May 14, 2018

A Guide to Setting Up The Espresso Machine in Your New Café


Installing your new espresso machine isn’t as simple as just ordering it and plugging it in. In the years I’ve spent as a servicing dealer and coffee machine technician, I’ve been involved in more café build-outs than I can remember. And, with almost every new installation, there’s been some problem with the site that needed to be addressed.

Fortunately, a good technician can save you from some very expensive mistakes by inspecting the site, liaising with your contractors, and helping you make good decisions.

I might not be standing in your soon-to-be café. I don’t even know what equipment you’ve chosen yet. But what I can do is get you started with a few pointers. Let’s begin!

Lee este artículo en español Guía para Tiendas de Café: Cómo Instalar Una Máquina de Espresso

espresso machine

The author with a recently rebuilt machine. Credit: Adam LeBlanc

1. Where Should Your Espresso Machine Go?

Hear me out: this is not as simple as you think. The machine location has a huge impact on workflow, customer flow, customer engagement, and aesthetics – meaning your espresso machine placement can make or break a business. No, I’m not exaggerating.  

I reached out to Jordan Weisz of De Mello Palheta Coffee Roasters, who strongly emphasized the importance of workflow and ergonomics. It’s not just a matter of installing the machine wherever it will fit.

And it’s worth making the effort to find the best location for it. Sometimes, it’ll seem like you have to move mountains just to put a machine a few inches to the left or right – but often, this will pay off. On the other hand, sometimes there are obstacles you can’t overcome. Those, you’ll just have to adapt to.

Do everything you can to maximize time spent interacting with your guests. If you have to put the espresso machine on the back bar, consider turning it sideways. However, it’s almost always preferable to have it on the front bar.

What’s a comfortable working height? If you’ve worked at other coffee shops before, this is an easy question. If it’s your first time, consider asking one of your peers. For most people, though, a counter height of 36–41” is best.

How close together can you place the machines that you’ll be using most often? If you can prepare a cappuccino and place it at the pass with a minimum of twisting, bending, or reaching, you’re on the right track – but make sure there’s also room for an assistant when things get busy.

You might also like How to Open a Specialty Coffee Shop, From Concept to Launch

Don’t forget that you’ll need room for tamping, steaming, the pass, and a place for guests to put dirty dishes! If possible, refer to the spec sheets for measurements and lay them out on the counter with cardboard or masking tape, so you can keep track of how much space is left.

coffee shop

Laying out cabinetry and components to ensure workflow and traffic flow are optimized. Credit: David Miller

2. Checking Water & Power

Please read your warranty conditions – right now. Your machine manufacturer has very specific ideas about the water and power quality they’ll accept. Take them seriously, because they will affect your ability to make a warranty claim later.

First, let’s talk about water. Get it tested! We have to keep scale from accumulating in the machine due to hard water. We also have to prevent corrosion due to a low pH or excessive chloride content (if the machine has stainless boilers). And needless to say, water makeup also has a huge effect on flavor!

Unfortunately, every café’s water supply will be slightly different. As such, you will have to test your water to determine your needs. You might have to install anything from a simple carbon block to an elaborate reverse-osmosis system with feeder cartridges. Reach out to the manufacturer or local servicing agent for a referral and don’t be afraid to hire an expert to look after you.

Also, don’t forget to plumb in a drain; it’s a lot easier to do this before the cabinets get built.

You might also like How to Limit Water Temperature Variation for Better Coffee

Second, we need to consider power. Each manufacturer has slightly different input voltage tolerances, and their warranty terms will require your electrician to ensure your voltage matches those.

Find someone who’s willing to do it right. The solution will likely be a buck/boost transformer to bring it as close as possible to the middle of the range indicated in the machine’s spec sheet. They will usually only cost a few hundred US dollars.

Also, please consider adding a surge suppressor in the breaker panel to protect from lightning strikes. This is important not just for your espresso machine but for every single appliance in your café – even your phone and alarm system. It’s cheaper than you think and will pay for itself the first time there’s a power surge.

coffee machine

An Elektra Coffee Classic Barlume machine, undergoing live testing after a complete rebuild. Credit: Latté 911

3. Bringing it All Together

This is my favourite part. You’ve made all the arrangements, hired the help, and now all the contractors are on-site creating your new café for you. It’s also the most stressful moment: mistakes can be made, scheduling conflicts can come up, and just when you think everything is solved, an inspector finds something that’s not in line with local regulations.

An experienced architect, designer, or general contractor has the experience and resources to keep these problems to a minimum, so please consider working with one. Also, make sure you introduce your coffee machine dealer/technician to them as early as possible, so these requirements get put in the plans.

When I arrive onsite for an initial inspection, here are some of the things I will look for:

  • Are the utility connections (including the drain hub) within 5 feet (1.5 m) of the espresso machine?
  • Is the counter strong enough to support the machine’s weight?
  • Is there a large enough hole in the countertop for hoses and cables to pass through?
  • Is there adequate room for the water conditioning system and remote pump (if used)?
  • Has all the required work been completed? Can I power up the machine and show you how to use it? Installation is usually included in the price, but return visits aren’t.

Oh, one more thing – don’t forget the coffee (and milk). Your technician will need it to dial in, and also to enjoy that first cup with you. You’ve earned it!

Enjoyed this? Check out How to Open a Specialty Coffee Shop, From Concept to Launch

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