How to Pick an Espresso Machine for a Mobile Coffee Truck or Espresso Cart

TheGreenJoe

New member
Nov 8, 2014
66
0
Albuquerque, NM
Hey Everyone,
I've been getting a lot of questions about how to choose an espresso machine through my website (Green Joe Coffee Truck, Albuquerque New Mexico) . I wrote a blog on the topic and wanted to get this out to the community so we can expand on it. Comments and Questions are welcome! ~Vince

Espresso Machine
A little history of the espresso machine: It was invented by Angelo Moriondo in 1884 in Turin, Italy. However, it wasn't commercialized until 1905, when a man named Desiderio Pavoni got ahold of it. Pavoni made several changes to the machine after purchasing the patent.

The espresso machine should not be underestimated and in my opinion is the center of a coffee truck. In the summer, you can make Fraps. In the winter, you can make latte's. It will literally double your profits. However, it will also double your energy consumption. Plan your power needs accordingly. When you are making you decision, also consider where you will get your parts from when the machine breaks down.

Espresso machines can get pretty complex and by no means am I an espresso machine expert. However, breaking it down into a few different categories can help a person make a decision of which machine might be best for them. Let's take a look at the different characteristics of an espresso machine. The espresso machine uses heat and pressure to increase the extraction of coffee. The more heat, the more power.
.


1. Heat-Heat is generated from the heating elements that are within the boiler. It can be powered by either gas or electric.
2. Pressure: Pressure is generate from a piston (lever), steam or motor.
3. Power: 110v, 220v or Propane
4. Operations: Lever vs. Semi-Automatic vs. Fully Automatic vs. Super Automatic

Heat
The boiler system contains the boiler, the heating element, and 2-3 outlets (steam, group head and hot water).

Outlets
Each of these outlets typically have a gauge which shows the pressure is within that outlets system. The two outlets are under different amounts of pressure. The Steam Outlet typically sits at 1.5 pars or 1.5 times atmospheric pressure. The Extraction Outlet (for the group-head) is much more. It typically sits at 9-11 bars.

Boiler
The boiler can come in single, double or a single with heat exchange (HX). It helps to understand the temperature for brewing coffee (190-204 degrees) and the temperature for steaming milk (above 212 degrees) are different.

Single Boiler
A single boiler is a large cylinder raises water to brewing temperature of 190-204'F. The shot is then pulled from the group head. A valve, button or switch shuts off the group head and allows for the temperature to continue rising until it is high enough to steam milk (240'F +).


  • Pros: These are going to be cheap (less than $1k). This is what you will find in household espresso machines.
  • Cons: The wait time. You will have to wait between pulling a shot and steaming your milk. Not too fitting for a commercial environment.

Dual Boiler
Dual boilers contain two cylinders. One cylinder is to brew coffee and the other cylinder is to steam the milk. The "Brew Boiler" is dedicated to coffee grounds only. It reaches a temp of 190-204'F and is stopped there. The "Steam Boiler" is dedicated to the frothing wand and will reach temperatures above boiling (240'F+). These are going to be considered your golden standard for commercial operations. But they come with a cost. If you find one for under $2k then you caught yourself either a deal or a lemon.


  • Pros: No wait time on steaming milk.
  • Cons: Larger machine. Requires more energy to heat.

Single Boiler with Heat Exchange
A clever little contraption is the Heat Exchange (HX). A heat exchange is a small copper pipe that runs through a single boiler. Within that pipe is cold water. This allows the water to heat prior to reaching the group head. However, when reaching the group head, the water is still too hot and must be mixed with some cold water. How much? Every machine is different. Tinkering is a must with these. The nice part about these machines is they don't require as much electricity. Most run off 110v and will be able to steam milk and brew coffee. Cost of these start at $1k and move up.


  • Pros: Nice mixture between single and dual. Doesn't require as much energy to power but can still steam milk without waiting. You can steam milk and brew coffee on a 110v machine.
  • Cons: More of a finicky machine and takes trial and error to dial it in. Requires more attention to detail.

Pressure
There are generally 3 ways of generating pressure to the group head: Manual (Lever Machines), Steam and Motor Driven.

Manual
Manual machines come in 2 flavors: Spring Piston and Direct Lever.

Spring Piston
These machines have an internal spring that you compress by pulling the lever down. As you release the lever, the spring decompresses and generates pressure to the group head. You can always tell which machines these are because their lever points up.


  • Pros: By cocking and re-cocking the lever, you can manipulate not only how much water is delivered but also when the water is delivered. This gives the Barista more control on the espresso shot.
  • Cons: More room for perfection also comes with more room for error. Spring lever espresso machines hold the title for the most shots thrown away. Lots of trial and error with these babies.

Direct Lever
These machines generate pressure directly from the baristas arm. They are pointed down in begin position and are lifted up to generate pressure. They give the barista the most amount of control on how much and when the water/pressure is to be delivered. Barista's' call this a "Pressure Profile". By varying the amount of pressure given in the beginning, middle and end of a shot, they are able to deliver different taste.

  • Pros: The most control over the variables of the espresso shot.
  • Cons: Requires an incredible amount of technical skill.

Steam
For years, steam was the most used method of drawing espresso shots. But as technology of the machine advanced, steam fell behind. Steam pressure is still used in most household espresso machines. The best feature of a steam machine is its cost. They are incredibly cheap. The biggest draw back is its lack of functionality for the commercial setting and it's safety. They are known to blow up.

  • Pros: Cheap.
  • Cons: Long recovery time. Safety issues.
Pumps
Pumps are used in most commercial espresso machines these days. They come in two flavors: Vibration pumps and Rotary pumps.

Vibration Pumps
Made for smaller commercial venues, vibration pumps are recommended to handle less that 50 espresso shots per day. They are low cost for replacement and are able to pre-infuse group heads.

Rotary Pumps
These are the big boys of commercial machines. They can pump 100-200 liters of water per hour. The motor is separate form the pump and they have a direct water line.


  • Pros: You can draw from it all day and never miss a beat.
  • Cons: Typically cost more. A bit more noisy then the vibration pumps.

Power
There are three main power sources here in the USA. They are 110v, 220v and propane.

110v
110v heating elements are nice because you can plug them in anywhere! It's so much easier to find an outlet. However, the largest heating coil I've seen come out of a 110v was 1800 watts. Which is going to leave you waiting to boil water. Because there is less draw of electricity, there will be a longer wait time between shots and between steaming milk.

220v
Its not atypical for a 220v heating element to pull 4,000 watts. 220v machines can draw a huge amount of electricity, thus keeping dual boilers at peak performance constantly. These machines are the type that once you get them warmed up, you can pull from them all day and never worrying about waiting to steam milk or pull another shot.

Propane
Propane machines had faded out but are making a comeback. Currently Astoria has the market on them, offering their "Gloria". Conversions espresso machines to handle propane will allow you to use propane when operating without power. Specifically in the Gloria, if you are within's powers reach, you can switch over to electric. So it would be considered a Dual Power machine.

Operations
There are several different methods for operating the espresso machine depending on how much control you'd like...

Manual
Manual gives the barist the most control. As mentioned previously, manual or lever operated espresso machines have a lever the barista uses to generate pressure and operate the shot.

Semi-Automatic
These amazingly user friendly machines generate pressure with a push of the button. The devil however is in the details. Semi-automatic machines require programing ahead of time. The only negative aspect to these machines are users have to push the off button.

Fully-Automatic
Fully automatic machines are just like semi-automatic machines, but you don't have to push the off button. It just clicks off. This is what I personally use and I love it. My machine has a semi-auto feature if I want it, but I don't use it much. I like being able to go hands-free. While my shot is drawing, I'm cashing someone out or putting syrup in a cup.

Super-Automatic
This machine is an all in one. Simply push the button and it will grind, measure, tamp and pour the drink. Think of those coffee makers at the hospitals, the one's with the cards on it. Same gig. This is as close to "hands off" as you're going to get.


Conclusion
So there's a lot of combinations here that will give you different performance.


  • A single group, HX, 110v machine with vibration pump or rotary pump would be awesome for a small set up like a farmers market or food truck that doesn't have a high demand for espresso. It'll cost you about 1k.
  • If you're looking for a work-horse, consider a dual boiler, 2 group, automatic with 220v. It'll pull a lot of power, but it will keep pumping out drinks.
  • If you are trying to get off the grid, then a manual, propane powered machine might work best for you.

You'll have to think about what operation you are going to run and how much capital you have for the machine. If you're hurting on cash, then you may want to start small and upgrade later on. If you have the cash on hand, then I would encourage purchasing more machine than you need. After all, your business is only going to get more busier, right
 

CCafe

New member
Aug 11, 2004
1,557
1
Des Moines, Iowa
I have made my suggestions down below in red as to keep your article flowing.

Hey Everyone,
I've been getting a lot of questions about how to choose an espresso machine through my website (Green Joe Coffee Truck, Albuquerque New Mexico) . I wrote a blog on the topic and wanted to get this out to the community so we can expand on it. Comments and Questions are welcome! ~Vince

Espresso Machine
A little history of the espresso machine: It was invented by Angelo Moriondo in 1884 in Turin, Italy. However, it wasn't commercialized until 1905, when a man named Desiderio Pavoni got ahold of it. Pavoni made several changes to the machine after purchasing the patent.

The espresso machine should not be underestimated and in my opinion is the center of a coffee truck. In the summer, you can make Fraps. In the winter, you can make latte's. It will literally double your profits. However, it will also double your energy consumption. Plan your power needs accordingly. When you are making you decision, also consider where you will get your parts from when the machine breaks down.

Espresso machines can get pretty complex and by no means am I an espresso machine expert. However, breaking it down into a few different categories can help a person make a decision of which machine might be best for them. Let's take a look at the different characteristics of an espresso machine. The espresso machine uses heat and pressure to increase the extraction of coffee. The more heat, the more power.
.


1. Heat-Heat is generated from the heating elements that are within the boiler. It can be powered by either gas or electric.
2. Pressure: Pressure is generate from a piston (lever), steam or motor.
3. Power: 110v, 220v or Propane
4. Operations: Lever vs. Semi-Automatic vs. Fully Automatic vs. Super Automatic

Heat
The boiler system contains the boiler, the heating element, and 2-3 outlets (steam, group head and hot water).

Outlets
Each of these outlets typically have a gauge which shows the pressure is within that outlets system. The two outlets are under different amounts of pressure. The Steam Outlet typically sits at 1.5 pars or 1.5 times atmospheric pressure. The Extraction Outlet (for the group-head) is much more. It typically sits at 9-11 bars.

Boiler
The boiler can come in single, double or a single with heat exchange (HX). It helps to understand the temperature for brewing coffee (190-204 degrees) and the temperature for steaming milk (above 212 degrees) are different.

Single Boiler
A single boiler is a large cylinder raises water to brewing temperature of 190-204'F. The shot is then pulled from the group head. A valve, button or switch shuts off the group head and allows for the temperature to continue rising until it is high enough to steam milk (240'F +).


  • Pros: These are going to be cheap (less than $1k). This is what you will find in household espresso machines.
​I'm assuming you're talking about home machines as there are plenty of commercial machines that are single boiler and as much as $30,000

  • Cons: The wait time. You will have to wait between pulling a shot and steaming your milk. Not too fitting for a commercial environment.
This is right and wrong, it's right if you're talking about a machine like a Rancilio silvia where you are required to pull a shot before you can steam. However it's wrong because any commercial espresso machine from a 1 group to a 4 group single boiler machine can steam and make shots at the same time.

Dual Boiler
Dual boilers contain two cylinders. One cylinder is to brew coffee and the other cylinder is to steam the milk. The "Brew Boiler" is dedicated to coffee grounds only. It reaches a temp of 190-204'F and is stopped there. The "Steam Boiler" is dedicated to the frothing wand and will reach temperatures above boiling (240'F+). These are going to be considered your golden standard for commercial operations. But they come with a cost. If you find one for under $2k then you caught yourself either a deal or a lemon.


  • Pros: No wait time on steaming milk.
  • Cons: Larger machine. Requires more energy to heat.
A dual boiler design isn't the golden standard. It's just a different approach. The real point for a double boiler is for exact temperature control for your espresso while maximizing the amount of power you have for steam on the steam boiler. In a single boiler design you have to leverage steam power vs espresso extraction. The more steam power you have the hotter your extraction will be.


Single Boiler with Heat Exchange
A clever little contraption is the Heat Exchange (HX). A heat exchange is a small copper pipe that runs through a single boiler. Within that pipe is cold water. This allows the water to heat prior to reaching the group head. However, when reaching the group head, the water is still too hot and must be mixed with some cold water. How much? Every machine is different. Tinkering is a must with these. The nice part about these machines is they don't require as much electricity. Most run off 110v and will be able to steam milk and brew coffee. Cost of these start at $1k and move up.


  • Pros: Nice mixture between single and dual. Doesn't require as much energy to power but can still steam milk without waiting. You can steam milk and brew coffee on a 110v machine.
  • Cons: More of a finicky machine and takes trial and error to dial it in. Requires more attention to detail.
I'm getting the feeling you have no real commercial machine experience here. I'm almost positive you have no residental machine experience either.

Pressure
There are generally 3 ways of generating pressure to the group head: Manual (Lever Machines), Steam and Motor Driven.

Manual
Manual machines come in 2 flavors: Spring Piston and Direct Lever.

Spring Piston
These machines have an internal spring that you compress by pulling the lever down. As you release the lever, the spring decompresses and generates pressure to the group head. You can always tell which machines these are because their lever points up.


  • Pros: By cocking and re-cocking the lever, you can manipulate not only how much water is delivered but also when the water is delivered. This gives the Barista more control on the espresso shot.
  • Cons: More room for perfection also comes with more room for error. Spring lever espresso machines hold the title for the most shots thrown away. Lots of trial and error with these babies.

Direct Lever
These machines generate pressure directly from the baristas arm. They are pointed down in begin position and are lifted up to generate pressure. They give the barista the most amount of control on how much and when the water/pressure is to be delivered. Barista's' call this a "Pressure Profile". By varying the amount of pressure given in the beginning, middle and end of a shot, they are able to deliver different taste.

  • Pros: The most control over the variables of the espresso shot.
  • Cons: Requires an incredible amount of technical skill.

Steam
For years, steam was the most used method of drawing espresso shots. But as technology of the machine advanced, steam fell behind. Steam pressure is still used in most household espresso machines. The best feature of a steam machine is its cost. They are incredibly cheap. The biggest draw back is its lack of functionality for the commercial setting and it's safety. They are known to blow up.

  • Pros: Cheap.
  • Cons: Long recovery time. Safety issues.
Pumps
Pumps are used in most commercial espresso machines these days. They come in two flavors: Vibration pumps and Rotary pumps.

Vibration Pumps
Made for smaller commercial venues, vibration pumps are recommended to handle less that 50 espresso shots per day. They are low cost for replacement and are able to pre-infuse group heads.
Jura and a few other brands would probably like to have a word with you about this. A vibration pump is just a different way of providing pressure. Granted it's a cheaper way and it is one of the main reasons why you see it in a lot more residential machines. It is still used in commercial machines and I've seen them handle hundreds of shots a day just fine.

Rotary Pumps
These are the big boys of commercial machines. They can pump 100-200 liters of water per hour. The motor is separate form the pump and they have a direct water line.


  • Pros: You can draw from it all day and never miss a beat.
  • Cons: Typically cost more. A bit more noisy then the vibration pumps.
Rotary pumps are not infallible they die quite a bit more frequently than vibrating pumps. There are more moving pieces in a rotary vane that wear out and die faster. One of the biggest failures for any rotary vane pump is the forward seal between the pump/drive shaft. As for the noise I think you have it backwards. If you have a lot of noise on a rotary pump than you have your first indications there is something wrong. Rotary pumps are far quieter than a vibration pump.

Power
There are three main power sources here in the USA. They are 110v, 220v and propane.

110v
110v heating elements are nice because you can plug them in anywhere! It's so much easier to find an outlet. However, the largest heating coil I've seen come out of a 110v was 1800 watts. Which is going to leave you waiting to boil water. Because there is less draw of electricity, there will be a longer wait time between shots and between steaming milk.

220v
Its not atypical for a 220v heating element to pull 4,000 watts. 220v machines can draw a huge amount of electricity, thus keeping dual boilers at peak performance constantly. These machines are the type that once you get them warmed up, you can pull from them all day and never worrying about waiting to steam milk or pull another shot.
Really where did you find that fact. There are several machines out there running dual 4500 watt elements. I've seen a few 3 group elements pushing 9K. A 4K element is nothing.

Propane
Propane machines had faded out but are making a comeback. Currently Astoria has the market on them, offering their "Gloria". Conversions espresso machines to handle propane will allow you to use propane when operating without power. Specifically in the Gloria, if you are within's powers reach, you can switch over to electric. So it would be considered a Dual Power machine.

Operations
There are several different methods for operating the espresso machine depending on how much control you'd like...

Manual
Manual gives the barist the most control. As mentioned previously, manual or lever operated espresso machines have a lever the barista uses to generate pressure and operate the shot.

Semi-Automatic
These amazingly user friendly machines generate pressure with a push of the button. The devil however is in the details. Semi-automatic machines require programing ahead of time. The only negative aspect to these machines are users have to push the off button.
Semi auto's require no programming, This is why they are a semi auto, they have no cpu that controls anything. At most it will have a Gicar fill box controlling water level in the steam boiler. Shot times are only controlled by the barista period.

Fully-Automatic
Fully automatic machines are just like semi-automatic machines, but you don't have to push the off button. It just clicks off. This is what I personally use and I love it. My machine has a semi-auto feature if I want it, but I don't use it much. I like being able to go hands-free. While my shot is drawing, I'm cashing someone out or putting syrup in a cup.
You are correct here but what makes the real difference between a semi and a full automatic? It's not the push button or even the cpu controlling it. A full auto has a flow meter which separates it from a semi which requires the barista to use their eyesight. The flowmeters job in this instance is to dose the same amount of water for each button that you have programmed to dose. So a single will dose around 1 ounce while you may have a double dosing slightly more than 2. The point is the flowmeter is what makes this possible and what separates a semi from an auto.

Super-Automatic
This machine is an all in one. Simply push the button and it will grind, measure, tamp and pour the drink. Think of those coffee makers at the hospitals, the one's with the cards on it. Same gig. This is as close to "hands off" as you're going to get.


Conclusion
So there's a lot of combinations here that will give you different performance.


  • A single group, HX, 110v machine with vibration pump or rotary pump would be awesome for a small set up like a farmers market or food truck that doesn't have a high demand for espresso. It'll cost you about 1k
Again price point is completely off here. You can't even find 1K machines on ebay worth a hoot.

  • If you're looking for a work-horse, consider a dual boiler, 2 group, automatic with 220v. It'll pull a lot of power, but it will keep pumping out drinks.
  • If you are trying to get off the grid, then a manual, propane powered machine might work best for you.
Wrong suggestion here. People who are are pondering the use of propane should consider it for events such as farmer's market or a food truck. Places where having a noisy generator is a big no no.


You'll have to think about what operation you are going to run and how much capital you have for the machine. If you're hurting on cash, then you may want to start small and upgrade later on. If you have the cash on hand, then I would encourage purchasing more machine than you need. After all, your business is only going to get more busier, right
 
Last edited:
OP
T

TheGreenJoe

New member
Nov 8, 2014
66
0
Albuquerque, NM
  • Thread Starter
  • Thread starter
  • #3
Hey CCafe,
Thanks for taking the time to reply to this. I'm working on some of the educational suggestions you have and I've run into a few issues I was hoping you would expand on.
You made the suggestion of a single boiler that draws and steams simutaneously, is there a make/model you would suggest I look into?

I looked into Jura, it appears they have 3 commercial machines on their site. They look like good machines, but under the specifications, they don't put how much usage/day they recommend. The only one I was able to find was their XJ line and it recommended 60 draws per day...

Thank you for the suggestion on rotary pumps. I'll remove this from my blog.

As far as using generators at Farmers markets, I haven't ran into an issue with it so far and during the summer I do about 4 a month (one per weekend). Those things can get pretty busy. I'm not so sure a propane water heater will handle the volume. Not that having a line is a bad thing...it's actually great marketing, but in terms of drinks per hour a 220v machine is going to pump out more espresso drinks. So, I always advice to know your audience. Personally, I wouldn't mind having a propane just for the simplicity of set up. Although I would lose money on people that aren't willing to wait, it would be nice to not hear / smell the generator. Until then, extra extension cords and sound board has help buffered the noise...
 
OP
T

TheGreenJoe

New member
Nov 8, 2014
66
0
Albuquerque, NM
  • Thread Starter
  • Thread starter
  • #4
And as far as my experience goes, you're correct, compared to the guru's out there, I'm still very much new to this...but willing to learn.
 

johndonut

New member
Jun 30, 2016
3
0
Bumping this up because I'm planning to opening a mobile coffee trailer. Any specific model you recommend? Much appreciated.
 
OP
T

TheGreenJoe

New member
Nov 8, 2014
66
0
Albuquerque, NM
  • Thread Starter
  • Thread starter
  • #6
Bumping this up because I'm planning to opening a mobile coffee trailer. Any specific model you recommend? Much appreciated.

Hey John,
In my truck I have an Astoria Divina. It's more machine than I can possibly use. During farmers markets, movie sets and large events, it rocks like nobody's business. However, I cannot use it for weddings, corporate events or any small indoor event. There, I use an ECM Barista. It's a semi auto that runs off 120v. I've had a line 8 deep for 3 hours straight and it kept cranking. So I'm happy with it.

If I would do it over, I would start with the Barista and let it pay for another machine. Meaning, I would have started with a smaller set up and reinvest as I went. The reason for this: I had small working capital when I began. It was basically my savings account. Also, it would allow me to invest into other things, i.e. marketing. It would give me more versatility over the Divina. I would not need such a large generator, which would be quieter and less expensive.

The argument against this, at farmers markets you are going to get worked. Which I agree and cannot counter. However, for the day to day espresso shots, it would work great. Once the business was built, I would reinvest into a larger machine...

My 2 Cents.
 

Berniebee

New member
Jul 5, 2016
1
0
Thanks for the post.
Can you explain how you go about making fraps in a mobile coffee van set up.
I have a nissan cube converted and I can not see how there is the room to do this.
Thanks Bernard
 
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