Hello everybody.

I am lover of good coffee who is finally realising a long-time dream of running his own café with a friend. I am not a trained barista, but I am a connoisseur of good coffee and a perfectionist, and I believe that with research and a great amount of practice I will be able to make an excellent coffee.

My concern is for our equipment, because for now we have a very small budget. I understand that the machine one uses is critical for releasing the full flavour from the beans and ensuring the correct consistency.

We will be serving all of the standard styles: espresso, macchiato, caffè latte, cappuccino, etc. and expect to deliver coffee of the highest standard. However, as a business consideration, we would like to limit our outlay. Our café is relatively small, so rate of production is of lesser consideration. Our focus is on quality.

Can any of the smaller, cheaper machines produce a professional standard of coffee? Should we consider a second-hand machine? Both? Any guidance that anybody can offer would be invaluable.

Thank you in advance.

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I think a lot of this depends on the specifics of your budget, and what you might find in your area with regard to second-hand machines, as well as maintenance availability.

But I am certainly no expert with regard to retail coffee-- I'm sure someone else will have better answers.

Our budget is limited, but I think that we would consider a payment plan for a top-end commercial machine if we decided that it was the only way to produce a good coffee.

Personally, I have never had an acceptable coffee from a low-budget machine, but there are undoubtedly many types of machine that I have not encountered. I suppose the real question is if it is possible to find low-end machines that replicate the results of the high end, i.e. if there are any lower-end machines with high-end specifications.

Short answer? Single-group versions of the quality commercial machines are capable of producing good espresso. "Cheaper" small machines are not.

I'm in the process of writing a little article on this topic that I'll post back in a couple of days. In the meantime, try scanning past discussions on this topic on this site. There have been many.

Here's one. A different perspective on cost. Another one here. Also here.

Lots of general "which machine to buy" kind of advice that you should find relevant. There are plenty more too, if you page back through the equipment section.

Thank you for your response, Brady. That should give me enough to work with, and to know what else to look for. It will be a steep but interesting learning curve from here...

Rancilio Class 7 would be my first choice as a budget machine. You may also look at equipment leasing as an option but for most start ups that's not typically an option unless an owner is willing to sign a personal guarantee (not usually a good thing to do). Used machines unless you can fix things yourself can be more trouble than they are worth.  

Forgot to add earlier... as a ballpark, you're realistically looking at $4-$5k minimum for a decent 1 or 2 group commercial setup.

Even if you roll the dice on an old $1500 used machine, plan on another $500-$1000 to get it installed and running properly plus another $400-$500 for a proper used grinder. Its really, really easy for that number to climb fast.

Yes, there are plenty of people that have gotten lucky and gotten off the ground for less than that (think $2500 total), but for every case like that I can show you one that went the wrong way, fast. That $2500 4-year-old 2-group Classe 8 that one of my customers thought was a great deal didn't look nearly as good 6 months and $1200 in repairs later. Free installation and new-machine warranties are wonderful things.

Thanks again. That is the sort of figure I had arrived at after doing a bit of reading. I had also concluded that it was more prudent to pay for a new machine than to risk it with an older one.

It seems like sound advice to value support as highly as anything else. I recently saw a cafe lose a full day in coffee trade when its machine broke down first thing in the morning. I understand that a technician didn't arrive until after close.

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