I am looking to remodel my shop within the next year, or so, and I am trying to figure out what kind of counter-top I should use. We are in an old building, that used to be a bar, so it has this amazing old counter/bar. The only problem with it is that it's about 44 inches high, which is an issue for our short baristas and it's obviously an ergonomic issue as well. I am going to be moving my espresso machines, and put them on a different height counter. So, what kind of counter do you like? Stainless steel, wood, formica, any other suggestions?

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I have seen some cement counters that were pretty sweet.
I like ones that are laminate over wood. Solid, rugged, chip and dent resistant, won't chip cups, won't dent your pitchers when you thump them on the bar.
Commercial grade Formica is almost indestructable, it's cheap, and comon enough that almost any contractor has experience working with it. They are doing some pretty amazing things with concrete these days. Some friends of ours just had concrete counters put in their new home. It looks like natural stone, very pretty, but it's pricey and not just anyone can do it.
Not knowing your budget, and just talking preferences for food and beverage prep and working areas, I always, always prefer stainless steel. It allows quick cleanups and wipedowns, and with a sharp eye, you can find used tables and modular and/or mobile table-sink combos. NSF compliant stainless, as you know, should be seamless, so as not to provide hiding places for grounds and liquid....and/or both. I'd try and find a good design-fit location for the old counter in the shop, as it's probably irreplaceable and gives warmth to the shop. (not as kindling!) (smile.) I wonder if you've encountered any ADA mandated "serving counter" height requirements from your city planners? I just visited a soon-to-open shop last night, and the working counter wasn't the issue, but the adjoining counter that receives customers was assigned special ADA low-heigth requirements, with which they had to conform. (it's always something)
I've got a sexy solid wood counter with matching dry bar under a near-by window. The cafe is nearly five years old and the counter has worn down where we slide cups and saucers for pick-up. It looks aged and has alot of character..
personally I have to say that having worked on wood, stone and stainless that I abhor stainless. most of the counter that I have worked on that were stainless were very springy and soft and didn't give a sense of solidity. stone was awesome, but you do need to be aware breakage canbe an issue. wood and formica is where it is at. I love working on a nice thick wooden workspace. they look georgeous, and feel gerogeous. formica is nice as it cleans really well, but, even industrial grade will wear down. we have a couple of serious divots where we tamp our shots, as well as if it gets really constantly wet it can delaminate.

I wold vote for an over built wooden counter for your machine. 4-6 inches thick on some really beefy supports. going that thick allows for a really sturdy workspace as well as leaving room down the line for you to plane it down and keep using the same counter just like the old heavy duty butcher blocks.
Sweet. Thank you guys so much for your input. Speaking of counters and work space...what do you guys think is the most ideal location for your milk fridges? under the counter or off to the side? i know that it all depends on how your bar is laid out, but if you had a clean slate to work with, what would you prefer?
Copper, nough said.
Top access is a must, speed and functionality is your friend. What ever accommodates this is good. Plus if you have a lot of female baristas, and a lot of creepy customers, add some frequent bending over. Now you have a problem on your hands. I've had to enforce a ban on certain customers because their tendency to ooggle to the point of being sexually threatening to my female baristas. Keep this in mind in the placement of any type of milk cooler.

chris ganger said:
personally I have to say that having worked on wood, stone and stainless that I abhor stainless. most of the counter that I have worked on that were stainless were very springy and soft and didn't give a sense of solidity. stone was awesome, but you do need to be aware breakage canbe an issue. wood and formica is where it is at. I love working on a nice thick wooden workspace. they look georgeous, and feel gerogeous. formica is nice as it cleans really well, but, even industrial grade will wear down. we have a couple of serious divots where we tamp our shots, as well as if it gets really constantly wet it can delaminate.

I wold vote for an over built wooden counter for your machine. 4-6 inches thick on some really beefy supports. going that thick allows for a really sturdy workspace as well as leaving room down the line for you to plane it down and keep using the same counter just like the old heavy duty butcher blocks.
Top access? sounds interesting. how would that work? i agree with you on some pervs checking out the girls bending over. i figure if i move the espresso machines to where the baristas face the customers, that might eliminate that issue. i am curious about top access, however...

Patrick Reed said:
Top access is a must, speed and functionality is your friend. What ever accommodates this is good. Plus if you have a lot of female baristas, and a lot of creepy customers, add some frequent bending over. Now you have a problem on your hands. I've had to enforce a ban on certain customers because their tendency to ooggle to the point of being sexually threatening to my female baristas. Keep this in mind in the placement of any type of milk cooler.

chris ganger said:
personally I have to say that having worked on wood, stone and stainless that I abhor stainless. most of the counter that I have worked on that were stainless were very springy and soft and didn't give a sense of solidity. stone was awesome, but you do need to be aware breakage canbe an issue. wood and formica is where it is at. I love working on a nice thick wooden workspace. they look georgeous, and feel gerogeous. formica is nice as it cleans really well, but, even industrial grade will wear down. we have a couple of serious divots where we tamp our shots, as well as if it gets really constantly wet it can delaminate.

I wold vote for an over built wooden counter for your machine. 4-6 inches thick on some really beefy supports. going that thick allows for a really sturdy workspace as well as leaving room down the line for you to plane it down and keep using the same counter just like the old heavy duty butcher blocks.
If you are going to have a milk fridge under the counter, make sure it is under the espresso machine. I worked at an espresso bar where it was just a couple feet over, but we were so busy all the time that I always had to maneuver around people just to get milk. It was quite inconvenient and slowed everything down.

cisco said:
Sweet. Thank you guys so much for your input. Speaking of counters and work space...what do you guys think is the most ideal location for your milk fridges? under the counter or off to the side? i know that it all depends on how your bar is laid out, but if you had a clean slate to work with, what would you prefer?
I've always worked with the milk fridge under the back bar, directly behind the barista. Agree that access during a rush is key, and that swinging door is an obstacle any way you look at it. I did see a bar fridge with a sliding door last week (Octane?) that seemed really slick.

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