range of options from trusted equipment manufactures and have spent time in factory trainings so that we can help with installation and maintenance / repair along the way.  It's never too early to start gathering details for your prospective business.  We know first hand that opening a business is no small task with more questions than answers - we can be your answer when it comes to finding the right equipment for your service style. 

Let's chat - email me at Brice@velodromecoffeecompany.com to get the conversation started.   

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