Best Commercial Espresso Machines for Small Coffee Shops

Looking to find the best commercial espresso machines small coffee shops? This guide is going to take you on a tour of your options. You'll find all the information to get you started right here.

best espresso machine for small coffee shop

Here's what we'll be covering in this guide:

  • The essential espresso machine types you'll be choosing from.
  • Points to factor into your decision-making process.
  • Our recommendations for the top commercial espresso machines for small coffee shops.

Check out our top picks below or keep reading for the full article...

Options Small Coffee Shops Should Consider

First things first. You'll need to get to know the machine types out there.

Most likely, you'll be running into two basic kinds—automatic and semiautomatic machines.

There are also machines that are essentially like automatic-semiautomatic hybrids. For all intents and purposes, these can be considered part of a third category.

Other configurations also exist, like La Marzocco and Slayer manual paddle machines. But these are more specialized and probably less common in the average small coffee shop.

In general, the question is: Do you want an automatic, a semiautomatic, or something in between?

Automatic (Volumetric) Espresso Machines

Many small coffee shops need espresso drink consistency with a capital "C." If this is the case for you, an automatic machine is likely going to meet your needs.

Sometimes called volumetric machines, automatic models deliver a set measure of water when you start the brew process, ending the cycle when the programmed espresso volume has been reached.

Most often, you can program your desired volumes. But there are some machines with factory settings that you can't change.

Typically, automatic machines come with single and double dose buttons. When you want a double espresso, you'll push the "double" button and let the machine do the rest.

There are advantages to an automatic espresso machine that many small cafes can capitalize on.

Here are some of the pros:

  • Automatic consistency from shot to shot
  • Easy to operate regardless of skill level
  • More opportunity for baristas to multitask

Have you ever been to a cafe where the quality of the espresso depended on which barista was on the espresso machine?

Chances are, that cafe needed an automatic machine.

Not accounting for all other factors (and coffee quality), the risk of getting substantially different espresso from different baristas is reduced with the correct shot volume programmed into the machine.

That said, it's often the less experienced baristas who struggle with consistency. That's another area that the automatic machine excels in—user-friendliness.

working old style espresso machine

These old lever systems aren't so user friendly.

Whether your baristas are brand new to espresso or they've been in the game for years, they can achieve great results on an automatic machine.

And since they don't necessarily need to watch shots pour for 20 to 30 seconds, they can do more multitasking, whether that means getting started on other drinks or interacting with customers.

If all of this sounds enticing, you may be wondering what the cons are for an automatic machine.

Let's look at these now:

  • Baristas are restricted to automatic dosing
  • Less personalized experience
  • Often more expensive than semiautomatic machines

Automatic machines are excellent for encouraging product uniformity (at least where the espresso is concerned), but they don't make it easy to customize espresso shots on the fly.

An order for a long shot or a ristretto shot will need to be programmed instead of pulled on demand.

There's also something distancing about a semiautomatic machine if the feeling of personal craftsmanship is important to you.

It's not that the barista isn't directly involved with an automatic machine. But if you can't imagine a machine controlling any part of your method, this might not be the type for you.

On the other hand, the ease of operation and polished espresso delivered by an automatic machine far outweighs the cons for many small coffee shops.

Semiautomatic Espresso Machines

Looking for a machine for a high-end coffee shop? Maybe you're going for a boutique-y atmosphere. If so, some semiautomatic models are probably in the running.

Complete control of extraction is what expert baristas love about these machines. Whether it has push-buttons or a lever group, a semiautomatic relies on your baristas to decide when to start and end the brew cycle for every espresso.

These machines are not to be confused with traditional manual machines, which need the barista to apply the brew pressure by hand. For the most part, the manual espresso machine is considered a relic (outside of specialized applications). 

However, if you want to incorporate some of the fully manual machine's style, there are semiautomatic machines that do a good job of mimicking it.

What are the pros of a semiautomatic machine for small cafes?

  • More control for skilled baristas
  • Ability to pull longer or shorter shots without programming
  • Opportunity for new baristas to learn the ins and outs of extraction and advance quickly
espresso shot pouring

Do your patrons often customize their double shot orders? The ability to accommodate them comes naturally with the semiautomatic design.

Even if you just want more control, this machine will grant it. It's not unlike choosing a stick shift over an automatic transmission in a car.

Though semiautomatics are best in the hands of knowledgeable baristas, those will little experience will get to know the espresso process pretty thoroughly out of necessity.

Now let's take a look at some of the cons of a semiautomatic machine...

  • Takes an investment of time and energy for beginners
  • Potential for more exaggerated differences in espressos from different baristas

While beginners can meet their goal of becoming experts with practice on a semiautomatic machine, it won't always come quickly.

Depending on how much training you're willing to provide, you can expect the majority of baristas to pull excellent espresso shots within a few weeks to a month or two.

Since brewing isn't automated, there's an increased chance that espresso shots will vary. But if your baristas are skilled, this risk should be pretty minimal.

If you're concerned about consistency, some semiautomatic machines come with timers that stop brewing automatically. It's similar to the way automatic machines work, but it's based on shot time instead of volume.

All in all, semiautomatic machines take skill to operate, but they reward baristas with confidence in their craft.

Automatic Espresso Machines with Manual Dosing Options

Then there are the espresso machines with combined volumetric and manual brewing options.

These are essentially volumetric machines that come with semiautomatic functionality in case you want the best of both worlds.

As you can imagine, these machines eliminate some of the biggest cons of automatic and semiautomatic designs. You get programmable uniformity and on-demand customization whenever you need.

The list of pros includes...

  • Electronically controlled dosing for product uniformity
  • Quick and easy customization of any espresso shot
  • Can be operated by beginners to experts

The only real con for these machines is price. As automatic machines, they'll still fetch a higher price than semiautomatic configurations of the same model.

More often than not, you'll find that the cost of an espresso machine sharply increases with extra features. Additionally, multiple dosing options frequently accompany other advanced features that raise the price.

Style-wise, volumetric machines with manual options are typically operated by push button.

In other words, if you prefer a lever-operated machine, you might stick with a strictly semiautomatic model with an E-61 group, for instance.

Understanding the Needs of Your Small Business

Now that you know a little more about the basic types of espresso machines small coffee shops opt for, it's time to analyze your business requirements.

Here are some key points to review:

  • Espresso drink volume
  • The skill level of your baristas
  • Your budget
  • Machine style
  • Certifications

Espresso Drink Volume

working an espresso machine

How many espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos does your shop sell in a day, month, and year?

It's critical to assess not only daily sales, but also weekly and seasonal drink sales. 

Tuesdays will probably be different from Saturdays. Winter sales might not mirror summer business.

Here are a couple of things small shop owners need to think about to match volume:

  • Number of groups
  • Boiler type

For most small shops, a single-group espresso machine is ideal. These shops are generally seeing low volumes.

If espresso drink sales are higher across the board, a two-group machine is potentially a better fit. Baristas can whip through drink orders two (or more) at a time.

Beyond group number, there's the boiler system to appraise.

There are three major types: single, heat exchange, and dual boilers.

Single boilers are the slowest types. This is because they can't brew and steam at the same time. For this reason, single-boiler machines are best reserved for home use.

Heat exchangers and double boilers get around this one-at-a-time process. These are installed in many prosumer and commercial espresso machines.

A heat exchange boiler is essentially a modified single boiler. It has a tube running through it that channels water to the brew head and heats it to the optimal brew temperature. Meanwhile, the correct steaming temperature is maintained in the boiler.

If you're thinking that a dual boiler uses two boilers, you're absolutely correct. One is dedicated to brewing and one is for steaming.

So which one is best for a small cafe?

Unfortunately, there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer.

Heat exchange boilers are energy-efficient and have shorter warm-up periods. Double boilers offer the greatest temperature stability and can usually be relied upon to handle back-to-back drink orders with the utmost efficiency.

But it really depends on how big the boilers are. A heat exchange machine with a 3.5 liter boiler beats a dual boiler machine with a .75 liter steam and .5 liter brew boiler capacity.

In general, heat exchanger machines are less expensive, and they happen to be perfect for many small cafes that don't have the budget for a double boiler.

The rule of thumb is that bigger boilers = more power, which higher volume locations typically need.

Group number and boiler type aside, other factors in a machine configuration can affect how many drinks it can produce by the hour.

Reading up on specific models and evaluating how the features interact in overall machine function is key.

The Skill Level of Your Baristas

How proficient is your staff?

Would you and your fellow baristas be comfortable operating a semiautomatic machine, or do skill levels vary?

As we previously mentioned, skill has a lot to do with choice of machine type, whether semiautomatic, fully automatic, or other.

barista using coffee machine

Assess these items when matching a machine to your staff's level of expertise:

  • Basic machine type
  • Pour-over vs direct-connect models
  • Bells and whistles

If you can't guarantee that everyone is going to get to at least intermediate barista status, going with a volumetric machine with or without additional manual buttons is a good idea. This goes for any shop, no matter how large or small.

Next up: Learn about the advantages and drawbacks of pour-over vs direct-connect machines.

Basically, pour-over machines come with reservoirs that baristas refill throughout the day. Direct-connect machines plumb into a water line, eliminating this maintenance.

Though a pour-over machine can work in any location since it doesn't need to be near a water line, it takes up more time with the manual refilling. But it's usually inexpensive.

Direct-connect machines are not only convenient, they also make hooking up a water filter or softener simple, further reducing your maintenance and preventing heavy scale buildup that's bad for the machine.

Then again, many pour-over machines take drop-in water softeners in their water tanks to be refreshed every so often.

Small coffee shops typically have low-volume espresso drink sales. It's likely that a pour-over machine can work for these locations if it's not too inconvenient.

That being said, direct-connect (not pour-over) machines are the norm in any commercial environment.

Finally, there are the bells and whistles to examine. By these we mean the fancier features on espresso machines. 

Fancier can be very good for espresso quality in an upscale shop. But the same advanced features might be impractical in a cafe where baristas don't get the opportunity to use them, much less need them.

Is programmable pre-infusion a must? For some shops, yes. For others, no. It all depends on your product. 

A small shop that features single-origin espressos and rarer blends would probably benefit from a machine with multiple pre-infusion settings. 

But a mom-and-pop shop serving up delicious cappuccinos and iced lattes or a drive-through coffee shack won't always get much more from a machine with programmable pre-infusion than without.

This is not to say that pre-infusion makes an expensive machine. Many budget models incorporate automatic pre-infusion, which is a passive sort that doesn't even require you to activate it.

Just think about how much use you'll really get out of a machine's advanced features. The more specialized your cafe and the more skilled your baristas, the more likely you'll benefit from them and take your espresso to the next level.

Your Budget

One thing is for sure—if it's not in your budget, it's not the machine for you.

The wonderful thing about the world of espresso machines is that there's always an option that accommodates your budget. 

You may not even need to make big compromises to find a machine that meets your financial requirements.

The larger your budget, the more options will be available to you. If this is your situation, it may be in your best interest to place budget lower down on your list of machine essentials.

That is, if you can afford a machine with PID temperature control and you want that user-controlled thermal stability, it may be a good idea to splurge.

Your budget is important, but it's not necessarily more important than all other criteria.

While there's nothing you can do when a machine is out of your price range, you don't want to end up in a situation where you've purchased a lower-cost machine and it isn't living up to your expectations.

Or helping you serve your customers with the speed and flexibility you need.

Only you can decide which features are necessary for your small business. Budget is a big part of the equation, but ideally, it should be balanced with other considerations.

Machine Style

This is probably the easiest element of your decision.

Do you like the machine style? Will it fit in with your shop decor?

Usually, you'll be able to find an espresso machine that not only suits your business requirements but also matches your brand.

If you're new to the world of espresso machines, it may come as a surprise that the exterior design is just as vital as the internal functions for many connoisseurs.

And espresso machine makers take a lot of pride in their products' appearances and their ability to craft a certain look.

Take Rocket, for example. The main thing you'll notice about Rocket models is that they look like classic espresso machines, but often with artistic or contemporary flairs.

Nuova Simonelli is another company that makes artisan models that look beautiful on your counter.

These machines are very different from La Marzocco models, which often sport modern industrial styles that are popular in cafes.

You may be less concerned about what a home espresso machine looks like, but design is always good to ponder from the customer's point of view.

Most likely, your customers will be impressed with any machine you buy. But some shop owners like to curate a specific mood.

This is easily done with the right machine.

Certifications

Last but far from least, whether a machine has the certifications you need is a big criterion.

Certifications may vary regionally, but there are some national ones that give health inspectors a hand in determining that your machine is up to code.

An NSF certification is a common one that can be a green light in many situations.

The National Sanitation Foundation gives an NSF label to a machine that complies with its standards. The certification communicates that to health inspectors.

UL is another safety certification you might see. Underwriters Laboratories issues this one. 

There are plenty of other certifications, each with its own set of standards.

It's not that you definitely need all these commercial certifications, but they'll more or less guarantee that your machine is capable of holding up in a commercial environment.

(And that it most likely passes muster from official sanitation and safety perspectives.)

Best Commercial Espresso Machines for Small Coffee Shops

Let's get to the good part—the best commercial espresso machines to help your small coffee shop shine.

While the list below is not all-encompassing, the options represent a wide range of shops with different professional needs.

Nuova Simonelli Oscar II

Nuova Simonelli Oscar II NS-Oscar-II-Model-1

The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II is a essentially an advanced budget model. It's a hard-working machine designed to make outstanding espresso easy with soft infusion and programmable buttons.

It's best for a small cafe with particularly low volume espresso drink sales, or even a shop that doesn't focus on espresso as a main product. With these applications, you won't have trouble keeping the water tank filled.

The Oscar II doesn't have a separate hot water outlet, so you may want a hot water tank for quick access. But you can also get hot water from the steam wand.

  • Machine Type: Semiautomatic (timed dosing)
  • Majesty Coffee Price: $1,295
  • Groups: 1
  • Boiler: Heat exchange boiler
  • Plumbing: Pour-over
  • NSF Certified: Yes
  • Reverse Mirror: Watch your shots pour in the shiny stainless steel acting as a mirror for better monitoring of color and body.
  • Programmable Dosing: Though this is a semiautomatic machine, you can program shots by time. An easy way to increase consistency.
  • Soft Infusion: The coffee bed will be fully saturated before the pump applies full pressure to promote even extraction and better flavor.
  • Push-Pull Steam: Instead of a turning valve, you'll get an ergonomic push-pull steam trigger.

La Spaziale S1 Vivaldi II

La Spaziale S1 Vivaldi II VIVALDI-II

A 2.5 liter steam boiler in this sturdy dual boiler espresso machine provides incredible steaming capabilities.

As a direct-connect machine, the La Spaziale S1 Vivaldi II won't need to be monitored like the pour-over kind. However, La Spaziale does make a pour-over version (the S1 Mini Vivaldi II) if that's what you're searching for.

This machine can handle more with greater ease than the Nuova Simonelli Oscar II, so it's ideal for a small shop that needs to keep up with more drink orders.

  • Machine Type: Automatic
  • Majesty Coffee Price: $2,575
  • Groups: 1
  • Boiler: Dual boiler
  • Plumbing: Direct-connect
  • NSF Certified: Yes
  • Programmable Passive Pre-Infusion: Program the pre-infusion stage to last anywhere from one to eight seconds. This allows you to play with different coffee profiles and modifications.
  • Dual Manometers: A boiler pressure gauge shows you when you can brew and steam while a group pressure gauge helps you determine the optimal brew ratio.
  • Group Temperature Adjustment: Set the group head temperature in one-degree increments for fine-tuned adjustments.
  • Built-In Diagnostics: The machine can self-diagnose issues and alert you so that you can fix them quickly.

La Spaziale S1 Dream

La Spaziale S1 Dream S1-DREAM

Reconceptualizing the ever-popular Vivaldi II, the La Spaziale S1 Dream is an incredibly approachable machine. Some impressive upgrades include both group and boiler temperature adjustment, a touch pad, and an SD card reader.

The S1 Dream is an affordable single-group option for those looking for a volumetric machine with an additional manual button.

  • Machine Type: Automatic + manual dosing
  • Majesty Coffee Price: $2,395
  • Groups: 1
  • Boiler: Dual Boiler
  • Plumbing: Direct-connect
  • NSF Certified: Yes
  • Programmable Passive Pre-Infusion: Like the La Spaziale S1 Vivaldi II, the S1 Dream can be programmed with different pre-infusion settings for tasty espresso.
  • Dual Manometers: A boiler pressure gauge and a brew pressure gauge will guide you in operating the machine.
  • Group and Boiler Temperature Adjustment: Using the touch pad, you can adjust the temperature at the group or in the boiler in one-degree increments.
  • Programmable Hot Water Spigot: Set the water volume for the hot water spigot for Americanos and teas.
  • SD Card Reader: Read and write different coffee profiles and programs. This card reader makes it possible to install software updates easily.

La Pavoni Commercial Volumetric 2 Group Bar-Star 2V

la pavoni bar-star 2v

Are you running a small cafe with big orders to fill? You may want to try the La Pavoni Bar-Star 2V.

La Pavoni pulls out all the stops for this robust machine: a huge 14 liter copper boiler with natural antimicrobial properties, different brewing options, and an independent radiator hydraulic system, to name a few features.

Suffice it say, you won't be disappointed with this machine.

However, it's more costly than the machines previously mentioned in this list. Then again, you're getting two brew groups and a ton of innovative features.

  • Machine Type: Automatic + manual dosing
  • Majesty Coffee Price: $6,500
  • Groups: 2
  • Boiler: Heat exchange boiler
  • Plumbing: Direct-connect
  • NSF Certified: Yes
  • High-Volume Capacity: The massive 14 liter boiler allows this machine to make drink after drink. Long lines of drink orders? No problem.
  • Multiple Brewing Options: Choose from four cup size selections, continuous brewing, and instant stop buttons. Pulling longer or shorter shots via programming or on demand has never been simpler.
  • Anti-Vacuum Valve: The steam wands won't get gunked up since milk won't siphon into them.
  • Pre-Infusion: Improves the flavor of the coffee and eliminates issues related to tamping errors. 
  • Independent Radiator Hydraulic System: Ensuring incredible thermal stability, this system installed on each group head keeps water circulating throughout the boiler.
  • Pump and Boiler Pressure Gauges: Keep an eye on the group and boiler pressure to help you operate the machine with maximum convenience.
  • Telescopic Side Handles: Espresso machines are heavy and often hard to move. These handles make transporting the machine easy.

Nuova Simonelli Musica Lux

nuova simonelli musica

The Nuova Simonelli Musica is a sight to behold. Its elegant shape and surface LEDs make it stand out in any coffee shop.

There are actually a few different configurations for this machine, one of which doesn't come with the LEDs.

We prefer the pour-over version for cafes, but a direct-connect is also available and will save you some money.

Between the programmable pre-infusion, push-pull steam, and adjustable hot water spigot, this model is built for total user-friendliness in a specialty shop.

  • Machine Type: Automatic + manual dosing
  • Majesty Coffee Price: $3,240
  • Groups: 1
  • Boiler: Heat exchange boiler
  • Plumbing: Direct-connect (pour-over also available)
  • NSF Certified: Yes
  • Programmable Pre-Infusion: Program the Musica's pre-infusion stage to immerse the coffee in hot water before the pump turns on.
  • Reverse Mirror: See all angles of the espresso as it extracts.
  • LED Lights: Gorgeous LEDs around the Musica provide not only a unique look, but also better lighting to see what you're doing in finer detail.
  • Push-Pull Steam: The ergonomic steam trigger for anyone with wrist troubles.
  • Programmable Hot Water Spigot: Set your preferred water volume and draw a precise amount of water for Americanos and teas.

La Marzocco Linea Single Group Semiautomatic

La Marzocco Single Group Semi Automatic Espresso Machine

Ask anyone who owns a La Marzocco about their espresso machine and you'll hear nothing but accolades.

There's a reason La Marzocco machines are known as the workhorses of the industry. They're built to last, they rarely break down, and they deliver nothing but outstanding results even in the busiest of environments.

One of several configurations in the Linea Classic line, the one-group semiautomatic Linea gets through drink lines like nobody's business with a 1.8 liter coffee boiler and a 3.5 liter steam boiler.

It's a high-performance model designed to help high-end coffee shops tackle never-ending lines of lattes and Americanos.

  • Machine Type: Semiautomatic
  • Majesty Coffee Price: $8,800
  • Groups: 1
  • Boiler: Dual boiler
  • Plumbing: Direct-connect
  • NSF Certified: Yes
  • PID Temperature Controller: This system is for adjusting the temperature on the brew boiler for maximum precision.
  • Saturated Brew Group: Connecting directly to the boiler, this design creates unparalleled temperature stability in the group.
  • Powerful Steaming: Don't even try to exhaust steaming on this machine. It has steam power for days.
  • Barista Lights: These lights are fixed on the machine to illuminate your work space.
  • External Rotary Pump: Should you ever need to work on this or replace it, it's easy to do.

Nuova Simonelli Appia II Compact Volumetric

Measuring 21 inches high, 22 inches wide, and 22 inches deep, the Nuova Simonelli Appia Two Compact saves space on your countertop.

For some small shops, this is a must. But conserving space is only one of this machine's perks.

Raised group heads, soft infusion, and push-pull steam triggers make this model versatile. It's a gem for busy shops.

  • Machine Type: Automatic + manual dosing
  • Majesty Coffee Price: $6,030
  • Groups: 2
  • Boiler: Heat exchange boiler
  • Plumbing: Direct-connect
  • NSF Certified: Yes
  • Raised Group Heads: Does your business offer multiple cup sizes? The raised group heads allow you to brew espresso right into tall cups for faster service.
  • Soft Infusion: Fully saturated coffee beds = well-developed espresso flavor.
  • Cool Touch Wands: Stay safe and burn-free cleaning the steam wand. Since the wand stays cool to the touch, it will keep milk from instantly sticking.
  • Push-Pull Steam: Comfortable during long days on the machine. Push pull steam keeps your wrists happy.
  • Reverse Mirror: Get a better visual on the espresso for quality control.
  • Bar Pump Gauge: If the pressure is off, you know it's probably time to check your brew ratio.

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