Setting up an espresso bar workflow correctly should be a priority for café owners, whether you’re venturing into a new café or renovating your bar area. Your espresso bar’s setup has a direct impact on your barista efficiency and wellbeing—indirectly impacting the amount of customers you can serve (and revenue you can generate) in a day.
Espresso knock boxes are one of the key elements you’ll want to consider when planning your barflow, as baristas will use them after pulling every single shot. With over 20 years helping cafes outfit their espresso bars, we know which knock boxes are better suited for different types of café settings. In this article, we will help you understand:
- Different types of knock boxes available
- The best espresso knock box for the size and volume of your coffee shop
- How you can make the best use of each type of knock box
4 Different Types of Espresso Knock Boxes to Choose From
There are four kinds of knock boxes, and each fit into your barflow (and physical bar) quite differently. Here’s a quick overview.
- The Countertop Knock Box — Café countertop knock boxes are the simplest to manage. You can just place them on your countertop in the most comfortable location. They’re not installed—just set on the counter—so countertop knock boxes can be easily pulled to the back to clean all their parts thoroughly. However repetitively knocking portafilters at a higher level may not be ideal for barista ergonomics because it can cause stress to the wrists, especially for shorter people (or extra-tall counters).
- The Built-In Knock Box — Because these knock boxes are installed into your counter, they’re often more aesthetically pleasant (because they’re nearly hidden to customers) and offer a cleaner appearance to your café layout. The grounds would fall under any container placed below the countertop, making it also an easy-to-clean option. Make sure you’re ready to commit to drilling a hole for the knock box to fit into before buying one of these.
- The Drawer Knock Box — Drawers are another hidden knock box style and are installed into open space underneath the counter. If you want that clean countertop aesthetic, but don’t have space to spare to install a built-in knock box, a drawer is a good alternative. The drawer is semi-permanent, so it can be moved, but it’s not as fast or simple as lifting and moving a countertop knock box.
- The Floor Standing Knock Box — This is usually the best counter space-saving option for cafés, because it’s not installed, attached, or even sitting on the counter—it’s standing up on the floor (like a garbage can, but tall and slim). You can cut the knock box down to the perfect size for your setup, which baristas love, but the downside is that they’ll have to sidestep around it while they’re moving about behind bar.
Hopefully this clarifies the main pros and cons of the various knock box types. Next, let’s move onto our recommendations.
The Best 5 Espresso Knock Boxes for Coffee Shops
Maplewood Countertop Knock Box: Best All-Around Knock Box for Cafés
With its appealing design, this countertop knock box looks great on any coffee shop or kitchen counter. The joints in this solid wooden piece are reinforced with floating tenons for better durability. The stainless steel, rubber-wrapped knock bar is removable, which allows thorough cleaning, and offers a wide, comfortable, and durable surface to knock any portafilter.
Made with locally sourced maple wood by the Vermont-based family company Cold Hollow Woodworking, the Maplewood knock box holder is unpainted, but due to the nature of wood, it can offer many tones, shades and unique patterns. It will be aesthetically appealing and hides spent coffee grounds if you want to place it over the counter.
Jennifer, a user of this knock box says: “It is beautiful, sleek, and very handy. The wood is extremely sturdy and comes with rubber pads underneath, so it doesn't scratch my counter.”
So, is Maplewood for you?
Even though this espresso knock box would work great in any café setting, it is better suited for medium and lower-volume operations. Given that it has a lower capacity, you might find yourself emptying it more often than you would like, which is not ideal during a rush. If you have a small counter, you probably want to look at other options, since the Maplewood takes a significant amount of precious space (though it looks great and customers love it).
Barista Basics Combo Knock Box Kit: Best For High-Volume Coffee Shops
We designed and manufactured this kit to make you save while ensuring you don’t have to worry about emptying your knock box container during rush hour.
The ultra-strong ABS plastic trash can has a 23-gallon capacity and thanks to its shape, it also helps you save space under your counter. The NBR rubber knock bar and other components are removable, making it easy to clean.
Chad Morgan, owner of a multi-location cafe, says: “These are great knock box tops, we use them for all locations, fit very well with the cans. Only wish would be that the actual knock bar be designed a bit lower, but it works well, just can cause grounds to fly around a bit at times.”
So, if your café has long busy days, this garbage can knock box kit will be your to-go option, ensuring your baristas will not fill the bin during the busiest times, offering your customers a slower service and testing their patience waiting in line, but rather empty it at the end of the shift or during a quiet moment.
Round Countertop Knock Box: Best For Carts, Coffee Trucks, Pop-Us And Small Coffee Service Settings
If you have very modest countertop space, like what’s common with catering bars and coffee trucks, this small-footprint countertop rubber knock box is a great pick. The circular shape makes it easier to fit in the midst of other gear, like your espresso machine and grinder—just what you need when space is tight.
The smaller size of this knock box makes it also practical, because it is easily washable by hand in the sink. The NBR rubber knock bar is also removable. This material also helps reduce the knock impact noise, which in smaller spaces can actually be loud and disturbing for your customers or baristas that are repeatedly exposed to it.
Open Bottom Knock Box: Best For Minimalist Cafés With Clean Countertops
Do you like to discreetly dispose of your coffee pucks? Or does your café have a minimalist, clean aesthetic? An open button knock box is perfect for throwing them directly into the bin without having a messy counter. Your customers will not be able to see this knock box and your bar will always look tidy.
For example, it perfectly matches a ModBar-style countertop, where the idea is to have as little physical barrier between your baristas and customers. Additionally, you could place a small or large bin underneath according to your needs and the size of your operations.
Made of heavy-duty stainless steel, it has a protective bar cover that is replaceable and protects the edges. It is also environmentally friendly thanks to its recyclable materials.
Pull-Out Knock Box Drawer: Best for Cafés without Space Above or Below the Bar
Ideal for high volume cafés and restaurants, this stainless steel drawer-style knock box made in Italy has a very clean and polished look.
It is perfect for setups where there is little room for a knock box either on top of the counter, or situated below it. If you just have a little space in between, for example, the counter and small fridge or cup storage, this type of knock box is a stellar way to use that extra space. The pull-out drawer is removable thanks to its sliding rollers and therefore, easy to empty and clean.
The Best Coffee Knock Boxes Compared
Best all-round knock box for cafés
Best for high-volume coffee shops
Best for cafés with minimal clean countertops
Best for cafés without space above or below the bar
Now that we had a dive into different types of knock boxes, did you choose the model most suited to your needs or need other accessories to set up your café?
Our team will be able to help you and offer some advice!
Espresso knock boxes: Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the point of an open bottom knock box?
Open bottom knock boxes allow you to prepare more espresso shots. Since you can place a bin of any size underneath, you can throw different amounts of coffee pucks according to the space you have available under your counter. They also avoid messy countertops and a more comfortable workspace.
How do I clean an espresso knock box?
Together with other materials, most professional knock boxes are made of stainless steel, you only need to empty the coffee grounds from the (in the case of closed bottom ones, and easily wash them in the sink, especially the smaller walls or put them in the dishwasher.
What is a knock box?
A knock box is an essential accessory on any coffee service facility. It helps baristas keep the space clean and helps for a faster workflow, eliminating the need to travel to the trash bin to empty the portafilter. Basically, knock boxes are open or closed bottom boxes with a knock bar that help empty the portafilter by hitting it against it. They come in many shapes, sizes, and materials.