Why do expensive espresso machines need restoration so soon?

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Almico
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Postby Almico » Jul 15, 2016, 9:03 am

This is more rhetorical venting than anything else, but I have a gripe.

When I first started down the slippery-sloped rabbit hole of serious coffee, I was stunned by the cost of equipment. $1000 for an espresso machine?! You gotta be kidding. And I need a $500 grinder to go with it... really?! And I need more than one? What?!

Fast forward a couple of years and I'm starting to get it. I own a Lido II, a Pharos, a Forte BG, a Grindmaster 825 and 890. I've gotten lucky with a $400 purchase on an ECM Giotto and I'm learning how to make coffee the way I always wanted it. I've got a 6# roaster and even started a little coffee business doing farmers markets.

So I've come a long way from an Aeropress and pre-ground coffee only 5 years ago and I can appreciate what a good system can do for coffee.

It's taken longer to come to grips with how and why an espresso machine can cost $6-7-8-$10,000. There is just not that much inside there. I can buy a motorcycle for that much, and there is a lot more to a motorcycle.

But that's not my gripe. My gripe is that I see so many of these expensive machines being restored when they are only 10-15 years old, some much less. In my world if a company is saying that our "1 cubic foot boxes with a few pipes and electronics inside" is built so well that we are going to charge $6000 for it, how come they need an overhaul so soon? At that price they should last 30 years.

Rant over.

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JohnB.
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Postby JohnB. » Jul 15, 2016, 9:48 am

Almico wrote:But that's not my gripe. My gripe is that I see so many of these expensive machines being restored when they are only 10-15 years old. In my world if a company is saying that our "1 cubic foot boxes with a few pipes and electronics inside" is built so well that we are going to charge $6000 for it, how come they need an overhaul so soon? At that price they should last 30 years. Rant over.


As with any type of machinery it depends on how much use it gets & if it is maintained properly. How many shots has a 10-15 year old commercial machine that is used in a busy cafe produced? How many of these machines are stored improperly? Was it serviced regularly or just run into the ground & replaced?

I fully expect my Speedster to be around 30 years or more & whoever gets it after I'm done with it won't need to restore it. I work on 20-40 year old BMW motorcycles every week. Some are well maintained originals that just need regular services while others have been neglected and require thousands of dollars worth of repairs.
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Bak Ta Lo
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Postby Bak Ta Lo » Jul 15, 2016, 10:05 am

The car analogy works well for espresso machines. You can buy a Toyota Corolla that will take you from A to B just as effectively as a luxury sports car that costs many times more. And I bet that sports car needs a lot more maintenance than a Corolla! But, if I could afford a Ferrari I would get one in a second.

In the espresso machine word equivalent I just bought a Breville Dual Boiler for around 1000 dollars, it has every bell and whistle and makes excellent coffee. Does a 10,000 dollar handmade Slayer machine make coffee that is ten times better? No. But, I would still buy a Slayer if I had the cash.
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Almico
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Postby Almico » Jul 15, 2016, 10:13 am

JohnB. wrote:As with any type of machinery it depends on how much use it gets & if it is maintained properly. How many shots has a 10-15 year old commercial machine that is used in a busy cafe produced? How many of these machines are stored improperly? Was it serviced regularly or just run into the ground & replaced?

I fully expect my Speedster to be around 30 years or more & whoever gets it after I'm done with it won't need to restore it. I work on 20-40 year old BMW motorcycles every week. Some are well maintained originals that just need regular services while others have been neglected and require thousands of dollars worth of repairs.



I hear ya John. And maybe by hanging around on coffee websites I'm getting to see a disproportional amount of repairs and restorations. The good ones just keep on making coffee and no one needs to ask questions about why their machine is doing something funky.

My good friend...John, coincidentally, has a stunning '67 R6, complete with side car. Whenever we ride, he's the hotty and I'm the fat, ugly girlfriend. I just love the sound of that engine going bloop, bloop, bloop at 400RPM.

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TomC
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Postby TomC » Jul 15, 2016, 10:26 am

There was an insightful post a few years ago by anotherJim that said something to the effect that they cost what they do for two basic reasons. 1) economy of scale: Mostly hand built, expensive labor, small market, etc. He compared/contrasted espresso machines to much larger appliances like washing machines which cost 1/10th the price, and for exactly the inverse reasons mentioned above. And 2) Because they can...That's my fuzzy memory of it. It would be neat to read again if one could find it.

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bluesman
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Postby bluesman » Jul 15, 2016, 11:54 am

Bak Ta Lo wrote:The car analogy works well for espresso machines. You can buy a Toyota Corolla that will take you from A to B just as effectively as a luxury sports car that costs many times more. And I bet that sports car needs a lot more maintenance than a Corolla! But, if I could afford a Ferrari I would get one in a second.

There's a lot more to this than meets the eye. As a life-long racer (SCCA C sedan & FV, VSCCA Lotus 7 S1, SVRA H-mod sports racer), I and every other driver with anywhere close to my experience can lap any track as fast or faster in a Corolla sedan than most street drivers can in any Ferrari. Most owners of high end performance cars (like most drivers in general) have no idea how to use the capabilities of their machines and/or how much it takes to maintain them properly. Many get into serious trouble from trying to maintain appearances and would have been much better off (and had both more fun and more money) investing in high performance driving school and a Miata than in a 911 Turbo or a Ferrari. As a result, there are a lot of high performance cars on the used market that have been damaged but repaired on a marginal budget and/or maintained on a marginal budget. They "need" restoration to be fully functional and reliable again (unless, as is too often the case, they're simply not restorable to perfection at any reasonable cost).

Hipo cars were meant to be driven, and they do not tolerate inexpert driving or being left in the garage for weeks to months at a time, only to be dragged out and flogged at a "track event". For example, leaving bushings and bearings under static load at the same point causes deformation, no matter how slight. And each time a car is parked for weeks, that deformation is in a different location around the interface between shaft and bearing. So tolerances loosen up at bushed mounting points in suspensions etc, and some hipo motors actually start leaking oil (e.g. around rear main seals) if left sitting for long periods of time. And too much power simply helps those who don't know how to use it spin out, force themselves off the proper line, and generally waste time trying to use horsepower instead of skill to go faster. They also burn through clutches, brakes, suspension parts etc at a very rapid clip.

Espresso machines are no different - "high performance" models with multiple adjustments require knowledge, skill, experience & maintenance to operate well and consistently. Focusing on a single degree change in brew temp when your shots gush out like the contents of an irritated colon is simply wrong. Cheaping out on maintenance eventually turns a fine machine into a pile of problems and complaints. A skilled barista can pull a much tastier shot from a properly functioning SB machine than an overconfident, under-experienced tyro can get out of a Slayer or Synesso. And after being abused by such owners for even a few years, many excellent machines "need" restoration by their next owners when they would otherwise have been fine.

For those who haven't seen the recommended maintenance on good machines, take a peek at the every-6-month schedule for a GS3 and the annual schedule for the same machine. Too many owners of wonderful machines follow my father-in-law's rules of maintenance: ignore recommendations because they're only made to squeeze money out of you, and only add what runs so low that the device stops working. Ignoring early warning signs (e.g. minor leak, funny noise etc) is probably the most common cause of premature failure. And not knowing what's normal is probably #2, in my experience.

So don't be like my father-in-law, who ran out of oil in his 3 year old 735 and lunched his engine on the Atlantic City Expressway after ignoring the oil pressure warning light for weeks. Even though he bought it new, he insisted on having his vehicle "maintained" by a fellow septuagenarian at a gas station near his house because his "mechanic" subscribed to his maintenance theories. The oil pan drain plug was so rounded off that it couldn't be torqued properly, so he must have spread several quarts around Philly drop by drop.

nuketopia
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Postby nuketopia » Jul 15, 2016, 2:25 pm

Commercial food equipment is generally a lot more expensive than consumer equipment. Most of the higher-end espresso machines and grinders are commercial food preparation equipment for the most part.

They're made in very small volumes, with lots of hand labor and custom machined parts, and from materials that are more costly, like heavy gauge stainless steel, vs. plastics. Small volumes mean the engineering, tooling and other fixed costs of production have to be spread across smaller numbers of units.

As commercial equipment goes, most of this stuff is intended to run all day long in restaurant service. Those $10,000 espresso machines and $2500 grinders are there to churn out 100's of drinks a day in a coffee shop.

The "prosumer" stuff is kind of where most of the hardcore enthusiast (like on this site) winds up. The equipment is designed to perform like a commercial machine, but usually with less expensive construction that isn't suited to the volume of drinks a coffee shop would produce. This is a niche market to say the least. There's just enough demand to entice just enough producers to make this equipment. Which is cool because I don't have room for a Mazzer Major and a 3-group Slayer in my kitchen, not to mention the budget for them. ;)

As far as restorations go - this is kind of a fetish thing. There is a community of people who like to get classic machinery that's been worked hard and uncared for in some shop somewhere, bring it back to life for use at home. Especially the lever crowd. There's a lot of cool stuff they do with those uncared for orphans.

Also, there's people on sites like this who steadfastly tweak and work on stuff in search of perfection, far in excess of what is needed to simply produce a cup of coffee.

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Almico
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Postby Almico » Jul 15, 2016, 2:55 pm

Yes, it's the commercial equipment, supposedly the better built stuff, that I see being restored all the time. The prosumer stuff might not be worth the effort. New seals, gaskets, pressure regulators...boilers being descaled and rebrazed, etc. But your right, maybe some or most of these machines work just fine, but people want to make them shiny and need a hobby.

MCALheaven
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Postby MCALheaven » Jul 15, 2016, 3:38 pm

Unlike your car, which has a planned service schedule and even a detailed service manual you can purchase, espresso machines typically offer little or no maintenance info to the end user. Being extremely vague in instruction probably prevents misuse and mistreatment as much as it promotes wear and tear towards replacement. Either way, the owner is left to themselves to figure out the proper maintenance. This is where HB.com comes in handy.

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Almico
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Postby Almico » Jul 15, 2016, 4:10 pm

MCALheaven wrote:Unlike your car, which has a planned service schedule and even a detailed service manual you can purchase, espresso machines typically offer little or no maintenance info to the end user. Being extremely vague in instruction probably prevents misuse and mistreatment as much as it promotes wear and tear towards replacement. Either way, the owner is left to themselves to figure out the proper maintenance. This is where HB.com comes in handy.


I am finding that to be true. Espresso machine service seems to fall under the black arts.