The following information is intended to give general information on the range of commercial coffee machines that are used in the Coffee Industry today. I apologise in advance if I’m “Teaching you how to suck eggs.” Having been a consultant involved in the Coffee World for some years, advising clients and helping them choose the right equipment to suit their needs. Believe me when I say that there have been many people who have asked the question, “What’s an egg?” Facts are facts so the following is my interpretation and how I advise clients.
There have been many changes in the UK’s interest in coffee in the last 10 – 15 years. The need for real espresso based coffees has increased dramatically. Instant coffee out a tin, or at best “Pour and Serve” filter coffee machines were the main way of providing coffee during the past thirty years. I can speak from past experiences when selling coffee machines that prepare “real bean” espresso based coffees to businesses in the food and drink sector. These days those types of business wouldn’t consider anything less than a traditional Espresso machine or Bean to Cup machine. Back then, the British public was really only used to “instant” type coffee and Espresso was something foreign. Businesses didn’t see the need to go “foreign.”
Thankfully, all that has changed. With the evolution of the High Street big brands of Coffee Bars. The growth in Café Culture in the UK and the influence of the well known “American” food outlets. The public’s perception of Coffee has changed and become more refined. In fact, the UK is now officially a nation of coffee drinkers. To respond to this many independent businesses have moved towards more sophisticated methods of producing coffee to compete in the coffee market. From the traditional Italian style Espresso machine to the more complex Bean to Cup automatic coffee machines, it is possible to produce a wide range of high quality espresso based coffees very simply.
In 1938, Milan coffee bartender, Achille Gaggia filed a Patent for a steam-free coffee machine. Unlike its predecessors, Gaggia’s design used a revolutionary piston mechanism which forced water through the coffee grounds at high pressure. It was his quest for the perfect espresso in 1930s Milan that gave birth to one of Italy’s most iconic brands, and heralded the production of the Espresso as we know it. Traditional Espresso Coffee Machines are the type you see in Café Nero, Costa Coffee etc. There is a separate Grinder, which usually sits on top of a Knockout Drawer which is used for the spent coffee pucks. Although most Traditional Espresso Machines have automatic dosing these days, the coffee making process is by hand (Artisan). The coffee shot; single or double is prepared using the machine. The milk is foamed using the machine Steam Wand. The coffee is then put together to make any one of the most popular coffees. Cappuccino, Latte, Mocha and Macchiato etc. All of the preparation adds to the “Theatre” of the Coffee Culture. Customers have a higher perception of an “Artisan Coffee” and are willing to pay more. Training is required to ensure quality and consistency. With practice, staff will be able to provide customers with a superb range of popular speciality coffees. Coffee making in this way is looked on very much as an “Art form.” The size and complexity of espresso machines vary. Choosing the right machine to suit business requirements is important and should be given consideration. A person formally trained in coffee preparation and has served coffee on a full time basis for a number of years are known as a “Barista.” The word comes from the Italian name for a male or female bartender.
Bean to cup coffee machines are relatively recent additions to the coffee machine market. The principle is to be able to duplicate, more or less, the range of espresso based coffees that are normally handmade on an espresso machine. All at the “Touch of a Button”. As previously explained, when using an espresso machine, a Barista would make coffees by hand. Although not a long process, it doesn’t allow the Barista to prepare other food orders for example. In fast food outlets, where staff do not have time to hand make a coffee, or where there is limited staff training a bean to cup machine is the ideal solution. Bean to Cup machines are found in many self-serve environments such as Cafeterias, Company Canteens. Bean to Cup machines are becoming popular in Offices. Staff want the same standard of coffee that they get from their favourite coffee shop. Also these days, many people have domestic Bean to Cup machines in their kitchen. A Bean to Cup machine grinds the coffee beans to make espresso coffee on demand. These systems also have built in automatic milk foamers that are able to produce steam and foamed milk for producing Lattes, Cappuccinos and other milk based drinks simultaneously. The process of producing coffee from a Bean to Cup machine differs from a traditional espresso machine. The brewer in a Bean to Cup coffee machine works similarly to a Cafétiere. The coffee beans are ground into a brewing chamber and then a ram forces the hot water through the coffee, extracting the espresso coffee. A traditional espresso machine creates pressure that forces water through “group head” to produce the espresso coffee.
The software in a Bean to Cup machine allows for various types of drinks to be produced. These vary depending on the type of machine chosen. Generally commercial Bean to Cup machines have between 8 and 12 drink selections. Basic and domestic bean to cup machines have a separate steam arm or foamer which means that milk for Cappuccinos and Lattes have to be foamed separately. These machines are ideal for domestic use or small offices were less than twenty drinks are required in any one day. Please be aware that if using a machine in a business environment it should have a commercial warranty. This generally will not be available for low volume domestic machines. If you are considering a Bean to Cup machine for your business it should be noted that they are manufactured to different volume categories. Machines have to be matched to daily cups/day requirements/estimates, drink size and how quickly they will be needed. All Manufacturers’ cups/day specifications are based upon an 8oz serving with numbers spread evenly throughout the day. Typically low volume bean to cup can produce up to 50 coffees per day. Medium volume machines range between 100 and 150 a day. Medium to High volume would be 150 – 200 a day. High volume would be 200 – 500 cups per day. Bean to Cup machines will protest if asked to do more than they were built to do and will appear slow at busy times. There are no major training requirements to use a Bean to Cup machine. No Barista skills are really needed. Some of the more powerful high volume Bean to Cup machines have traditional Steam Wands so some “foaming” skills may be needed. Training is more to do with how to use and look after the machine. Cleaning is especially important when using a Bean to Cup machine. It’s a good idea to have some knowledge of coffee beans so you can choose a blend that will to suit your customers’ tastes.
The last types of machine to consider if offering a “real” coffee are the ones that have been familiar for many years. Filter type coffee made with Pre ground coffee. The type of machines depends upon volumes required. For example, high volumes of coffee may be required for breakfast coffees in Hotels. Conference Centres would require high volumes for seminar coffee breaks. Also, Function facilities, Staff canteens and Theatres where a high demand for fresh coffee is required in a short space of time. In this situation Bulk Brew coffee machines are highly recommended. These machines can produce between 30 and 140 Litres of fresh filter coffee per hour. There are a number of popular brands for Pour and Serve and Bulk Brew coffee machines. Pour and Serve coffee machines range from a simple two Jug filter coffee machine with two hot plates or multiple hot plate Pour and Serve for up to four Jugs. The ultimate is a Bulk Brew coffee machine. These have one or two brewing columns. They have detachable brewing containers, capable of holding up to 40 Litres of coffee. The convenient control panels with LCD display makes it easy to adjust brewing times and volume requirements. The detachable brewing containers mean that high volumes of coffee can be served in different locations simultaneously. The other type of “filter” coffee machine is the RLX type from Bravilor. They are modular fresh filter machines with added hot water and steam facilities, ideal for producing hot water for teas as well as a steam for foaming and steaming milk.