Here at Smokey Barn we have been lucky enough to sport a top end Espresso machine (Sanremo Verona TCS) in the roastery for the past few years. In that time I have often wondered: 'Is the additional cost of this high end, all singing all dancing commercial espresso machine, really justified when directly compared to a cheaper mid range version?'.

I was recently helping out at a charity event for another coffee company and I had been tasked with serving coffees to a long line of Macmillan customers. With myslef placed in front of a mid range (Not sanremo but other manufacturer at £5k+VAT) machine, it wasn't long before I found the answer to my proposed question. My usual persona of cheerful barista quickly deteriorated and I was soon cutting the shape of a highly frustrated figure. This was really not ideal given the supposed charitable circumstances.

I could write an essay here, but for the purpose of keeping this blog post brief, here are just some of the issues I was challenged with when using the cheaper machine:

Water temp fluctuation: For a newbie in the coffee game, this doesn’t sound like a big deal, “okay  so my coffee will be a tiny bit hotter or a bit colder”. This is not the issue; water temp dramatically affects the FLAVOUR of the extracted coffee, not just how hot it is on your tongue.

Coffee extraction problems: We wasted an incredible amount of time and coffee trying to dial in the Grinder. This could be a grinder issue, but I suspect it was more likely the variables at play within the espresso machine, wreaking havoc with our shots. Most were too bitter/sour, unless we got lucky.

Underpowered steam wands: Just didn’t cut the mustard, Micro-foaming was challenging at best and most attempts ended up as separated layers of milk/foam and took and 3 times as long to complete.

Facing a long line of increasingly disgruntled customers, I resorted to considerably lowering my standards to just pure guess work, in order to achieve someone else’s goal of mediocre coffee. I know this will sound dramatic, but when handing over each cup, it felt like a little part of me died inside.

As an experienced barista, I need to feel in control of what’s happening in front of me to be able to serve great coffee. Using a machine without the essential tools was like being blindfolded with no hands on the wheel.

When purchasing a commercial machine your main consideration should be the level of quality you wish to serve to your customers (and not whatever is left in your budget after buying the fancy seat covers). If your aim is vending out thousands of low cost coffees then a midrange is probably right for you. But then I can’t imagine you would be reading this blog if that was your business model!

To summarise, I can hereby confirm the extra cost of a high end machine it absolutely worth it and it doesn’t just buy you a beautiful looking machine. Most importantly, it buys you control over what you are doing. That in turn will give you the CONFIDENCE you need in what you’re doing. This allows you to RELAX and SMILE to your customers, knowing that your serving your customers consistently great coffee.