A commercial espresso maker is designed to handle a greater volume of output than a personal or home espresso maker, and it costs substantially more. The price range for a commercial grade machine varies from as little as $1,500 to as much as $20,000 new, but it can often be purchased by the careful shopper in excellent used condition.
These machines are generally capable of making 1-4 shots of dark, rich espresso at a time, with higher-end machines producing as many as 100 to 120 shots per hour. Some machines use steam pressure to force the hot water through the grounds, but the more expensive machines use a pump, which brews what is generally considered to be the more flavorful shot of espresso.
A feature-rich machine will be fully automatic and include such extras as warmer plates, a dedicated refrigerator for milk products, a built-in coffee grinder, and a variety of customizable programming options. Some will even dispose of the used grounds for you.
Maintenance and operator skill level generally increase with the per hour capacity on many machines. A 3-4 group machine will require a 220v outlet and a 50 amp circuit, awhile a single group machine may only require a 20 amp circuit. The higher-end machines will offer self-cleaning and programming options that reduce maintenance and operator training times, while keeping up with the pace of a high-volume restaurant or coffee bar.
Mid-range machines will produce 50-100 shots of espresso per hour, and are generally semi-automatic and may lack a refrigerator, grinder, or warming plate along with some of the programming options available in the more expensive models. Pricing is usually tied to the number of brewing stations or groups. The least expensive machines lack many of the features required by high volume businesses. Most feature a single brew station, steam pressure hot water delivery, and brew fewer shots per hour.
The most important information to know before purchasing a commercial espresso maker is the volume and the speed at which it will need to deliver that volume in order to be an asset to your business. Special consideration should be given to plumbing and electrical installation requirements, and the level of expertise required in using and maintaining the machine.