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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The top needs to be an easily cleanable surface to accommodate health department requirements. Laminate will be the most cost effective approach. One major key to durability is to make sure you have a marine grade plywood core and that all cutouts are edge banded and sealed with silicone. The thickness of the counter top should not make a difference as long as there is a support structure (cabinetry) under the top. You can either use a solid 1" plywood or two pieces of 3/4" plywood joined together for 1-1/2" thickness. I would recommend a pattern type laminate, stay away from solid colors and glossy finishes as they will show scratches and imperfections. Solid surface is another option, but I would go with a granite if you were going to spend the money - it holds up better. If you prefer stainless steel, you can value engineer the top with just a "skin" of stainless and plywood core like the laminate application. ADA compliance may be an issue, you typically need a transaction area that is a minimum of 3'-0" wide X 2'-10" height. The u/c refrigerator should be offset just slightly from the espresso machine so you do not have to step around the door when you open it. A sliding door on a u/c refrigerator is an option, but it does add costs. I tried to sum up a lot in a small paragraph......I hope this helps:)
My only suggestion is to check with your local Health Dept before you make your final decision. I'm located in CA too, and (depending on your county) they are quite specific on what will be acceptable. It's not likely that they would approve a wood top counter for a work surface.
Definitely work with your local jurisdictions fool plan review people to ensure that there will be no foul-ups and that things go smoothly.

Over the years, I've used a variety of counter materials and can readily adapt. Concrete has a cool factor but will pit and corrode without proper maintenance. Laminate (Formica) is tough and durable but has a tendency to wear down in high traffic spots. Granite and marble works well but watch out with marble for corrosion and pitting.

I've always found Stainless Steel to my liking but the reports of flexing are only true if the stainless is not properly supported. With S/S, an underlayer of 1" plywood is mandatory. Then you'll have the rigidity you need.

As far as refrigeration goes, I prefer them off to the side. Under the machine is completely frustrating as the barista must step back away from the machine in order to allow the refrigerator door enough room to swing open. At The Spro, the 27" fridge is to the right of the machine since we steam mainly with the right steam wand. This allows for a quick motion to grab milk.

However, I would investigate the line of undercounter refrigerators from Summit Commercial that feature deep drawers that can accommodate one gallon milk jugs. I suspect those will be in the next round of purchasing.
I really like SS dished out to contain spills, if it is properly supported I think it's the best work surface.
Go with Granite. The cost isdefinately worth it.
A place I worked had a countertop that was made out of pressed paper or something, very interesting. It was extremely hard, but very water-resistant. I love the look of wood-- but I cannot stress enough how important having it sealed well is. Porous wood is extremely bad, dangerous and some disgusting things can happen. I've also worked at a place where we made our own mosaic counter, but if you do that make sure there is some sort of sealant on the cement part too-- I found that grounds stayed in there, and never came out, making the counter look dirty all the time. I don't know much about how to solve that problem though.

Fridges-- I like the milk fridge to the side of the machine (as long as it is close to the barista) with the door opening towards the machine. The under-machine fridge I think is fine in a cafe with a slow or mild steady flow of customers, but for rushes it's really frustrating and people have the tendency to leave milk out on the counter when switching between different kinds.
We had used machines like this for milk dispensing located behind the barista. It gave us lots of milk, and we thought would reduce the repetitive action of pouring one-gallon milk jugs. It also reduced our cost per gallon because of 5-gallon poly bags. Just an idea, but certainly helps if you have a busier location. We were doing about 30,000 per week

Here is a link and I always though this was one of the better ideas we had it is not really fast at dispensing milk and the five gallon bags of milk are heavy but I think it worked very well

I have to agree with most people here but especially those that point out clean up is the main point. Yes, display of the machine and look/feel of your place is crucial but if the area around the espresso machine looks dirty it just won't get you much business. Another nice idea we did once was put a hidden spotlight on the machine. This looked great as no one could figure out how our espresso machine had this halo effect always around. Then again we did have 30 ft. ceilings in the cafe.

Remember to consider the display side of things as espresso is a physical thing that can attract alot more business with some simple design elements coordinated. Yet, don't forget that clean up and maintenance are the real ones to consider first. Good luck and send some photos when you got it all sorted out - the place sounds cool.

Brady said:
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.

Stainless steel over marine grade wood. SS can be placed just where you need it (under espresso machine station, under brew station, etc.). SS will last forever. It will get marked up, but always look good, if used.

Double door fridge under espresso machine on milk steaming side, knock box on espresso side.


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