Having sold machines in all shapes and sizes to all manner of businesses, we like to think we know a thing or two about them. Espresso machines are a funny thing, they’re highly specialised to perform a specific task under high pressure hundreds, maybe thousands of times a day, yet their basic mechanics haven’t changed much since the early 60s.
While it probably isn't a good idea to buy a 60 year old machine for your cafe, you might also want to think twice about buying that second hand machine from 2016, unless you know about it’s past life. An easy analogy would be a newly licenced taxi driver buying a second hand car that doesn’t display mileage or have any service history, same same.
A standard single boiler espresso machine with two group heads has plenty of parts, electrics and plumbing, which can wear and fail overtime. The biggest enemy of any machine that pumps and heats water is the water itself. In it’s untreated form, water contains millions of mineral particles (scale) that like to latch onto conductive surfaces, e.g. a boiler, which causes havoc overtime. Befriend your local technician as you should see them at least 3 times a year, after all, the espresso machine will probably be the cornerstone of your business!
Really though, buying a machine is one of the most exciting and important parts, whether you’re upgrading or starting fresh, you want the best that you can afford. Contacting us is a good place to start, we’re here to help! You’ll have some decisions to make on size, spec and looks. These factors will be dictated by the type of business, footfall, seating capacity, ease of use and of course, budget.
Which one to choose?
Our manufacturer of choice is Victoria Arduino and their parent company, Nuova Simonelli, who’s been making espresso machines in Italy since 1936. We’ve been working with their machines for over 10 years and distributing them since 2012. While there are other comparable machines on the market, Nuova Simonelli & Victoria Arduino may have the best availability of parts and qualified engineers in Ireland, which makes afters sales support that much easier.
I mentioned single boiler machines, these are the simplest and cheapest on the market. Just like the name suggests they house one boiler with a heating element which does most of the work. The boiler heats to over 100C which produces steam for creating lovely cappuccinos and flat whites. This water is obviously too hot for making coffee which is why a heat exchanger is utilised instead. This is an isolated tube that runs through the steam boiler allowing the water being pumped through to heat to 93C, which is a standard temp for espresso brewing.
Victoria Arduino makes an excellent variant of the single boiler machine called a White Eagle. It includes a digital display for shot times, temperatures etc., steel panels which can be customised (more on that later) and a 14L boiler with a massive heating element that will keep the steam going all day.
The step up from this adds T3 technology to the White Eagle which allows for far greater control and accuracy of temperature through independent and insulated boilers. The machine also comes with upgraded extras like cool touch steam wands, cup warmer and analytics data.
Step up again and you’ll be looking at the Black Eagle, Victoria Arduino’s flagship espresso machine. With this machine you can take on any number of orders and it’ll keep singing all day. The VA388 Black Eagle includes T3 tech as standard with all the bells and whistles. It has the most in depth menu, the lowest profile, largest and most powerful boiler and the option of gravimetric technology. This technology adds individual scales for each group right into the drip tray, meaning your espressos always finish at the right weight, making dial in easier, maximising consistency and reducing waste.
So what’s the right machine for you? The two main things for me are focus and volume. What’s the focus of your business? Is coffee your main product or is it secondary? What volume do you expect to do? All three of the machines are work horses and won’t let you down, however if coffee is your main focus and you expect to be brewing a lot of it, then you should invest in technology that’s going to have it tasting it’s very best all day long. If you’re a restaurant and you do most of your business in the evenings, then perhaps the White Eagle variants would be the wiser choice.
Two groups or three? There are plenty of espresso bars in the world that make do with two groups but could do with a third. Conversely, there are lots that could do without the extra group in favour of the added counter space. In my opinion if you have the space, I reckon go for the three groups. Cafes where space isn’t an issue usually have a couple of baristas at the machine during busy periods anyway, this speeds up service and the third group can be properly utilised. On the other hand, if you’ve had to cleverly design your bar into an awkward space you may not be able to have to staff on making coffees, therefore negating the usefulness of the third group. When deciding on that extra group you must consider the extra 250mm it’s going to take up. That space would fit a jug rinser, water boiler or maybe even a till.
This is now a big part of our offering at 3fe, as it’s no longer just the Black Eagle that can get the full paint job treatment; the newer White Eagle also comes with steel panels that can withstand the high temperatures needed for powder coating. What is powder coating I hear you ask? It’s the most durable form of paint that can be applied, which is perfect for commercial applications where wear and tear is inevitable.
If you choose to have your machine customised (and you should) then you’ll pick a RAL colour, or maybe two depending on the machine, and the panels will be handed over to our friends in Tallaght Powder Coating. From there the panels will be sandblasted to prepare the surface and a mist of polyester resin then sprayed directly on. The resin is then baked on at 180°C for 30 minutes, just like a batch of cookies. This process ultimately makes the resulting paint job extremely hard wearing while looking vibrant and totally personalised.
Grinders, lest we forget
The biggest advancements in the world of speciality coffee over the past decade was undoubtedly in coffee grinding. You can have the best espresso machine in the world, but if it’s not mated to a good grinder then you’ll be constantly chasing your tail. Grinding coffee has the biggest effect on quality, keeping it dosing accurately has the biggest effect on waste and, as we’ve learned from the Mythos One, keeping it temperature stable has the biggest effect on consistency.
The Mythos One has been the benchmark for espresso grinding since it’s launch in 2013. It has set the standard with it’s perfect distribution of coffee grinds, quiet operation, dose accuracy and patented Clima-Pro technology. This tech uses a series of heating elements, fans and thermostats to maintain an accurate temperature in the grinding chamber, which greatly affects the solubility of coffee. In layman's terms, the grinder will keep the shots running the same all day, lessening the dialling in process.
Nuova Simonelli recently released a grinder with updated Clima Pro 2 technology which is even more stable and features user programmable temperatures. This grinder, the Mythos Two, also comes in a version with the Gravimetric technology seen in The Black Eagle which weighs the coffee as it grinds, making it incredibly accurate. There are two more versions of the Mythos Two that come with either a variable speed motor or fixed speed variant. All versions come with the more advanced Clima Pro 2.
Of course there are less advanced grinders out there, we typically use them for decaf as the demand is lower. The MDXS is a more traditional espresso grinder with a horizontal burr orientation and no temperature control, however it is an on demand grinder, meaning no dosing chamber to thwack over and over. At nearly a third the price of the Mythos One, the MDXS can be a great solution for decaf, however nothing beats the accuracy and consistency of the Mythos One.
If you’re looking to save a little cash and search for a second hand Mythos then you should again consider it’s past life. The machine won’t have suffered any of the problems that arise from water like in the espresso machine, but it’ll have had its own challenges. Check the age of the burrs, condition of the clump crusher (if it has one) and that the motor isn’t making any strained noises. You should be able to find the production date on the bottom of the grinder too which will give you a pretty good idea of how much use it’s had.
The bottom line? Find a supplier that will stand over the equipment, honor the warranty and know just about everything there is to know about it. They should be able to recommend a good technician and supply all the regular parts. In our experience 90% of problems can be sorted over the phone, so knowledge is key!
If you are looking for speciality coffee and the best equipment available for your start up or existing business you can contact us directly to discuss the options available. Check out our 3fe Wholesale Page or message us at [email protected]