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Espresso Machine Repair

Specialty coffee professionals depend HEAVILY on two things -- staffing and equipment. Without either one a cafe manager finds herself in hot water searching desperately for help (pun intended).

As a famous Dutch philosopher once said, “prevention is better than cure.” We strongly agree. After you experience a catastrophic equipment failure while busting the morning rush you’ll agree, too.

When routine service is conducted it ensures equipment longevity and reduces costly down time. Ensure your equipment is ready with regular preventative maintenance done by a dependable service company.

A good coffee technician will remind you when it's time for your next service appointment. This is an added benefit of building a relationship with your local coffee technician and committing to a preventative maintenance program. If you've made pals with your local coffee technician then hopefully he or she will have the most common problem parts in inventory for your machine. Some common failure parts are solenoids, flow meters and flow restrictors. Each are relatively inexpensive but will stop your bar flow right now if they fail.

If you're like most other independent cafes you probably expect your coffee shop to make $500-1000 per day. An equipment failure during the morning rush will be an expensive mishap. You'll have lost revenue for as long as your machine is down and the expense of a loaner machine and emergency repairs. Plan ahead! Make friends with a local coffee technician and set up a maintenance schedule. 

What's It Going To Cost?

You're probably wondering what this is all going to cost, so let's break down some common service calls.

A quarterly (3 month) service should take about 1.5 hours. You'll need $25 in parts per group head. That should complete the costs for parts, if all goes well. $175 is the minimum you should expect for a quarterly visit.

During your next quarterly (6 month) service expect the same routine, however at this visit your reverse osmosis carbon filters need to be replaced. These costs will vary by manufacture. Expect and prepare for these costs to creep into your budget twice a year. Expect this visit to cost $300 or more depending on the cost and number of carbon filters in your water filtration system.

The annual service should take about 2.5 hours. There's a bit more that goes into this service. Every 12 months your espresso machine needs to have the boiler safety valves replaced, steam valves rebuilt, all quarterly service parts replaced, and in certain circumstances the manual paddles on models such as the La Marzocco Strada will need to be rebuilt. If the later is your case plan on another 1-1.5 hours to rebuild the top-end of the manual paddle. On a two-group espresso machine expect the annual service to start at $500. Remember, this visit should also include replacing possibly all of the filters on your water filtration system, including the pre and post sediment filters.

While we're on the subject of water filters -- if none of these issues apply to you because "our water is pretty good" then you need to address this immediately. Nobody is immune to the devastating affects that wretched water quality can have on your coffee equipment, especially in Southern California. There are things in your water that you can't see or taste but will wreck your coffee machine in a matter of months. You need filtration now! If you're in areas such as Seattle where the water quality is significantly better then you might get away with a less complex water system. You'd be best to check with your coffee technician or local water system provider for an assessment of your tap water. The Specialty Coffee Association and La Marzocco provide some good resources for determining what should be in your water and what shouldn't. The La Marzocco Water Calculator is a good resource for determining what level of filtration you should have for the water in your area. Water is a pretty heavy topic so I'm going to stop here, but be on the look-out for a blog post dedicated specifically to this subject in the near future.

Let's move on and discuss some catastrophic failures. Imagine coming into the shop for an opening shift to find the counter and floor under your espresso machine covered in water. What likely happened there is the chlorides in your water ate a hole in your espresso machine boiler. Right away this is going to cost at minimum $2,000 -- $1200 for a boiler and a whole lot of wrench time. Be aware that a repair like this is likely to uncover another couple hundred dollars in collateral damage along the way. Aside from an explosion or fire this is really about as bad as it gets.

If your luck leads you to a failed control board expect to pay around $1,000 for this repair. The computer will be $300-500 and the labor to trace the electrical system and rule out other causes will be the other significant portion of the repair. Don't expect your technician to have a control board for your machine in stock so be prepared to figure out an alternative espresso machine solution.

On the opposite end of the cost/complexity spectrum -- you could have a little spec of lime scale break off and land on a flow restrictor, completely or partially disabling one of your group heads. This is a simple fix and the parts are cheap, but it will be enough of a nuisance to shut down half of your espresso machine's production capabilities until it's fixed. The parts are around $15 and this shouldn't take more than an hour to clear.

This is nowhere near an exhaustive list of all the things that could go wrong but it hopefully paints a picture of what to expect when things do.

The central points are: 

  • Establish a relationship with a local, dependable coffee technician.
  • Make sure your water is up to SCA water quality specs.
  • Plan and execute a preventative maintenance schedule with your tech.
  • Prepare yourself and plan a budget to address a catastrophic failure.

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