Coffee is one of the greatest attractions you can invest in as a venue owner.
However, it can be risky: brew a great cup of coffee, and you'll have loyal customers for life. Do it badly, and you may never shake the bad reputation. Barista training aside, the key to creating perfect coffee every time lies with a high quality coffee machine. But with hundreds of makes and models on the market, how are you meant to know where to begin? Does cost really indicate value? Do different brands create different coffee?
Here is your cheat sheet on where to begin when purchasing a coffee machine.
Always begin with the type of coffee you want to produce.
Selecting a coffee machine has an almost 'back-to-front' process. Whilst with many other industries - transport, construction, beauty - the machine is bought first, with the service coming second, it's the opposite for coffee.
It's as simple as this: you need to know what type of coffee you want to produce, and then you need to find a machine that will achieve the result.
This means considering whether you wish to be top end, middle range, or for the masses. You will have already considered this well before opening, as you place yourself either as a boutique coffee shop with an emphasis on design and specialty coffee blends and single origins, or a bustling commercial venue looking to churn out hundreds of coffees each morning.
What are you looking for in a cup? Something to appeal to customers with a discerning palette? Or something economical that will appeal to the masses? Asking these questions is crucial before choosing a machine.
Find the roaster.
Once you've decided what type of coffee you wish to produce, you need to choose which roaster you will go with. Chances are, you will have answered this question a long time ago, as a keen coffee drinker! However, if you are heading to market with no clue, take the time to do your research and visit a variety of local roasters.
They will be able to fill in the gaps between what type of coffee you want to produce, and what type of bean and machine will achieve that. Your roaster will be the missing link between your coffee vision, and what brand of machine will produce it - they will be the ones to make the best recommendation possible.
A machine-bean partnership.
Did you know that there are 25,000 flavour profiles for every blend of coffee? Pressure, water, storage, grind, and length of pour can all alter what a coffee will taste like. Therefore, it's in your roasters best interest to ensure you're set up with a machine that will produce high quality coffee that's consistent with their flavours.
Think of it as a machine-bean partnership: every blend is suited to a different brand of machine. Your roaster will have their favourite, and this is what they'll recommend to you. It's important to align with their selection, as it will allow them to give you accurate advice on how to grind and extract each blend you're sent.
For example, a boutique roaster may recommend you to a La Marzocco machine; whilst a commercial roaster would suggest a workhorse such as the brand Expobar.
Value vs. cost.
Because your coffee machine can be specially recommended, you won't be heading into the market blindly trying to choose a machine. Whilst it's true that the price range of commercial coffee machines is enormous - starting at $1,500 and going up to as high as $50,000 and above - the purpose of your machine is what will help to dictate your choice.
For this reason, it's important to put the emphasis on value, rather than cost. Most roasters will have a tiered system of recommended machines, giving you the chance to choose based on your expected sales volumes.
So, does a more expensive machine produce better coffee? Not necessarily. There are many opportunities for human error in producing a cup of coffee, regardless of the machine. The expensive machines that fall into the five-figure price range will boast a more complex design, such as below-counter machines, as well as more accurate balancing of variables such as temperature or pressure profiling per group head.
Does brand matter?
Yes, absolutely. Your roaster will have selected a certain brand after extensive testing, with the belief that a particular machine creates the best results, both in terms of what's in the 'cup' and what suits your brand, their own and your future customers personal brands
The roaster and therefore machines you choose should tick a few boxes. Firstly, it would be reasonable to expect training for you and your staff in order to get to know how the machine works, and why it works for a certain type of coffee. Secondly, do they offer a maintenance program and support for the life of the machine or your relationship with them? There will be many hiccups along the way, and you need to know they will be there to help when needed.
You and your roaster should have a symbiotic relationship with the machine brand, and collaborate to supply your business with recipe books, updates on what grind/pour works for their recent blends, as well as highlighting with your roaster any coffee or machine issues you are having.
Size, shape, colour, design.
A major concern for many coffee venues is the look of their machine. So, how important are the aesthetic properties of the machine you choose?
As you might expect, your roaster will have taken all of this into consideration when they chose the brand of machine to align with. Boutique roasters are likely to choose a machine that appeals to a design-focused cafe, that will produce delicate flavours and 'look' like a statement piece; whilst a commercial roaster who is more price orientated, will choose a machine that is sturdy and reliable to push through the early morning rush.
It's important to enjoy the aesthetics of your machine, because whilst the interior will be almost completely replaced within four years, the exterior will stay the same for the life of the machine. Unless of course you spend the money to have it customised by the manufacturer or coffee machine customisers like Specht Design.
Your north star when choosing a coffee machine will invariably be your chosen roaster. It is in their interests to ensure you have the best machine for your coffee vision, rather being than driven by price or upselling.
Take your time to consider the persona of your business and what coffee you want in the 'cup'. Then a coffee roaster partner whom you feel align with your needs best; the coffee machine buying is easy after that!