Product Knowledge Guide: Espresso and Cappuccino Machines

The growing popularity of espresso and espresso-based drinks continues to attract a broader demographic to these often higher margin drinks.

The traditional method of producing these beverages requires knowledge of the many elements needed to make a perfect cup, including the coffee bean, its origin, how it’s roasted and ground and the art of grinding, tamping, extracting and adding milk. Now, with new technology and full automation, this knowledge and experience is no longer necessary to brew a perfect cup of espresso or cappuccino. As a result, these beverages now appear on menus in a broader range of foodservice operations and locations.

Manufacturers typically categorize espresso/cappuccino machines by the daily volumes these units produce. Capacities range from 10 to 20, 25 to 50 or 50 to 100 cups per day. Operators can choose from manual, semi-automatic or fully automatic machines. Due to the expertise they require, fewer operations utilize traditional manual units. Semi-automatic are the most popular for most businesses, although many coffee houses rely on fully automatics.

Traditional units require an experienced barista to manually grind the coffee beans, tamp the grounds, control the extraction time and steam and add milk. Consistency depends on extracting 7 grams to 14 grams of ground espresso at the proper temperature at the right contact time.

Semi-automatics, also called two-step units, automate espresso production, but the addition and steaming of milk still happens manually. As a result, with this unit type, operators still need to know how to properly steam milk, but the more complicated dynamic of grinding the beans and adjusting the consistency is taken out of the equation. Newer machines incorporate temperature sensors in the steaming wand, which automatically stop the steaming process when milk reaches the appropriate temperature. Two-step machines also have whole bean hoppers on top, along with grinders incorporated into the machine.

Super automatic machines, or one-steps, are fully automatic. These units fully integrate espresso production with milk steaming and frothing. At the push of a button, the units grind and tamp the beans, portion and dispense coffee, and steam and dispense milk. These units sometimes include a small refrigerator mounted to the side, which automatically inducts milk into the brewing process. All super automatics come with two hoppers and two grinders for regular and decaffeinated beverages. A third hopper for chocolate is optional.

The biggest advantage of a traditional espresso machine is the authenticity of the process. A perfectly prepared beverage can achieve the highest quality levels, which requires a highly trained barista. By comparison, the two-step unit offers consistency with the grind, dose and tamp, which makes it easy to replicate settings over many locations. While one-step units support two milk types, any milk or milk alternative can be used in a two-step machine. These units also offer more milk options, including a choice of volume, foam to milk ratio, foam consistency and the quality of foam bubbles.

Because one-step machines are fully automated, operators can use them in both full and self-service settings. Technology has improved, so the quality is on par with less automated machines. The challenge comes from the fact that these units utilize fresh milk, so there are obligations from an operations standpoint. Benefits of this type include less labor with push button operation, programmable recipes and a choice of various espresso sizes and varieties.

Espresso/cappuccino machines offer between one and four groups or brew heads, which designate how many espressos can be brewed at one time. One-step units typically have one brewer head, since the button can be pushed four times to create four shots subsequently. This provides quicker production than a manual machine.

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