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Evaluation of light commercial espresso machines.

Espresso drinks represent a hot beverage category that is still growing and show no signs of leveling off. As a result, businesses small and large want to get into the action. But just as businesses differ in size, they also differ in equipment needs.

A small shop selling 25 espresso drinks a day has vastly different equipment needs than a mid to high volume coffeehouse selling hundreds of espresso drinks a day. Even though the volume of the smaller shop may be low, the potential profits are high. At 25 sales daily with an average profit of $1.50 per drink, over a six day period, $225.00 in additional revenue is generated, representing $11,700 annually.

Because a daily volume of 25 drinks is tiny when compared to a daily volume of hundreds, the light conunercial espresso equipment segment is often overlooked when equipment is evaluated.

With this in mind, I invited 10 manufacturers to send me a light commercial espresso machine to test. The anticipated daily volume of espresso drinks was specified at 25 and the machine has to fit within certain parameters:

It had to run on regular 110 household current;

* It had to be able to be hooked up to a water bottle or have a refillable water tank built into the unit;

* I had to be able to unpack the machine, set it up without assistance, and operate it by following standard instructions included with the machine.

The 10 companies were selected because all had expressed to me an interest in participating in an evaluation and followed up by providing information on the machines and the name and phone number of a contact person.

Of the 10 companies invited to participate, six sent machines, one sent information but no machine since it had to be plumbed, one responded but sent no information and no machine since it had to be plumbed, one sent information but no machine since I already had one, and one did not respond at all.

Of the six companies who sent machines, three sent grinders that I did not use since my focus was on the espresso machines. I used whole beans in the machine with a built in grinder and tested the other machine with espresso pods and two different coffees ground for espresso. Of the two ground coffees, one was roasted, ground and packed in Italy; the other was roasted, ground and packed in the U.S. I also tested regular and de-caffeinated versions of all the coffees.

My opinion of the machines was based on the following:

* Clarity of instrucfion;

* Ease of set-up and operation;

* Portability;

* Extraction;

* Steaming capabilities; and

* Recovery time.

The cost of the machines vary from under $1,000 to over $2,000. The results are listed alphabetically and not in rank order. I scored the machines from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) in the aforementioned areas and gave an average score to each one. Specific information on each graded area is included in the chart at the end of the evaluation. Opinions expressed are strictly my own.



I have not personally tested this machine. The manufacturer sent regrets and information to me since it had to be plumbed.

This machine has four features that the manufacturer feels "Sets the Vesta apart from other machines available for light commercial use: Proprietary Pressure Regulation Process (PRPP) in the portafilter; Computer Controlled Intelligent Steam Wand with a built in temperature sensor that automatically shuts off when the milk reached the programmed temperature; Twin Independent Boilers, one for steam and one for espresso; Automatically User Friendly Operation Controlled by Computer."

I could not give it a score.


This was a substantial machine. I mention this because I required help to get it out of the box and set up and once it was set up, it wouldn't cross my mind to move it anytime soon. The instructions were excellent, it was easily setup, it was attractive and it even has a beautifully photographed decal of what a perfect espresso was supposed to look like but my evaluation had to stop there since the unit had to be plumbed. If it didn't, it did not mention any alternative in the instruction book and it did not pull water into the machine after the water line was dropped into a water bottle.

My disappointment in being unable to operate the machine was twofold; (1) it was first thing in the morning and I desperately wanted an espresso macchiatto, (2) my husband's and my favorite restaurant uses this exact machine, we've had many a delicious cappuccino prepared on it and I was disappointed that I did not have the opportunity to evaluate it. I could not give it an overall score.


This was the smallest and lightest machine weighing a scant 17 pounds.

It is available by itself or in combination with a grinder and tray. It has a build in water tank that holds 72 ounces and is easily filled and emptied. The instructions were somewhat confusing and several times directed the user to "turn" the button, when in actuality, it had to be pushed.

The extraction time for an espresso is good but the machine took a long 35 seconds getting ready to steam milk after the espresso was made. Once the steamer was ready, the force was good and the steam long-lasting even though I got somewhat confused about what button to push and which light to watch indicating that the machine was ready to steam. The filter fit snugly into the portafilter and could not be easily knocked out when knocking out the grounds. Overall score = 3.7.



This was another substantial machine. While it was not the biggest or heaviest machine I tested, it is not something that I could easily move around. The instructions were written in paragraph form and somewhat wordy. I would have found it easier to use them if they were in a shorter, bullet type format with diagrams. They went into depth in certain areas but did not cover such basics as how to cut the machine on. Once you got past the instruction book, the machine was a dream to operate.

There is no tight area or potential contact between the hand and the steam wand as the portafilter is inserted into the group. This means that the Pub VMT passes the "knuckle factor" very handily, I did not burn myself even once. The extraction time, steaming capabilities, and recovery time was excellent and in addition, it did not take up much space. This is not to say the unit is small, it is to say that it is somewhat narrow and could easily accommodate a grinder situated nearby.

In addition to being a little workhorse, the Pub is attractive and would fit into any decor. Overall score = 4.7.


This is a brand new machine on the market. It has a self contained water tank so it is suitable for pourover use or it can be plumbed. I had to take the top of the machine off to pour water in the tank and this was inconvenient and I assumed dangerous since a spill would result in water coming in contact with the internal wires. If this was not the recommended way to fill the tank, I could not find it in the instruction booklet. I also could not find the recommended procedure for emptying the tank so I had to break out the trusty turkey baster to remove the water.

After the machine was removed from the box, filled with water, and plugged in, it took about 10 minutes to warm up. I had to stop my evaluation at this point because the next step was to program the machine and I could not do that from the instructions that were enclosed. In fact as I was pressing on the key pad, trying to program the doses, I noticed that it moved. Upon closer examination, only two of the four screws holding the keypad in place were present.

The machine is nice looking, portable, and the pourover aspect of it makes it extremely attractive but my evaluation had to stop there. Could not give it an overan score.

Since this machine is not quite on the market yet, and all the instruction material is still under development, it was a bit premature to evaluate it against other machines. This machine has excellent potential, and I would like to reevaluate it at a later date.


This is a very substantial espresso machine and I needed help to get it out of the box and set it up. Because of the weight, it can not be easily moved, and the instruction booklet had areas that were unclear.

The machine itself was a joy to operate and only took four minutes to unpack. After the water hose was dropped into a water bottle and the machine was turned on, it was ready to use in 10 minutes. The extraction time for espresso was excellent as was its milk frothing capabilities and recovery time.

The portafilter was heavy and substantial and the filter fit in snugly and did not fall out when I was knocking out the spent grounds. One thing to watch out for though is the "knuckle factor." You have to be very careful when putting in the portafilter. The steam wand is to the left and the handle of the portafilter goes to the left as it is inserted into the group and then turns to the right as it is positioned. I slightly burned my hand twice until I thought to move the steam wand as far to the left as it would go so that I would not burn myself the third time.

In addition to being sturdy and performing admirably, it also looks great and would be an attractive addition to any operation. Overall score = 4.5.




I did an in-depth review of this machine over three years ago (8/90) and with the permission of Dana-Lu Imports, left it in the test location, a small volume coffee-house, to see how it would perform over an extended period. The machine has continued to perform day in and day out and shows no signs of wear and tear.

When I first reviewed the machine, the only thing I did not like about it was the steamer. Since then, the steam nozzle has been removed from the machine and a steamer is sold separately.

The Saeco Superautomatica shown has a built in water tank and an adjustable grinder. Once the start button is pushed it takes about 45 seconds to grind, pack, extract the espresso and dump the spent grounds - this all happens within the machine. The bean hopper holds about two pounds of whole bean coffee and the water capacity is 1.5 gallons.

The Estro Steamer had some problems when it first came out, it would overheat and shut down because it was not vented properly.

Those problems have been corrected and it will now supply steam continuously for several hours. The water tank is large and holds 96 ounces. My only gripe with the steamer is that you have to turn the machine around to access the water tank to fill and empty it. Once you do this, it is very easy to take in and out.

In addition to clear instructions for setup, the distributors provide a training video to go along with the machines. Overall score = 4.8.


This machine is also small and light, under 40 pounds. The built in water tank holds one gallon of water and while it is easy to fill, I did not find it easy to empty. I could not get the reservoir out and did not find any help in the instruction booklet. I finally ended up dipping the water out with a measuring cup and turkey baster.

The extraction time for an espresso is good and after the espresso was made, the machine was ready to steam almost immediately. I was disappointed in the steam pressure and try as I might, I could not get the milk to heat and foam in the recommended 15 seconds. Although the portafilter was heavy and substantial, the filter fit loosely into it and every time I knocked out the grounds, I had to rescue the filter out of the garbage can.

The instruction book was one of the more clearly written and recipes for the most popular espresso drinks were included with simple directions for use. Overall score = 3.8.


Keep in mind the testing parameter - the machines were only required to prepared 25 espresso drinks a day. The bigger and more expensive machines could probably handle that amount in less than an hour and some of the smaller ones could only handle that amount if the espresso drinks were spaced out over several hours.

The wide variance in the machines' ability to handle volume is due to steaming capabilities. The smaller ones just do not have the same steaming capabilities as the larger ones, but if you only anticipate serving four espresso drinks an hour, less steaming capability and longer recovery time is not as important as if you were serving four espresso drinks every 15 minutes.

With very few exceptions, all instruction and setup manuals that accompany espresso machines could use some work. I kept running across phrases like "earthed (grounded) plugs," and "don't put clothes (towels) on the espresso machine."

Instruction and installation manuals should not require an engineering degree to understand. A manual should be understood by someone who knows nothing about machinery. An instruction package that would include a manual with large print, bullet type format, illustrations, recipes, a trouble-shooting guide, accessory information and a training video would be very helpful.

As to which machine is the best for your operation, just about anyone in the business will tell you to buy the brand of equipment from whatever company who will give you the best service and can fulfill your unique needs. For further information, please the companies specified directly.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Grounds for Discussion; Column; Cover Story
Author:Sturdivant, Shea
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Previous Article:Espresso alla Bolognese.
Next Article:The automation of espresso machines.

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