Essentials About Coffee Machines
Using the right equipment
It is essential that you set yourself up with or have full access to a commercial espresso machine and grinder for testing your espresso coffee. If you are going to supply coffee to a cafe then you need to have access to the same grade of equipment that cafe’s use. It must be quality commercial equipment or you will find that your coffee may taste worse on quality equipment because it will show up some of your roasting errors that you may not find on average coffee equipment
You will need a coffee machine set up:
- to test your roasted coffee in order to improve
- to demonstrate your commitment to quality
- for tasting purposes when potential customers come in to view your offering
For example, when I was creating coffee blends for clients in the early days I was short on resources, I made the mistake of using a well-used home Breville grinder to grind up all of the coffee that we would test for espresso – I was extracting the shots from a Rocket 1 group with the E61 group head. For some reason the coffee came out of the espresso machine without much acidity. Over and over, I roasted the coffee lighter and chose beans I knew that had super high levels of acidity because I wanted to construct a blend that would cut through the milk. After each roast I tested the espresso again and again but each time I knew I wasn’t getting that intense level of acidity and I wasn’t sure why it wasn’t acidic enough.
One day a friend of mine came over and pointed out the grinder I was using, he said “Dude, why are you using that old domestic grinder?”. I immediately told him its all I’ve got to work with and he proceeded to let me know that it dulls the brightness and flavors of the coffee. We took a bag of roasted coffee over to the cafe he was a barista at and we weighed out 20 grams and ran it through the Mahlkoneig EK43. He placed the grinds of the coffee in the La Marzocco portafilter and pulled the shot. He split the espresso into 2 demitasse cups and I proceeded to briefly take in the aroma before taking a sip. I almost fell over when the acidity spiked through the top of my mouth and shot down the sides of my tongue! I had roasted this coffee extremely light using a super acidic coffee bean and I have an espresso which tastes closer to battery acid then coffee. I had gone beyond what I was trying to achieve with the coffee but I didn’t actually know I had gone past the point I was trying to achieve because I was testing using unsuitable equipment. We both looked at each other and agreed I had taken it way too far and there was more than enough acidity to cut through a carton of milk. I instantly realized I had been taking all of the commercial equipment at the old coffee roastery I used to work at for granted.
From that point on, I placed an extremely high value on quality coffee equipment as I learnt first hand how much quality can make a difference. If I had walked into a cafe and left them with that bag of coffee I had roasted, I would have been wasting not only my time but their’s as well, not to mention leaving a bad taste in their mouths. A bad experience can linger for a lifetime so it is extremely important to test your coffee on quality equipment to cover yourself.
The 2 types of coffee machines
I would also like to take a moment to point out the difference between a single boiler and multi boiler coffee machine.
A single boiler coffee machine utilizes only 1 boiler for brewing, steaming milk and providing hot water. The problem with this is that the steam boiler needs to be around 125 degrees Celsius or 250 degrees Fahrenheit in order for the boiler to maintain enough steam pressure – because of this requirement, the water is always boiling hot when it comes out of the machine.
The exception to this is when the boiler contains a heat exchanger, the water that comes out of the group head for extraction (brewing) is in a separate chamber inside the single boiler. Although the brew water is not in the same mass as the bulk of the water in the steam boiler, the brew water is susceptible to temperature fluctuations and coffee is affected by temperature so this means that cafe’s who use a single boiler coffee machine will be offering their customers inconsistent coffees because of the unstable temperatures of the brew water. For those who don’t know, water temperature can change the taste of coffee.
Multi boilers have separate boilers for brewing coffee and steaming milk so there is a constant temperature in each boiler which is maintained constantly by a PID (modern temperature control unit) as opposed to a pressure/heat switch which is mechanical. The most reputable coffee machine brands are known to have always had multi boilers in their coffee machines but some of the single boiler coffee machine manufacturers have started to use this technology as well to improve their coffee machines.
Reputable coffee machine brands
La Marzocco (Classic, Linea PB, GB5, FB70, FB80, Strada, Scales)
Kees Van Der Westen (Spirit)
Slayer (V2,V3, Steam)
Synesso (MVP Hydra, Hydra, Cyncra)
San Remo (Opera, Racer)
Nuova Simonelli/Victoria Arduino (Aurelia, T3/Black Eagle, Gravimetric)
Most of these commercial coffee machines brand new sit in the $15,000 – $30,000 bracket. There are some models that are a lot more expensive than others but this is a lot to invest in a coffee machine for testing espresso, regardless you need to know what coffee equipment is out there and what level of cafe you are dealing with if you see these brands in their cafe. High quality coffee equipment means that they are serious about quality coffee so they probably have a lot invested in training their staff and paying well for good baristas.
La San Marco
Within these coffee machines brands, there are some machine models that can be considered as top tier, but they are not highly noted as being top tier. The Greenline Wega range as well as the top of the line Rancillio machines are quite expensive and have a lot of features, however they don’t carry that same weight as the top tier brands do because they were not deemed as high quality multi boiler machines in the early days. This isn’t an extensive list of all of the coffee machinery that you can purchase but just some of the well known brands of machines that are floating around in cafes. The pricing here starts a lot lower for brand new machinery which is a lot more affordable for a coffee roasting business starting out.
Installing a commercial coffee machine
When looking to set up your coffee machine you need to consider 5 things:
Start off with the right environment. The right environment means having the space to accommodate the coffee machine in the first place. The coffee machine has power leads and water/drainage lines that need to be accommodated so you will need to drill a hole in the bench under the coffee machine for the lines. Some coffee machines have external pumps which also need to draw power from the coffee machine but more importantly there needs to be ventilation. If the pump overheats then you won’t be able to pull water into the coffee machine under the right amount of pressure so you can’t brew coffee. Also remember that you need space for a grinder and room for tamping the coffee, milk jugs and pouring milk. Last but not least, think about the space around the coffee machine and if the heat from the coffee machine will affect walls/paint/cupboards etc. The coffee machine itself is very heavy when filled up with water and you need space to move around the machine and bend down to pick things up etc.
When you actually begin to connect the coffee machine to the utilities, the first thing that needs to be available for the coffee machine is water. Caution needs to be adhered as the pressure from the water mains is very high, which means that a pressure limiter needs to be installed in some cases. Most coffee machine technicians carry around pressure limiters so you should not have to worry about this unless you notice you have problems with your coffee machine boilers overfilling. If water is not available next to the coffee machine then you may need to run a line from a nearby room or water source. Water filtration is also needed and I have written some information in the next stage of this guide.
Waste and drainage are a huge part of the equation. As you are dealing with milk it is not unusual for milk to build up in the kinks of the drain hose. The drain hose needs to be free from bends or kinks otherwise the drain-box in the coffee machine can overflow which causes leaks, and pools of water/coffee/milk to flow onto the bench and down onto the floor. This is highly undesirable on hot days when there is milk involved as it can cause a terrible odor. Be sure the drainage is located under the coffee machine as it needs the natural force of gravity to help the liquids drain out.
Next is power. Be sure to check the voltage of the coffee machine and whether it’s single phase or three phase. Make sure the coffee machine lead can reach to the power outlet and that you have the right plug as there are many different types. If there is no power then you will need to organize an electrician to come in and set it up. Be very careful around power and try to have a waterproof plug configured if possible as there can be spills and leaks from the coffee machine. Find out what the power requirements are before you purchase a coffee machine!
The coffee grinder will need power as well. If you are planning to run more than one grinder then you will need another wall outlet or a double adapter depending on what country you live in and what the power requirements allow. Also remember that it makes sense to have the fridge close by and perhaps consider a couple more outlets for time saving and quality tools like the Puqpress or Ubermilk.
The final stage of installing a coffee machine is configuring the settings and parameters that you would like to work with. Ask yourself what recipes you would like to use with your coffee and what is the best current industry standard that is being used in cafes? If you are to supply cafes in your area, you should get familiar with what most coffee roasters are using. The coffee machine can be configured in so many different ways, you may know that you can control some of the following features in reputable coffee machine brands:
temperature of the steam boiler
temperature of the hot water dispensed
temperature of each separate brew boiler
pre-infusion on/off and time
whether or not a cup warmer is installed
automatic volumetric options
tea water time
auto brew ratio
scales and weight of coffee in cup
revolutions of the flow-meters/pulses
name on the coffee machine
lights on/off and colors
pressure of the brew boiler
pressure during extraction of the coffee
pressure of the steam boiler
auto timer which turns the coffee machine on and off
and many more options…
At the end of the installation, you should think about what features your coffee machine has and why they are available. Some features of coffee machines are locked and you need passwords in order to access them, which are sometimes only available from the manufacturers. After you configure your coffee machine to your preferred settings, you will be ready to use it to taste your roasted coffee you are supplying to cafes.
Water filtration is a big issue with coffee machines these days. The only thing that can really destroy a coffee machine slowly on a day by day basis is water. The water in coffee boilers are causing all sorts of problems – it’s what’s in the water that is the source of the problems. In order to prolong the life of coffee boilers in coffee machines, a water filter is used. Water filters can filter out some of the minerals and salts that cause calcification and/or holes in the boilers. By using a water filter we reduce the damage and scale formation in the equipment.
Inside a water filter:
Water is complex
Water all over the world is different, to be specific its the dissolved solids that’s in the water that makes the difference. For example, water can have a TDS reading of less than 50 ppm or some recordings in Western Australia are 1200ppm. TDS stands for total dissolved solids which are the minerals, salts, metals etc that are dissolved into the water. The TDS is measured in ppm which stands for parts per million. Water can contain any combination of dissolved solids therefore there is no water filtration device that can be used universally on any water line, which means that water filters are not always being used in the right setting. The only way to pair up your machine with the correct water filter is to test the water first and then after you install the water filter. There are some parameters which are favorable to coffee machines but yet there is still not a method that is exact for saving coffee machines from water.
How is water a problem?
Water with a high chloride count can eat through stainless steel boilers in 12 months and sometimes less if the chlorides and PH levels are in the right parameters. This means that you could purchase a coffee machine worth $20,000 only to have to replace the boilers within 2 years. A boiler replacement job usually totals around $3,000 – $5,000 for the cost of the boiler and the labor involved. Reverse osmosis can help prolong the life of a coffee boiler if the TDS/chloride levels are too high.
Reverse osmosis is a system that is used to remove 95% of all TDS in water but this is bad for the taste of coffee. Coffee solubility is another topic but there also needs to be a minimum TDS for coffee to be tasty, otherwise the solids in the coffee will have nothing to bond to in the water – this means you need to re-mineralize the reverse osmosis water with the right minerals. The problem is that dosing the right amount of minerals into the water is very difficult so while reverse osmosis can help prolong the life of the coffee machine boilers, it is not a full solution for the issue.
Some prominent coffee machine water filtration brands include:
- Aqua Pro
Be sure to check your water filtration for your coffee machine if you decide to invest in your equipment. At this point in time, you cannot have both a great tasting coffee as well as a coffee machine in perfect condition – you either lean more to one way or the other but there is a balance somewhere in the middle.
Coffee grinders are the most important part of making coffee. Coffee can be prepared and served without a coffee machine but not without a grinder. A coffee grinder is essential in making coffee and it also contributes to how much of the flavor can be extracted from the beans. The grinder must have sharp burrs in order to cut the beans effectively. If the burrs are dull then the beans will break off into chips rather than be sliced, which makes the grinds less soluble and results in less flavor and dulled acidity. Be certain to familiarize yourself with when the burrs need replacing in grinders. For instance, a Mazzer Robur needs its burrs changed after grinding 1000kgs of coffee, although some like to change the burrs at 800kgs and some let it stretch to 1200kgs.
In terms of grinders of high quality, the leaders without a doubt are Mahlkoenig, Mazzer and NS/VA – the EK43, Peak, Robur, SPP and Mythos 1 lead the market and have the heaviest presence in the market. Most of these grinders brand new will cost you between $2,000 – $4,000 depending on your contacts in the industry.
Other brands such as Compak, BNZ, Anfim, Bezzera, Baratza, Ditting, ECM< etc, have also a long history in the industry but aren’t nearly as prominent as the leaders.
The Mythos 1 is very popular because it has been tested (socraticcoffee.com) and proven to provide the most consistent results. There are 2 things that sets the Mythos 1 apart from all the other grinders, the first thing is that it produces the most consistent grind particle size which means the chances of having a very wide range of coffee grind sizes are lowered so your coffee will pour more consistently. The other difference is the heater in the Mythos that keeps the burrs within a constant temperature range. Coffee grinders can tend to be very inconsistent because the burrs heat up and cool down depending on how much the grinder is being used, and the heat tends to affect the burrs in a manner that changes the resulting coffee grinds. Some barista’s disable the heater and some welcome the consistent setting but either way, the Mythos is the most consistent in terms of grind particle size.
There are quite a few more up and coming grinders such as the Lyn Weber EG-1, the Monolith, Titan and Titus Grinding range of grinders. These brands have popped up in the last 5 years and are starting to gain momentum because of their unique looks and some of them have adjustable grinding motors for reducing heat in the grinding process.
Using best and current industry practices
While there are many different methods to prepare coffee, there are a lot of bad habits in low quality and average coffee establishments. In this age of coffee there is only one rule that matters, there is only one thing that is king: CONSISTENCY.
As a cafe, you are only as good as the last coffee you just served. If you serve 10 amazing coffee’s in a row and then 1 average coffee, that customer didn’t receive your best coffee so you’ve just been graded on that coffee. Each coffee represents the cafe that serves it and one average coffee places that cafe in the average category. Why would anyone want to drink average coffee? Who want’s to pay for average coffee? There are so many high quality cafe’s and coffee shops that you can’t afford to be serving ‘average’ drinks, therefore consistency is the top priority after the essentials are being met.
With consistency in mind, what is currently the best industry practice for a cafe? It can be broken down into these 5 areas:
1.coffee supply (coffee roasting company)
3.grinds distribution/tamping pressure
Specialty Coffee Roasters
1. A supply of consistently roasted coffee is hard to get from a coffee roaster. There are so many parameters that change daily and seasonally from weather to moisture content. This is the hardest area to control for both the roaster and cafe because the bottom line is there is no consistency in roasting coffee because seasons change and so do crops. No coffee crop is ever the same, the weather is unpredictable so the amount of rainfall and sunlight is always different each year. Coffee roasters do a pretty good job of roasting coffee as consistently as possible under the circumstances. To be honest, it is very hard to tell the difference in the coffee unless you are drinking it on a daily basis more than once a day.
2. The coffee grinder needs to fill the portafilter with the same amount of coffee every time. This is achieved by weighing the coffee before it moves onto the next stage. A coffee grinder with the least amount of variance in terms of grind particle size is the best choice, which at this point in time is the Victoria Arduino Mythos 1.
3. Even tamping pressure needs to be applied in order for the coffee grinds to sit flush in the portafilter. There is a unit called the Puqpress which is capable of performing perfectly flat tamping under consistent pressure everytime. There is also the question of whether the grinds in the portafilter need to be distributed evenly before tamping? Some say that tamping compacts the grinds and pushes them evenly into the sides of the portafilter, others recommend using a device like the OCD to distribute the grinds before tamping. The question here is still up for debate…
4. There is only one way to achieve consistent extractions, which is by weighing the extracted coffee in the cup using scales. Some coffee machines such as the La Marzocco Linea PB and Strada AV or the Victoria Arduino Black Eagle Gravitech have built in scales within the coffee machine to accommodate this process. Acaia have built some low profile, waterproof scales called Lunar which are purpose built to weigh coffee extractions.
5. Milk steaming/frothing used to be one of the harder parameters to keep consistent until recently the Ubermilk unit has been introduced into cafes. The Ubermilk unit provides perfectly steamed/frothed milk at the push of a button and both the temperature and level of micro-foam can be adjusted. Say goodbye to opening milk cartons and cleaning steam wands, the Ubermilk is a game changer to say the least. I could talk about this device all day and the benefits of saving money and time while speeding up coffee service but I’ll save that for another day :).
One piece I did not cover was pouring milk into the coffee. This process can change the way the coffee texture and taste can turn out however, this is fully up to the skill of the barista so I haven’t added this in. Parts 2 to 5 can be carried out using machinery but part 1 is up to the coffee roaster and the style of pouring milk into the coffee is at the whim of the barista so there is no control over the consistency in these parts of the process. Just be certain that you are up to date with the current industry practices and you are using most or at least some of these techniques when you are tasting your espresso roasts.
The big lesson here for those of you starting a coffee roasting business is to recognize the quality manufacturers in the industry and look at quality equipment and the equipment that cafes are currently using everyday in their operations. You must also test your roasted coffee on these brands and models of equipment while using current barista/cafe practices in order to establish if your coffee tastes good enough that a cafe would consider taking on your coffee in their cafe. Knowledge of best practices can also help influence cafe’s to consider using your coffee if you can provide training and support in this area. Having a coffee roasting business means you need to know about a lot more than just roasting coffee – be a master of roasting coffee but also widen your knowledge to include coffee machines, grinders, training and pour over/filter coffee basics. The more you know, the more you can offer potential clients/cafes.
This excerpt was copied from ‘The Ultimate Guide To Starting A Coffee Roastery’, if you would like to view the chapter on Coffee Roasting Equipment click here to download the pdf document.