Fresh Cup Magazine Techno-Jolt Archive, October 2002
Over the past few years, I've noticed a growing consumer interest in home espresso equipment. Some retailers fear that home espresso machine sales will dip into their profits by creating a customer who would prefer to make espresso at home. This is simply not the case. Promoting the sale of home espresso equipment is a great way to capture additional store revenue while building connoisseurship among coffee consumers. And we all know that the better educated the consumer, the more our industry can grow.
Home espresso equipment is manufactured around the world by a number of companies. The construction of these machines varies, as does the quality of the beverages they produce. While some companies produce home espresso machines only, many commercial espresso equipment manufacturers also offer home machines in their equipment lines. After all, who better to build home espresso equipment than those who understand the proper manufacturing procedures and extraction methods for making espresso professionally?
If you visit most major department stores you will find a large selection of home espresso machines. You'll recognize the brand names as companies that also make drip coffee machines, toasters and other home appliances. Some of these home espresso machines are very simple devices that yield mediocre results. But consumers truly benefit from finding a tool that produces espresso that is as close to the quality they're used to as possible. While most machines look similar, they have varying degrees of ability. Let's look at the three basic types of home espresso machines.
1. The Steam Toy
Typically, you can purchase these machines for less than $100. They rely on the steam pressure built up in the boiler to steam milk and provide the required pressure for espresso extraction. The results of these machines are marginal at best, and they do not come close to replicating the espresso made at a neighborhood coffee bar.
2. The Pump Machine
This machine utilizes a vibration-type pump to create the pressure required to extract espresso while leaving the steam pressure for its intended use--steaming milk. These machines are usually priced between $150 and $450. Results from a pump machine better match the quality of beverages found at a local espresso bar.
3. The Semi-Commercial Machine
There is a growing market segment for higher-quality home espresso machines, and rightly so. Espresso made from semi-commercial machines is on par with the quality of espresso produced by commercial equipment. A semi-commercial machine usually takes the best components of a commercial machine and matches them with a vibration pump. This means that you will find commercial-grade group heads and portafilters attached to machines with larger boilers and heat exchangers just like commercial equipment--except that it all comes in a much smaller package. These machines are available from $650 to $2,000, and they add sophistication to any home kitchen.
Of course, all of these machines are useless without the most important companion tool of all--the grinder. Many people will commit top dollar to buying an espresso machine only to skimp on the grinder, or, worse yet, pass on it altogether and buy pre-ground espresso. Either way, the results will be disappointing.
Spice mill grinders, while adequate fro French press coffee, simply do not provide the type of fine grind control required for espresso extraction. Save this model for its intended purpose--as a spice mill. Ideally, retailers will offer grinders that closely match the quality of the espresso machines they sell. Further, they should consider flat-burr or conical-burr grinders to be the only options. THere are many topes of home espresso grinders on the market, and choosing one can be a daunting task. As a retailer, your main objective should be to offer grinders that are well built, specifically suited for home use and capable of fine grind control.
The Internet has become a haven for information related to home espresso preparation. There are a number of Websites and newsgroups that share information about home espresso machines. Alt, coffee, for one, is an online community of home espresso machine owners and coffee roasters. This is one of the most active online newsgroups, and for good reason--these folks love coffee and espresso. And at www.coffeegeek.com, you can find close to 1,000 consumer reviews of espresso equipment from around the world, as well as tips on grinding and brewing.
Whether you are a retailer seeking additional in-store revenues or an espresso lover looking for your first home machine, these can be helpful resources. After all, being an informed consumer is always the goal. And as a retailer, the more information you can offer consumers about coffee and espresso equipment, the more potential you have to benefit from their interest.