Which Super Automatic is best overall?

    I am the manager of Awake Café in Triad Baptist Church. Our church runs about 1,500 people every Sunday morning. We have 3 services one at 8:45, one at 10, and one at 11:15. In between the services our coffee shop gets flooded with mocha thirsty members for 20 minutes. We serve as many as we can with our Commercial Manuel Astoria 2 group. This machine just is not cutting it, though. We have 20 minutes to produce as many specialty coffees as we can. Everyone loves lattes as our most popular drink is the White Chocolate Mocha. Currently, We can make about 30 hot lattes in 20 minutes, and we are turning away probably 100-200 people from getting a drink every Sunday morning because our line is so long, and there is not enough time to wait and make it to the service or Sunday School on time. That is my situation, so here are my questions.

    First off, I realize there is no machine out there that can produce enough coffee for hundreds of people in 20 minutes, but I want to serve as many as I can. My baristas are volunteer, so they are no where near professional. They need buttons to push to froth milk and make espresso fast and easily. This is why I am in the market for a super automatic espresso machine 2 step, and price is not an issue. I just want to know which machine and which company is best. I have done countless hours of researching and calling people, and I am tired of it, but my search is narrowed down to 2 brands, possibly 3. I hear the top two big dogs out there are Schaerer and Franke, and they are the most used. I hear Schaerer is a little better than Franke, only because when something goes wrong, there parts are cheaper. Then there is UNIC, which from what I have heard, has only been in the states for 5 years, and they supply some Googles, Cheesecake Factorys, and Olive Gardens. There machines are made of almost all metal parts on the inside, and they are extremely expensive. Then I know little about WMF, their machines are repaired by Schaerer I think. These three are what I have come down to- Schaerer, UNIC, and WMF.

    Here are the questions I need answered: What machine is best and fastest latte producing machine for each company?  (Like Ambiente or Coffee Art plus), Are refurb machines trust worthy? How is each company's service record? How well is their customer support? Do they have parts available in the US? What major coffee shop chains do they supply? Do you know of any places that have UNICs or WMF near Kernersville, NC? Do you know places neutral technicians or neutral managers I could contact to find out more about UNIC and WMF? Now. I will go into specific detail on what I know and am curious about in each company. taking to salesman all the time gets the same result, they all think their machine is best. That is why I need third parties to help!

Schaerer-

     Most people tell me they are the best overall. Schaerer themselves would say that the coffee Art Plus is the best machine for me, but most third party distributors say the  Ambiente PS is the way to go because it has been out longer, and there are more servicers and part available. Third parties say the Ambiente is a proven reliable machine over the past 15 years. Is that true? I love the way the Coffee Art Plus looks, though, and Schaerer says that the plus is the same as the Ambiente with more features, which is true, but with having more features do the features break or mess up more than the Ambiente? If price were a problem, Would you buy an Ambiente refurbished from a reliable comapny at half the price of a art plus? Art plus 12,500-13,500 and Ambiente refurbished 5,000-7,500. What is the best choice? I know Schaerer is reliable in every way from parts to service to performance , but I just wonder is there anything better/faster? Now, Don't forget to overall compare Schaerer with UNIC and WMF.

UNIC- 

     UNIC scares me, because a lot of people have never heard of them, but I have yet to hear muck bad/negative about their machines, reliability, service, or parts. Plus, The Tango Duo is a 2 group super automatic and could surely out produce any one group super like the art plus if working properly. It is very expensive like 20,000+ but I would probably get it If i knew it was the best. What do you know what the UNIC machines and company? What about the Tango SOLO too? I am interested in either two SOLOs or one DUO, possibly two Duos in the future. Do you know of any coffee shop/cafe chains that have UNIC super automatics? Heard anything about UNIC putting out a new touch screen super automatic? Know cafes, hotels, business, or resturants I could contact about UNICs reliability, parts, service, and machone speed, and how they like their machine? 

WMF-

     I don't even know what WMF stands for, but I know their machines are similiar to Schaerer because of the finesteam and espresso dispenser head. What have you heard about  with service, parts, machine speed, and reliability of WMF? The bistro 2 step (no chocolate) is what I am interested in. Do they supply an major chains with super automatics? Know any coffee shops, cafes, resturants, hotels, or businesses that I could contact to ask their about their machine and how they like it?

Conslusion: I am sure I am forgetting something about all the info I have gathered over two weeks, but this is most of it. I really need some input so I can finalize my search. I understand that every super automatic will need to be serviced sometime in its lifetime, but which machine needs it least? Which one has the cheapest parts? and Which has the fastest and best service? Which machine will make the most and fastest consistent lattes?

PS- Anybody know anything about the Franke Foam Master? It is there new machine coming out soon, I believe.

    

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You're not gonna find a lot of people on here with any experience with the super autos.  But I worked for Starbucks for many years as a field technician working on their machines and in my job after that I had experience with both Schaerer and Franke.  And the only honest feedback I have is go with the one you feel the best about service wise.  Any super auto, regardless of who makes it, or what it's made out of requires A LOT of service.  You will need to know and trust your tech very well.  Believe me, after 6 months you will be on a first name basis with him.  So go with the machine that your local tech knows the best and can support the best.  The other thing that happens with super autos, ESPECIALLY the two step ones is that you have to keep up on the preventative maintenance religiously.  Be prepared to spend some real money on it.  All I can say is that the problems compound drastically when/if you skip a PM cycle.  So, again, buy the machine that your local tech can work on and support.  This is the only thing that matters if you intend on using the machine to serve that volume of people.

I'm not going to go into the reasons that super auto behave this way, that's really a separate set of issues that don't affect you as the end user so much.  Let's just say that all super autos suffer from the same design flaws/challenges and cost considerations.  Different manufactures will try to solve those problems in slightly different ways but the engineers are hamstrung by some issues that are truly difficult and very expensive to address.  They are a difficult type of machine to design, build, AND maintain/support.

That being said I have experience with the support networks of all the companies you mentioned except for WMF.  And everybody is first class.  I know many of the UNIC guys up here in Seattle and they are super friendly and knowledgeable.  Same with Franke.  Same with Schaerer.  And I'm sure WMF is too, I just can't personally vouch for them.  From a systemic support point of view any of the companies will do a fine job in supporting you.  The question is what is your tech the most comfortable with.  Whatever that machine is get that one.  And if you don't know who your tech is gonna be I would recommend solving that issue first.  Get to know them and talk to them about how they can accommodate your location and the PM schedule.  You might even consider buying the machine through them and using them as your warranty provider.

Thank you! my closest tech is 30 mintues away, and they just signed with UNIC. They are not owned by UNIC, and they have never had UNIC machines before, but they are being trained. I feel like Schaerer is going to have the best service and best machine, but there closest techs are 2-3 hours away compared to UNIC's 30 minutes. I appreciate your comment. I will look into the technician side of things more, now.

Hi Austin.

First - I agree 100% with everything Mike said.

I'd disagree with your statement about Schaerer having the best service support in your area. For my money, that honor goes to Franke. They have an outstanding service partner near you - VP Coffee in Siler City. Nick is hands-down the best tech I know.

I haven't worked on the Schaerer so can't speak to their real-world machine quality and reliability, but I suspect it's fine. Franke definitely makes a solid machine.

I'd be careful with your drink thruput expectations, by the way. Most shops that need any volume at all run 2 or 3 supers. If you think about it, a superauto is roughly the equivalent of a 1 group espresso machine. Yes, you gain some efficiencies by minimizing the handling process time, but ultimately the grinding and extraction parts of the process are unchanged. Your shots will still take 5-10 seconds to grind and 20ish seconds to pull. I'd be surprised if you were able to significantly increase your current "30 drinks in 20 minutes" mark with one superauto machine.

UNIC - I didn't realize they made a superauto, though I guess everyone does now. Personally, I'd be reluctant to be a guinea pig for the first of a service company's new machines. Even with "factory training" there's still a substantial learning curve (including knowing which parts to stock) that can leave you inadequately supported for a while. That goes double if you turn out to be the only one in the market for a while. I think you're wise to stick with the superauto specialists here.

Hope that helps.

Wow,
Austin, I'm a little embarrassed that we didn't pop up on your radar right down in Siler City! VP Coffee provides all core national account superautomatic service for Franke in North Carolina and provide service for all major manufacturers.
We service Franke SA's in Caribou, Panera, Whole Foods, etc. I like to think that these national companies have done a lot if the homework already for you and there's a reason they chose the machines they did.
Remember, any machine you buy is only as good as the service company you use to keep it running.
I'd be delighted to talk shop with you anytime. Give me a ring at (919) 663-4933 ext 114
Best,
Nick Dakas
Oh, and Brady, thanks for the kind words.
If I'm the best tech you know, and you're the first guy I bounce ideas off of, I guess that says something for your skill set, eh?
Best

Hey Brady and Nick.

Thank you so much for telling me about Nick, I am about to give him a call. I am sure Franke is one of the best machines out there. I here they fall slightly behind Schaerer because thier parts are a bit more expensive, especially if the one if one of the grinders happened to go out, which it probably never would go out, but if it did, or if one of the group heads needed to be replaced, they are also more expensive than Schaerer and UNIC. I hear Franke's parts double or triple Schaerers. that is the only reason I lean a little more toward Schaerer than Franke. I will find more details from Nick I am sure.

In the next 2-3 years, I plan to get 2/3 supers and possibly 5-6 through out the entire church as our campus is large. That should speed things up.

UNIC- Their Supers (Tango series) have been around for 10 years. Only been in the US for 5, but for 10 years in Italy. I have made more calls, and I still have not heard anything bad about their 2 step machines, but I have heard small problems with their 1 step supers. Their parts are cheap too, even though they are metal. I just need to do a little research on their service and the servicer that would service us if we ended up with UNIC. Hopefully, I will get to see a Tango Duo in action by the end of this week.

Thanks for the help guys!

Check with your espresso repair company.  You don't want to buy something and then find out no one knows how to fix it

Austin,

Try not to get too hung up on the comparison between this vs. that machine.  Or put a huge amount of stock in what the sales people will tell you.  I can guarantee that all those machines will pretty much behave the same once you get them installed.  I've yet to see a super auto that is actually much different than any other super auto.  The sales and marketing people tend to over emphasize the slight differences their engineers have incorporated into their machine.  As I said before, the design challenges for making a super auto are significant and all these companies face those same hurdles and cost constraints.  Theoretically you could make a "Perfect" super auto but it would cost $100,000.  So, short of that, every company has to make design compromises to keep their machine cheap enough for people to actually buy.  Super autos are less of an example of "Genius in Engineering" and more of an example of "(Hopefully) Enlightened Compromise".  If there is any genius to the engineering it will be in how enlightened the compromise is.  But that is the case in just about any engineering endeavor.

There is still some useful info you can get from these different companies, however.  Instead of asking general questions about service availability or parts prices ask them to give you detailed info on their suggested Preventative Maintenance programs.  These programs will have a list of parts that will need to be changed on a cyclic basis.  This is where your maintenance money will be going.  Some of these parts will need to be changed on a time interval basis, for instance every 3, 6, or 12 months, and some of these parts will need to be changed according to how many product cycles the machine has performed.  It is in the execution of this PM cycle that will determine what the real cost of ownership over time is.  You'll need to look at what the cost of a 2 year cycle will be.  Some machines have the same cycle every 6 months and others have different PM scopes at different time intervals.  Two years seems to be the place where most major and high dollar items get replaced and the PM cycle starts over again.  It is conceivable that even though the Schaerer parts are 3 times cheaper than the Franke parts you might need to use 3 times as many of them on PMs over those 2 years.  You won't know until you ask them to provide you the PM schedule info.  This is also where knowing your tech really comes in handy.  Whoever you choose should be able to help you understand how best to implement the PM schedule at your location and your machines usage patterns.

As far as refurbished machines go you should look at the total cost of ownership over two years.  The initial machine you receive will be fine but often a refurbed unit will come with a downgraded warranty which will manifest in increased maintenance costs sooner.  It's possible that at the two year mark the cost of a new verses a refurbed unit could be the same.  You should also make sure to be clear on who your warranty provider will be.  Sometimes it's the manufacturer, sometimes it's the company you buy the machine from, and sometimes it's the company who does the actual service work.  And sometimes it's a complicated and backwards combination of all three that leaves everybody pointing the finger at everybody else.  It is this unfortunate reality that leads many of us who have been in the service side of the industry to recommend that you buy the machine from the company you intend to service it.  It simplifies the warranty chain of responsibility.  Although if you buy it directly from the manufacturer then they are on the hook for warranty service.  Theoretically.  Just make sure you are clear on how they do warranty and what you can expect from them.  And some manufacturers are large enough that they don't sell directly to end users and you'll have to buy from a distributor anyway.  Good luck!!

Thank you Mike, you really know your stuff! I will be sure to check all that out once I read your post about 4-5 times haha. That kind of stuff is what I was hoping to find though, so thank you so much!

Brady- Thank you so much for introducing me to Nick. He knows so much, he has excellent credentials, he loves his job, he has parts, good warranties, he is close by, and everyone I talk too, even Franke themselves, recommend his services. Now, I will hopefully be going to check out some Frankes in Siler City with Nick to see which one is best for me, as I might even end up with a Sinfonia (I Hope) haha. But again, Thank you so much for the introducing me to Nick!

Nick- I look forward to working with you! Thank you for being so knowledgable about what you do!

When I first signed up to this site, I did not think I would learn much, but guys like all of you have highly impressed me! Thanks!

Thanks for the advice! I will keep that in mind.

Mickael said:

Check with your espresso repair company.  You don't want to buy something and then find out no one knows how to fix it

One more word of advice, Austin: don't overcomplicate this.

There are many, many manufacturers of traditional and superauto machines in the world. Each will have benefits and drawbacks, as well as an army of people trying to sell you on the benefits of their stuff. The marketing brochures and websites for the poor choices look about as good as the good choices', and the sales staffs are probably friendlier (truly good products kinda sell themselves). There is no way for you, as an end consumer, to wade through all of that noise. That's why you're seeing lots of suggestions to find a trustworthy tech and ask for their recommendation. It'll narrow your scope and keep you from driving yourself and those around you nuts.

Roasters and equipment techs are in kind of a unique position in this industry. Like cafes, they need repeat customers in order to survive. In order for either to be in business for long, they have to do everything in their power to keep their customers happy and in business. Fail at either one, and they'll find their customer base has disappeared. They often (especially techs) have meager marketing budgets and neglected websites, preferring to live on word-of-mouth alone. That means that every product they sell, service they provide, and recommendation they make must be solid. Since both usually operate in relatively small territories, the word will get out if they sell a clunker or make a bad recommendation.

Equipment dealers don't have this limitation to the same degree - they can make their money on one-time sales and be happy.

Real techs that have been around a while have the (dubious) benefit of having serviced many of the popular and more obscure machines. We get a pretty good idea of how well things are built, how easy they are to take care of, how well they work when they do work correctly, how often they break, how easy the parts are to get, and how expensive repairs are. All of this info will be factored in to the machine recommendation that you get from one. We know what's out there. Chances are good that if a machine hasn't been mentioned, it's not from lack of awareness.

Hope that helps. Good luck.

I think he's making fun of my "website". Lol

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