Best Commercial Espresso Machines: The Essential Guide (Updated For 2020)

Best Commercial Espresso Machines: The Essential Guide (Updated For 2020)

The longest line for coffee I’ve ever seen wasn’t at a renowned coffee house or in the cafe of a Michelin starred chef. It was at a small pop-up in London, on opening day.

A young entrepreneur had been making incredible coffee for his friends and family for years, using the very best “pro-sumer” espresso machine that money could buy.

Figuring it couldn’t be that different, he spent a few months on a big social media hype campaign and then set-up shop.

Calling it a disaster is an understatement.

Busy customers waited up to an hour for their lunch-time coffee kick. As the staff tried desperately to cope with the pressure, they:

  • Veered wildly between serving face-puckering sludge and what could generously be described as coffee-flavored water.
  • Darted back and forth reloading water tanks, splashing water everywhere in their rush.
  • Poured beans into the wrong grinder and made accidental blends of expensive single-estate coffees.
  • Tried to calm some severely angry office workers.
  • Held back tears.
  • Lasted all of 6 days before closing for “refurbishment.”

Before we get to the individual reviews, let's take a look at our rankings for the Best Commercial Espresso Machine.

Overall
95
Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2

Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2

Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2

Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2

The Aurelia is the flagship model that’s popular in high-end coffee shops around the world. It's the Appia 2 but bigger and better and renowned for its exceptional copper boilers and ability to maintain stable temps.
Overall
94
La Pavoni Bar-T

La Pavoni Bar-T

La Pavoni Bar-T

La Pavoni Bar-T

The La Pavoni Bar-T comes in 2 and 3-group options and is ideal for specialty coffee shops, restaurants, and hotels with visible coffee bars and a desire to wow their customers with world-class espresso.
Overall
94
Nuova Simonelli Appia 2

Nuova Simonelli Appia 2

Nuova Simonelli Appia 2

Nuova Simonelli Appia 2

The Appia 2 took an already successful product and added a whole host of small improvements. Dual steam wands with turbocream (yes, that’s a real thing), raised group heads, and volumetric dosing are all very attractive.
Overall
93
La Pavoni PB-16

La Pavoni PB-16

La Pavoni PB-16

La Pavoni PB-16

With an included automatic frothing attachment, the La Pavoni PB-16 Professional is a great choice for those who want to enjoy a refined, upscale design with classic, world-class performance.
Overall
93
La Spaziale Vivaldi 2

La Spaziale Vivaldi 2

La Spaziale Vivaldi 2

La Spaziale Vivaldi 2

A single-headed machine with a lot of features. The double boiler lets you pull a shot and steam milk at the same time, allowing you to prepare mixed drinks far faster than the standard single grouphead machine.
Overall
93
Saeco Incanto HD8911/47

Saeco Incanto HD8911/47

Saeco Incanto HD8911/47

Saeco Incanto HD8911/47

An elite super-automatic espresso machine with quality parts and a ton of functionality, the Saeco Incanto HD8911/47 Super-Automatic sacrifices little in the way of quality for its incredibly well-designed functionality.

We've rated and ranked each option you need to know about. Without further ado, here are our official reviews for the Best Commercial Espresso Machine.

Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2

Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2
Overall Rating
95
Coffee Quality (40%)
96
Design & Features (20%)
95
Durability (20%)
96
Ease of Use (10%)
93
Brand Reputation (10%)
93

The Bottom Line

The Aurelia is the flagship model that’s popular in high-end coffee shops around the world. It's the Appia 2 but bigger and better and renowned for its exceptional copper boilers and ability to maintain stable temps.

Pros of the Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2

Pros of Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2

Cons of the Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2

Cons of Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2

Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2 Overview

Where can you find the Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2?

Where can you find Nuova Simonelli Aurelia 2?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on →
Check out the instead →

La Pavoni Bar-T

La Pavoni Bar-T
Overall Rating
94
Coffee Quality (40%)
95
Design & Features (20%)
93
Durability (20%)
95
Ease of Use (10%)
92
Brand Reputation (10%)
95

The Bottom Line

The La Pavoni Bar-T comes in 2 and 3-group options and is ideal for specialty coffee shops, restaurants, and hotels with visible coffee bars and a desire to wow their customers with world-class espresso.

Pros of the La Pavoni Bar-T

Pros of La Pavoni Bar-T

Cons of the La Pavoni Bar-T

Cons of La Pavoni Bar-T

La Pavoni Bar-T Overview

La Pavoni is known for their stunning range of lever espresso machines, but they also make semi-automatic machines as well. The highly durable brass core is coated with brilliant chrome; it’s an iconic look that would add a touch of Milanese class to any coffee shop.

The Bar T is specially designed to maintain thermal stability, ensuring that only water at the perfect temperature ever touches the beans. Its anti-vacuum valve stops milk getting sucked up inside the frothing wand too, so no chance of clogs and no need to flush it after every use.

Where can you find the La Pavoni Bar-T?

Where can you find La Pavoni Bar-T?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on →
Check out the instead →

Nuova Simonelli Appia 2

Nuova Simonelli Appia 2
Overall Rating
94
Coffee Quality (40%)
94
Design & Features (20%)
93
Durability (20%)
94
Ease of Use (10%)
92
Brand Reputation (10%)
93

The Bottom Line

The Appia 2 took an already successful product and added a whole host of small improvements. Dual steam wands with turbocream (yes, that’s a real thing), raised group heads, and volumetric dosing are all very attractive.

Pros of the Nuova Simonelli Appia 2

Pros of Nuova Simonelli Appia 2

Cons of the Nuova Simonelli Appia 2

Cons of Nuova Simonelli Appia 2

Nuova Simonelli Appia 2 Overview

Where can you find the Nuova Simonelli Appia 2?

Where can you find Nuova Simonelli Appia 2?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on →
Check out the instead →

La Pavoni PB-16

La Pavoni PB-16
Overall Rating
93
Coffee Quality (40%)
94
Design & Features (20%)
93
Durability (20%)
95
Ease of Use (10%)
85
Brand Reputation (10%)
93

The Bottom Line

With an included automatic frothing attachment, the La Pavoni PB-16 Professional is a great choice for those who want to enjoy a refined, upscale design with classic, world-class performance.

Pros of the La Pavoni PB-16

Pros of La Pavoni PB-16

Cons of the La Pavoni PB-16

Cons of La Pavoni PB-16

La Pavoni PB-16 Overview

With the same hand pump lever as the Elektra Micro Casa a Leva, the La Pavoni PB-16 pulls an amazing shot with almost no noise.

The 1100W heating element prepares up to 38 oz of water so you can quickly make up to 16 double shot servings or 32 single shot servings without refilling.

Like cappuccinos and lattes?

The La Pavoni PB-16 integrated steam wand has you covered:

  • Experienced baristas can use the manual frothing wand as designed
  • Novices can use the automatic frother attachment to get simple, easy foam

Note that this automatic frothing attachment is a something the other two copper espresso machines on this list do not have.

Where can you find the La Pavoni PB-16?

Where can you find La Pavoni PB-16?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on →
Check out the instead →

La Spaziale Vivaldi 2

La Spaziale Vivaldi 2
Overall Rating
93
Coffee Quality (40%)
94
Design & Features (20%)
92
Durability (20%)
93
Ease of Use (10%)
93
Brand Reputation (10%)
93

The Bottom Line

A single-headed machine with a lot of features. The double boiler lets you pull a shot and steam milk at the same time, allowing you to prepare mixed drinks far faster than the standard single grouphead machine.

Pros of the La Spaziale Vivaldi 2

Pros of La Spaziale Vivaldi 2

Cons of the La Spaziale Vivaldi 2

Cons of La Spaziale Vivaldi 2

La Spaziale Vivaldi 2 Overview

Where can you find the La Spaziale Vivaldi 2?

Where can you find La Spaziale Vivaldi 2?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on Majesty Coffee →
Check out the instead →

Saeco Incanto HD8911/47

Saeco Incanto HD8911/47
Overall Rating
93
Coffee Quality (40%)
93
Design & Features (20%)
93
Durability (20%)
92
Ease of Use (10%)
94
Brand Reputation (10%)
93

The Bottom Line

An elite super-automatic espresso machine with quality parts and a ton of functionality, the Saeco Incanto HD8911/47 Super-Automatic sacrifices little in the way of quality for its incredibly well-designed functionality.

Pros of the Saeco Incanto HD8911/47

Pros of Saeco Incanto HD8911/47

  • Adjustable exit nozzles accommodates larger cups
  • Simple to use with consistent result
  • Great milk frother
  • Comes with water hardness test strips and adjustable setting for your water’s hardness

Cons of the Saeco Incanto HD8911/47

Cons of Saeco Incanto HD8911/47

  • Adjustable exit nozzle doesn’t accommodate short demitasse cups
  • Doesn’t come with a water filter
  • Plastic exterior

Saeco Incanto HD8911/47 Overview

Saeco is a great brand with high-quality products, and I doubt you’ll be disappointed owning one of their premium super-automatic models.

What do I love about this machine?

(Aside from the fact it’s a Saeco.)

The LCD screen is a great feature. You also get the water hardness setting unique to the Saecos on this list. The compact brew group is also removable for easy cleaning.

On the downside, this machine is not made with stainless steel. Instead it has a plastic exterior.

Aside from the couple other cons noted below, there aren’t many negatives I have to say about this machine.

Where can you find the Saeco Incanto HD8911/47?

Where can you find Saeco Incanto HD8911/47?

Find it on Amazon →
Find it on 1stInCoffee →
Find it on →
Check out the instead →

The 6 key differences between home and commercial espresso machines

There are a few important differences between a home and a commercial espresso machine that our hapless hopeful didn’t think through.

These differences might seem minor, but they’re often the difference between a successful business and a cautionary tale.

There are 6 important differences between commercial and home espresso machines.

1. Commercial machines are built for consistent performance

A home machine is normally all about giving you a great cup on demand. A commercial machine values itself on its ability to put out shot after shot after shot, all to the same high standard.

2. Commercial machines won’t burn out nearly as fast.

Not only will commercial machines work consistently throughout a busy day, but they’re designed to do that day after day. Home machines simply are not designed to be used as much and will wear out quickly.

3. Commercial machines are usually plumbed in and require drainage.

Commercial baristas don’t really have the time to be repeatedly emptying and cleaning drip trays or refilling water tanks.

5. Many commercial machines will have multiple heads, called groups.

These allow the machine to make more than one drink at a time, increasing productivity as measured in drinks per hour.

6. In the US, commercial machines usually are certified by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF).

This means that they will have undergone thorough and regular testing to ensure that they remain sanitary if used correctly. This helps with everything from your customers’ health to keeping the local regulatory boards happy.

Super-Automatic vs Semi-Automatic vs Lever

Ready to find the best commercial espresso machine for your business?First, you delve into their specific features. You’ll need to be familiar with the three main types of machines.

Super-automatic espresso machines

Super-automatic espresso machines do just about everything at the push of a button.

A super-automatic espresso machine does everything for you, short of reloading the grinder every now and again. They will:

  • Grind the beans to the required size
  • Place them into the portafilter
  • Tamp them
  • Apply enough water at the right temperature
  • Stop when it’s done
  • Empty the puck into the spent grounds container

Many of them will even then foam the milk and add it to the cup for you.

Super-automatic machines are ideal for situations where you want customers to have access to coffee but don’t have a specifically trained barista.

The lobby of a nicer hotel, for example, is a common place to see a super-automatic espresso machine, as it allows customers to serve themselves with minimal fuss.

You’ll also find them behind the counter of places serving food in a public space, like a concessions stand at a sports venue. You’ll very rarely see them in actual coffee shops.

Semi-automatic espresso machines

Semi-automatic espresso machines are the most common and oftentimes the best commercial espresso machines.

The workhorse of the coffee industry, semi-automatic espresso machines dominate cafes, coffee houses, and restaurants. They need a trained professional to operate, as the barista has to manually do much of the work:

  • Select the grind size and amount
  • Load it into the portafilter
  • Tamp it
  • Begin the extraction

Most are fitted with integrated steam wands that allow the barista to steam milk and make delicate microfoam for mixed drinks.

Semi-automatic machines are the right choice for most coffee shops, offering a great balance between quality and efficiency.

Lever Commercial Espresso Machines (Manual)

Lever espresso machines are the most labor-intensive but give you the most control over your shot.

Lever machines give baristas direct control over almost every aspect of the espresso-making process. For example, they can decide how long to make pre-infusion. They can also choose the pressure at all stages, able to vary it throughout extraction.

Coffee enthusiasts continue to argue relentlessly about whether or not any of this extra control actually leads to a better shot in the majority of cases.

What they can agree on is the extra effort makes it harder to multitask and requires considerably more skill, decreasing the overall amount of customers that can be served.

Lever machines are best suited to venues where creating a wow-factor is much more important than serving swarms of customers.

Their complexity is why you’ll normally only see lever machines in niche coffeehouses or in the bar of extremely nice hotels and restaurants.

5 key things to look for when choosing the best commercial espresso machine

There are five key things to look for when choosing the best commercial espresso machine for your needs.

The 5 key factors when choosing the best commercial espresso machine for your business.

1. Shots per hour

Also known as the output capacity, this simple statistic is vitality important when you’re thinking about the time scales of your business.

On the most basic level, you need to be capable of pulling at least as many shots per hour as you have items ordered.

The key point there is items, not customers. Don’t forget that a customer may well order multiple drinks!

Of course, nothing great in life is ever that simple. You have to consider that business is usually at least somewhat inconsistent and there will be rush hours and relatively dead ones. If you sell 50 shots an hour for most of the day but 90 at lunch, you need a machine that can meet that peak demand and output 90 shots.

In fact, you’d be better off overshooting and finding a machine that can do 100-plus shots.

Even if you’ve designed your own fleet of ultra-efficient barista robots–bearded, bespectacled, and clad entirely in plaid–you won’t be pulling shots perfectly every 23-30 seconds all day every day. Foaming milk, making latte art, grinding, tamping, and a small host of other little details all cut into those precious seconds.

2. The customer experience

Customer experience is a huge part of any service industry. While the product is still ultimately king (no one has ever said, “Well, the coffee was awful but at least they had nice lamps”) it’s all the little extras that will set you above your competitors.

The machine you pick can actually have a pretty big impact on how customers perceive your coffee shop.

It’s all about getting the right machine for your particular environment. You can normally break this down to two factors

A. Tone

Are you marketing yourself as the leading coffee experts in town? Then the theatrics of a lever espresso machine are a great way to create the impression that quality matters to you above all else.

On the other hand, lever machines also might put off a casual onlooker that just wants a quick caffeine boost after their shift.

Your espresso machine says a lot about you, make sure it’s speaking the right message.

B. Demand

Remember our poor, hapless friend with his coffee pop-up? His business quickly went south because he was completely unable to meet demand, leading to some seriously bad customer experiences.

People complaining about long wait times aren’t just going to be dissatisfied about their own experience, they’re going to ruin it for everyone else as well.

Make sure your chosen machine can deliver the coffee your customers want with minimal hassle.

3. Staff skill level

The baristas that you employ are just as important as the machine itself. Take an honest look at their skills and at your community in general.

Do your staff have the passion and skill needed to make an expensive pull lever machine a wise investment?

Do staff in your area tend to stay in jobs for a long time or is there high turnover? If there is, you’ll want to find a machine that strikes a good balance between ease of use and quality of product, because you may well be training new employees on a regular basis.

Do you have talented and experienced baristas on hand who will easily handle the demanding multitasking of a three-group machine?

Do they have the potential to grow and expand their skills if given the right machine? If so, be open to giving them the tools they need to shine.

There’s no such thing as the perfect espresso machine! Factors like your staff’s skill and your shop’s location will make a big difference.

4. Costs and investment

Commercial espresso machines are considerably more expensive than the ones you’d have at home. You’re paying for precision, durability and the ability to consistently deliver a never-ending stream of great coffee.

It’s only natural to take the cheapest option that still includes all the features you want. The problem is that buying a low-cost machine is often what’s called a false economy. You might save money in the short term, but over time it will work out to be more expensive and more hassle.

Cheap machines are much more likely to wear out quickly and begin to deliver poor results long before they totally fail. You’ll end up paying in both time and money for extra servicing, installation, and ultimately replacements.

A commercial espresso machine should be thought of as a key investment into your business, the one thing you should never cut corners on.

5. Group heads

We’ve already talked about the importance of finding a machine that can produce enough shots per hour to meet peak demand and how that can drastically affect the customer experience.

For small volume coffee shops, a single-head machine might be enough to meet all of your needs. Those with more customers and bigger peaks, however, will need something with a bit bigger.

This is where two- and three-group commercial espresso machines come in. You might remember that we mentioned them earlier as one of the big differences between home and commercial espresso machines.

The group number simply refers to the number of heads with separate portafilters that a machine has. A machine can pour a shot of espresso for each head it has.

Two-group vs three-group espresso machines

Two-group espresso machines are a common and versatile choice. They allow baristas to work on multiple items at the same time, especially when they come fitted with dual steam wands.

Three-group espresso machines are for high-volume coffee shops and staff that have experience in multitasking. In theory, adding an extra head allows your baristas to have even more drinks on the go at once.

Buying a three-group machine isn’t just going to offer a 50% upgrade on productivity, though. A single, skilled barista easily can manage two groups by themselves, but there isn’t much productivity gain by adding a third group when shots take under 30 seconds to pull. They’ll just be rotating which group is inactive. Adding a second barista and having systems in place can make the most of this third group.

You should be willing to invest time, training, and an organized workflow if you’re thinking about going for a three-group machine.

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