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The who, what, where, when, and why of espresso machines.

You have done your homework and know that espresso based beverages are to the 1990's what gourmet coffee was to the 1980's. You want in on the movement, but don't know a thing about espresso machines and have heard horror stories about their undependability from every friend who bought an espresso machine and could never get it to work right. If you still want an espresso machine at this point, and are willing to do a bit more digging, you have broken through the "fear of machinery" that paralyzes some business owners and are on the way to increased profitability in your operation.

Who makes the best espresso


"Whoever does the best job of backing up their espresso machine with parts and service has the best espresso machine," according to Jim Glang, president of Crossroads Espresso located in the San Francisco Bay area and distributors of La Pavoni espresso equipment (800/552-4424). Although Jim attributes this remark to Dr. Ernesto Illy of Illycaffe in Trieste, Italy, he made the philosophy his own and it is reflected in Crossroads' phenomenal growth.

From its humble beginnings in Jim's garage in 1981, Crossroads has grown to be the largest importer and distributor of commercial espresso equipment in the US. and Canada. Crossroads is the exclusive importer for La Pavoni espresso machines in the territories of Canada, the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and South Korea. Nationally, Crossroads Espresso offers installation, service, and warranty in any of the top 135 metropolitan areas in North America and have 360 service agencies throughout the United States. Jim has also conducted espresso training seminars on behalf of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

Although Jim adheres to Dr. Illy's basic philosophy, he has added the word "training" to it. Anyone in the business of selling espresso machines will attest to the fact that most machinery malfunctions are due to operator error rather than machine failure. Proper training is critical because with it, unnecessary service calls and parts replacement is kept to a minimum.

According to Glang, "when we sell an espresso machine, our equipment distributor provides installation instructions and training, 10 day followup and 30 day followup. We have also found that hands on training is more important than verbiage. It is better to show someone how to make an espresso and the proper way to steam milk rather than them trying to learn it by reading a training manual. After we show them how to use the machine, it makes more sense to them when we show them the maintenance schedule."

Jim anticipates approximately one service call per year per machine but he adds that "when we sell and install a machine, we provide the customer a program of daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance." He adds that the first year does not require a lot of preventive maintenance, it becomes more important in the second year.

When pressed for a comment on who makes the best machines, Jim admits that he does have a preference. "I basically like all the Italian machines and feel that the Italians, who developed espresso, put more care and feeding into the manufacturing of the machines in terms of thermal stability, quality of brewed product, etc."

After you have found a company that provides training, service, and has replacement parts in stock, a few more questions are in order.

What type of espresso equipment

do you need?

Before you can answer this question, you must ask yourself a few questions. Do you want equipment that is safety tested and electrically approved? (UL, ETL) That has sanitary testing and approval? (NSF, ETL, UL) If you want equipment of this quality that will pass local codes, it is available but you will pay more for it. Not all espresso equipment in the U.S. is electrically approved and has sanitary approval. According to Jim Glang, "Only about half of the models available are safety tested and electrically approved in the United States and only about 5% of models meet sanitary standards." If you are unsure of your machine, look on the machine for the label certifying approval.

What size boiler do you need? If you are in a market where the majority of the drinks being sold are milk based drinks such as cappuccinos and lattes, and this includes most markets, the most important criteria to use when purchasing the machine is the steaming capacity as determined by the boiler size. Just ask the vendors of the machines you are looking at what size boiler the equipment has, being sure to compare machines of the same size, and go with the one with the largest boiler capacity.

Do you want a fully automatic, automatic, or semi- automatic machine? If you want a machine for a self-service operation or one that does not require any employee labor beyond pushing a button, go with a fully automatic machine. If you want a machine that cuts off automatically after the espresso is brewed, go with an automatic machine. If you have a dedicated employee who is making the espresso beverages and does not mind pushing a button to stop the flow of espresso after it is brewed, go with a semi-automatic machine.

Do you need a one, two, three, or four group machine? Before you can figure this out, you have to have a realistic idea of the number of servings of espresso beverages you intend to sell in a day. According to Jim Glang, a very general rule of thumb would be: 0 to 30 servings per day = a one group machine; 31 - 80 servings per day = a two group compact machine; 81 - 120 servings per day -- a two group full size machine; 121 - 200 servings per day = a 3 group machine; 201 - 500 servings per day = a 4 group machine and their accounts that sell over 500 drinks daily usually install a second 4 group machine.

Do you need an espresso grinder? Emphatically yes --if you try to skimp on this piece of equipment to save money, it will cost you more money in the long run. Espresso grinders grind the coffee granules at a slower speed than a "regular" grinder. If you grind coffee for espresso in a regular grinder, feel the coffee after it is ground ... it is hot to the touch. Grinding coffee for espresso in a regular coffee grinder causes so much friction that the coffee is burnt before it is ever made into espresso and drastically effects the taste. Also, if other than an espresso grinder is used, the coffee is usually reduced to a fine powder rather than finely ground granules and can inhibit the flow of water through the coffee, effecting the extraction time and the taste of the end beverage.

Do you need two espresso grinders, one for regular and one for decaffeinated? If you are doing less than 10% of your business in decaffeinated espresso drinks, no; but if you sell more than that percentage in decaffeinated espresso drinks, you would be wise to buy that second grinder.

Do you need an espresso dump box? An espresso dump box is a humble but necessary piece of equipment that makes life easier for the machine operator. The dump box has a bar across it, close to the edge of the box. It is better to dump espresso grounds into a dump box than a trash can because if the espresso is dumped with any kind of force into a trash can, the basket usually comes out of the group, and searching through wet coffee grounds in a trash can for the basket is both unpleasant and time-consuming. A dump box, with the little bar across one end, allows the dumping of the spent coffee grounds and the bar prevents the basket from coming out. Where is the best place to install your espresso machine?

Crossroads Espresso provides the following list of considerations before placing an espresso machine and equipment installers work with owners to help select the best location. They remind their customers that this is a list of guidelines and only the most ideal site will encompass all of these considerations.

Measure the dimensions of the machine, grinder, dump box and work area. The size of the machine is the biggest variable here. The site must be large enough to hold the machine, the grinder to the right, the dump box in front of the grinder, and still give enough room to work. Also, the machine should not be located anywhere with shelves located close above the machine. Cups are stored on top of the espresso machine to keep them warm and if shelves are located too close to the top, it inhibits accessibility to the cups.

Is there refrigeration nearby? Most of the drinks ordered will require cold milk for steaming so refrigeration needs to be nearby.

Is there room to work? You need counter space to make the drinks, especially between the operator and the machine so the counter needs to be at least two feet deep to allow for the space of the machine and work space. Avoid narrow, congested areas.

Is the area accessible to customers? It is important to serve the drinks promptly and the servers will come and go frequently. Plan for this traffic by placing the machine in a convenient location.

Can your customers see the machine? If customers can see the machine and production, it arouses curiosity and creates demand.

Is there drainage and electrical hookup available? Draining is required for an espresso machine and is a critical determining factor in the installation. Electrical power is equally as important but is usually more readily available.

When is the best time to buy

espresso equipment?

Now ... espresso drinks, especially cappuccino and lattes, are no longer just found in coffeehouses. Consumers recognize the beverages and they are firmly ensconced in mainstream America.

If you have doubts that your customers will buy espresso based beverages, develop a line of signature lattes or cappuccinos flavored with Italian syrups and call the drinks by user-friendly names. Nordstrom's, a major retail chain, known for its espresso drinks, has developed a line of beverages using Italian flavored syrups and has created imaginative names such as Caffe Almond Moo (espresso, steamed milk and almond syrup) and Caffe Caramel Latte (espresso, steamed milk, and caramel syrup).

Arabica Coffeehouse, a multistore chain in Cleveland, Ohio, also uses the Italian syrups to flavor cappuccinos and lattes but David Reich, Arabica's president and resident espresso mixologist, has taken imaginative drinks a step further. He has created drinks such as the "Red Eye" which combines a cup of any brewed coffee and a shot of espresso. Imagination is the key.

Why should you be selling

espresso drinks?

In a word ... profitability. These drinks are extremely profitable. A very conservative estimate of food cost per espresso drink would be $.25 per serving (espresso, milk, cup, and condiments). If the drink is sold at $1.75, the beverage generated $1.50 profit per serving (excluding labor, rent, taxes, etc.). You do not need a calculator to figure its profitability. Crossroads Espresso's general rule of thumb is that you would recover your out of pocket investment within six months of installation.

If you are interested in finding out more about espresso equipment, plan on attending the Specialty Coffee Association of America Conference and Trade Show in Boston, MA, May 8 11, 1993. Every major equipment supplier will be there and will be more than happy to talk to you about their equipment. For more information about the show, contact the S.C.A.A. directly at 310/983-8090.

Espresso Equipment Distributors --I will be preparing an overall review of espresso equipment for our November issue and would appreciate hearing from you. If you would like to send me a machine to use so that I can give an in-depth review I would need to receive the machine by September 15th and would need to keep it approximately 30 days. If you would like you machine included in my review, please contact me at: Tel/Fax (205)539-5237.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Grounds for Discussion
Author:Sturdivant, Shea
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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