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Coffee Catering Equipment Recommendations

Espresso Machine

Espresso based drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos make up a significant percentage of drinks consumed by a typical coffee drinks, it is therefor the most important piece of equipment to get right. If you get a machine that is too large it will make it difficult to transport and move around. If you get a machine that is too small you will have a hard time keeping up with making drinks and the drink quality will be poor due to wide fluctuations in temperature that have an adverse effect on the flavor of espresso shots. It is usually ideal to have a single group machine with as large of a boiler as possible, or a compact two group machine.

Another important espresso machine factor to consider is the type of electrical connection the machine has. For many on site catering events it tends to be easiest to have access to 120 volt outlets vs 220 volt outlets, so in most cases it is best to have a 120 volt machine. The drawback is you can’t make as many drinks per hour on a 120 volt machine, but the benefit of having a suitable outlet available tends to outweigh this drawback.

Espresso machines require a source of water for operation, which is used for brewing espresso and steaming milk. There are a few light commercial machines that have built in water tanks, but constantly filling a water tank during service can be a hassle, especially during a rush. For this reason it is usually best to have a machine that has a direct water line connection and to connect it to a 5 gallon water tank using a pump called a Flojet.

Ease of use is another thing to keep in mind when choosing an espresso machine. It is important to get a machine that is as easy to use as possible without sacrificing the quality of the drinks produced. We recommend traditional pump espresso machines that have volumetric dosing for the shot volumes, but we don’t recommend super automatics. Super automatic machines are the easiest to use, but they tend to produce subpar drinks. Super automatic machines also tend to cost a lot more than other machine types and tend to require more maintenance and cleaning.

Many health departments have rules that require espresso machines and grinders to have safety ratings, such as NSF, so keep this in mind what purchasing equipment for your catering service.

There are a range of other factors to consider, but the ones above are the most important ones.


While some espresso machine can be used with espresso pods, for best brewing results, it is highly recommended to always use freshly ground coffee. In terms of impact on flavor, a grinder can have more impact on flavor than the espresso machine, so choosing a grinder shouldn’t be an afterthought. If your service offers more than just espresso, such as pour overs, than you may need more than one grinder. A grinder that is ideal for catering is one that is fast, doesn’t overheat, is easily adjusted and lightweight.

Batch Brew Coffee

Regular drip or batch brewed coffee is a good item to have available. If the event is close enough to your location, you may be able to brew a few airpots before your catering event, but there are times when it is beneficial to have a brewer available, especially for larger catering events or events that last longer. Due to the size of batch brewers, it is best to get smaller units for better portability, and as with espresso machines, it is easier to get access to 120 volt connections, so brewers with that kind of connection are usually a good idea. If you have several airpots, you can have some pre-brewed before the start of service.

If it is not ideal to bring separate brewing equipment, such as at small events, you can always use the espresso machine to brew Americanos. Just make sure you get an espresso machine that has a hot water spigot, so you can add six ounces of hot water to a double shot of espresso.


You will need a variety of accessory items to make service a success. For steaming it will be good to have at least a couple steam pitchers and microfiber cloths for wiping the steam wand after use. It is also ideal to have a cold water rinser to clean the pitcher quickly between use.

For brewing you will need a couple tampers and a knockbox. It is also beneficial to have a brush for cleaning the group periodically during use, as well as microfibers cloths for wiping out the filter basket from time to time.

Equipment Maintenance

Basic maintenance of your equipment can go a long way in preserving the life of your equipment. Preventing limescale buildup In your machine can prevent a myriad of issues that can be caused by calcium build up on internal components. Always use soft water that is less than 50ppm in hardness, but more than zero (such as distilled water). Even with soft water it is a good idea to descale the machine after several months of use. At the end of each use backflushing the grouphead will get rid of coffee residue. This will prevent the grouphead from getting gummed up with coffee oils and ensure that your drinks don’t start getting a rancid flavor.

For grinders, it is a good idea to use grinder cleaning tablets every few weeks to remove coffee oil from the burrs to ensure that the grind quality stays as high as possible. When you do this, it also a good idea to vacuum out the grind chamber and use a stiff brush to break up any build up in the chamber.

Consulting - Cups to Gallons

Learn from an expert at making money with coffee catering, Stacey Riska