How to choose the best espresso machine for your café
Pros and cons of gravimetric, volumetric, semi-automatic and super-automatic machines
by Josh Thomas
Volumetric (automatic): After reaching the pre-defined water volume, as defined in the settings, the machine stops the extraction by itself.
Gravimetric: Measures the coffee's weight and turns the motor off when the pre-programmed weight (as set by the barista) is reached.
Semi-Automatic: Electric pump activates the piston, so you need to start and stop the shot during extraction.
Super-Automatic: Grinds the coffee, sets up the portafilter and tamps it, and pulls the shot for you.
Looking for the best espresso machine for your café? In this blog post, Josh Thomas, barista and training manager for Buddy Brew Coffee, will break down what to look for when selecting a professional grade espresso machine.
He will provide pros and cons for four types of machines: gravimetric, volumetric, semi-automatic and super-automatic, and give his recommendations.
Josh currently oversees barista training at all eight of Buddy Brew coffee’s café locations across Tampa Bay. Josh trains all new recruits on the finest equipment so they can provide guests excellent service and a superior product.
VOLUMETRIC ESPRESSO MACHINES
Sleek, beautiful and programmable
Price Range: $9,000 - $20,000 (1-3 group head)
The volumetric espresso machine, the most common type of espresso machine, is by far the most barista-friendly. Volumetric machines have programmable buttons to dispense a desired amount of water, and have a meter to monitor the flow of water from the boiler to each group head. This allows the barista to focus on customer service and workflow instead of the machine.
At Buddy Brew, we have the Victoria Arduina Eagle One and the Appia Life volumetric machines by Nuovo Simonelli. Both machines are great for different reasons. The Eagle One has been one of my favorite machines to work on and to train our staff on. The Eagle One is beautifully designed, both aesthetically and technically. It has a retro-modern feel, and is beautifully lit to highlight its sleek lines.
It’s also energy friendly. The boiler is made of steel and insulated by a patented material that helps keep water temperature high with minimal energy input. It reuses hot discharged water that would normally just be a waste product to heat incoming water, lowering energy consumption. It also has a self-purge feature after you remove the portafilter, which is a nice touch.
The Appia Life is a workhorse, and though it doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles the Eagle One has, it pulls great shots of espresso at a lower price point. The downside of volumetric machines overall is a less accurate delivery than a gravimetric, with shots varying by 1-2 grams.
- Less expensive than gravimetric
- Sleek, modern design
- Reduced environmental impact
- More expensive than semi-automatic
- Not as accurate as gravimetric
GRAVIMETRIC ESPRESSO MACHINE
The ultimate in consistency
Price Range: $24,000 - $27,000 (2-3 group head)
Gravimetric espresso machines are pricey, but have a sophisticated functionality that provides precision like no other. They have built-in scales that hover above the drip tray, giving the exact liquid weight in your cup every single time. This is important because the ratio of coffee to water greatly influences the flavor of the cup. If the dose of water isn’t consistent, it’s hard to serve consistently amazing shots of espresso. The T3 technology ensures you get a repeatable amount of water every single time.
Above each group head there is a display that gives the shot time and shot weight. These are two of the most important pieces of data that baristas need in order to keep shots dialed in and tasting amazing.
At Buddy Brew, we have the VA388 Black Eagle Gravimetric by Nuovo Simonelli in three of our cafes and we absolutely love it. In addition to precise water temperature control, each group head has its own separate mini-boiler, which allows for independent temperature control and insanely fast heat-up time. It also has a precise steam boiler temperature control to easily adjust the power of the milk steam wands.
All of this directly leads to a better product for customers, giving them silky textured milk every single time. Last but not least, the Black Eagle is a gorgeous machine that will easily become the centerpiece of your cafe and a great conversation starter with your guests.
- Consistency and accuracy
- Fast heat-up time
- Visually appealing
- More expensive than other professional espresso machines
- Still requires barista training in espresso basics
Josh’s gravimetric recommendation: VA 388 Black Eagle (Simonella)
SEMI-AUTOMATIC ESPRESSO MACHINES
Great for the home hobbyist and barista training
Price Range: $6,000 - $7,000 (1 group head)
For the most part, semi-automatic espresso machines are for the serious home hobbyist, although there are professional options as well. First let’s look at the name, which can be confusing. A semi-automatic espresso machine is not automated. In fact, the barista is in complete control, meaning they must manually turn the machine on to start water flow for a shot of espresso, and then turn the water off. Semi-automatic espresso machines tend to be single boiler machines, so there is only one chamber to hold hot water. That means a barista can only pull a shot or steam milk: they cannot do both at the same time. This can cause guests to have to wait a bit longer for their beverages.
Semi-automatic machines are typically a lot less expensive than volumetric and gravimetric machines. One downside is that If the cafe is busy, it is easy for the barista to either neglect customers while tending to the machine, or lose track of how long the water has been flowing, resulting in a bad shot. Because the ratio of coffee to water highly affects flavor, these machines tend to lead to inconsistencies, and in general can certainly take away from great interactions with guests.
In my opinion, the best semi-automatic espresso machine for a café setting is the La Marozocco Linea Mini. The Linea Mini has a dual boiler, allowing the barista to steam and pull shots at the same time. We own two of these machines at Buddy Brew and we use them to teach all of our baristas the basics of espresso making. They are fantastic for learning on. They require the barista to pay attention to shot time, dose of coffee in and water weight out. You can easily demonstrate what a shot with too much water, or not enough water will taste like. An optional plumbing kit is available, allowing you to plumb your machine to a water source.
The classic look of the Linea Mini is stainless steel with black paddles and knobs, but the color and accessories can be customized. One of my favorite looks is the matte white body with wooden handles and knobs.
- Less expensive
- Color customization
- Great for training and learning on
- No automated controls
- Usually single boiler machines
- Requires close attention by the barista
Josh’s semi-automatic recommendation: La Marzocco Linea Mini
SUPER-AUTOMATIC ESPRESSO MACHINES
A hands off approach to amazing espresso
Price Range: $17,000 - $19,000 (1 group head)
Lastly, let’s look at super-automatic espresso machines. True to the name suggests, these machines are indeed super automatic. In my opinion the best on the market is the Eversys Cameo. Some say this machine will keep your coffee tasting better than the average barista will. That’s because the Eversys machines automatically adjust grind size to keep your shots pulling in an acceptable amount of time, which you can dictate. As soon as your shots start to fall outside of the acceptable window, the machine will begin to make adjustments.
With the Eversys, you can program the amount of coffee that goes into your portafilter and it will make sure to dose that amount every single time. It will adjust your grind size to stay dialed in automatically. If the milk module is purchased, it can even steam your milk to the precise temperature and amount of aeration for every drink.
Eversys machines can streamline training by taking the guesswork out while ensuring your guests get a consistent drink every single time. The most basic Eversys machine is rated for 175 espresso shots per hour. That is pretty impressive for a single group head machine and can keep up with medium to high volume cafés.
The biggest drawback about the super-automatic espresso machines is the price. Eversys’ Cameo machines (Classic, Core, Super Traditional - plus accessories) can cost between $20,000 and $40,000. Also, these machines do need to be cleaned daily. This is true with every espresso machine but it is even more important with super-automatic espresso machines, which need more attention and regular maintenance along the way. We don’t use an Eversys machine in our cafés, but we have recommended this brand to a few of our wholesale partners, who have found it to be highly effective at pulling amazing shots.
- Consistency and accuracy
- Minimal training time
- Can keep up with high volume
- More expensive
- More sensitive to maintenance
Josh’s recommendation: Eversys Cameo
Need help deciding? I would love to talk with you about your equipment needs and help you get the equipment that is best for you. We can also talk about selling our specialty grade coffees in your café. I can be reached at email@example.com.
More about Buddy Brew Coffee
- Buddy Brew Coffee was launched in 2011 and now has eight cafés across Tampa Bay.
- The family-owned coffee chain is Tampa Bay’s 2022 Small Business of the Year, and is regularly voted Best Coffee and Best Coffee Shop in Tampa.
- The company’s motto and mission, “Brew Good, Do Good,” is evidenced by its equitable and sustainable sourcing practices, the high quality of its whole bean coffees (top 2% in the world) and next-level customer service.
- Its whole bean coffees and BOLT cold brew are available in grocery stores across the country, including The Fresh Market, Whole Foods, Publix and Winn-Dixie stores.
Shop our coffees at Buddy Brew’s e-commerce store.
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