Starting a Small to Medium Cafe

by Whole Latte Love Updated: March 11, 2019 8 min read
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So, you have decided to start a coffee shop! Congratulations! First of all, do yourself a favor and do not buy any used equipment unless it is from a factory-authorized outlet. I am only referring to anything with a motor or compressor. Used sinks, tables, counters, etc are fine as long as they are in decent shape. All other refurbished equipment, should be purchased through a reputable retailer.

We have a stringent inspection and repair process in place, at Whole Latte Love, to ensure that you won’t be buying someone else’s headache.

You should purchase different types of equipment based on the size of your café. When choosing equipment, you’ll want to base your decision on your drink volume. I owned four cafes for over ten years and would like to offer my candid advice on the equipment selection process.

Equipment Needs

Espresso Machine

This is the core of the whole business; do not skimp on it. However, having said that going overboard isn’t necessary either. Two-group machines are adequate for many moderately sized coffee shops. Three or four group machines are nice to have if you get a big rush or people during peak periods. With a busy coffee shop you’ll want a three-group machine one person to pull shots and another to steam milk. Most often, you do not need more than one person pulling shots and making the espresso drinks anyway. Two of the four stores I owned had two-group machines and they were producing about 25 cups an hour at peak times. You’ll have no problem keeping up with a two-group espresso machine, as long as you’re doing fewer than 50 drinks an hour. In my experience using a four-group machine is only needed if you’re expecting to do a 100 cups or more an hour.

There are two basic types of espresso machines: semi-automatic and super automatic units. Most commercial semi-automatic machines are programed to always dispense the same amount of water when pulling espresso shots. My choice is always the semi-automatic because you can program the shots to shut off at 25 to 28 seconds, or whatever you choose but still be able to do it manually. The semi-automatic, require manual shut off by the operator. A super automatic machine will grind the beans, tamp, pull the shot, shut it off and even discard the used grounds. I would recommend for a small café that’s doing about a 100 drinks or so a day, that you look at a semi automatic two group espresso machine.

The boiler capacity should be large enough for a big rush, 9-14 liters should be sufficient. With a smaller boiler you could run out of steam or hot water in a rush. Trust me, you don’t want that to happen!

Buy a machine based on availability to get parts and service. Do not buy based on price alone. Features will not mean anything if you cannot get quality service on your machine. We offer technical support and service here, at Whole Latte Love. That was one of the hardest things as an owner, to have your equipment go down and have no one there to help you with service.

The coffee your espresso machine produces is only as good as the water that goes into it. Having top quality beverages is critical to any business serving high-end coffee. As far as water softeners, go, the choice to get a water softener system is going to depend on how hard the water is where you are located. You’ll need a filtering system wherever you are. Adding a softener and filtering system will also increase the life of your espresso machine.

Espresso Grinders

You will need one grinder for decaf and another for regular espresso. There are several manufacturers and models out there to choose from. I would choose a grinder based on the ease of training your staff. We have both doser and doserless grinders, available.

The doser grinder will grind espresso into a hopper and dose out of the hopper. This is good when you have a rush of people in line and you need to pull a lot of shots quickly. When it’s slow you should only grind your espresso to order. Most commercial grinders will work for either a small or busy café. Here is a link to a doser grinder I would recommend.

The doserless grinder will dose directly into the portafilter. Although this is, an easier process, in a rush you’ll have a hard time keeping up with the customers needs. These machines are programmable and dose one shot at a time. The doserless grinder is great when training employees on how to pull shots.

Bulk Coffee Grinder

When shopping for a grinder I would look to purchase one that you can use to grind regular and decaf coffee: a dual-hopper grinder is the best for this purpose. I’d take a look at the Fetco and Bunn dual-hopper grinders. Both of these grinders would work in a small, medium, or large café.

Fetco GR2 Dual Hopper

  • The GR2 is currently available in models with 2 or 3 batch-size buttons per side to let you grind small, medium or large portions.
  • A digital timer control makes the GR2 fully automatic, enabling it to grind a full batch from start to finish using a single button.
  • Each of the grinder’s clear plastic bean hoppers hold up to 5 lbs of coffee, and can be removed for quick cleaning, refilling or to swap in other bean hoppers.
  • A powerful 0.67HP motor ensures the GR2 is ready for continuous use, and a built-in thermal breaker ensures that the motor won’t overheat.
  • The GR2's grind settings can be adjusted easily and precisely as needed, so you can grind at almost any level of fineness.
  • This Fetco Grinder features an adjustable brew basket that will accommodate 7” to 9” filter baskets.
  • NSF and UL approvals ensure compliance with health code regulations.
  • The dimensions are: 29"H x 9”W x 16”D

Bunn BrewWISE Multi-Hopper Coffee Grinder

  • The Multi-Hopper Grinder is available in a black or stainless steel finish.
  • Each Smart Hopper has a programmable built-in microchip, to remember the type of beans in the container and automatically communicate specific grind settings to the grinder.
  • With 6 adjustable batch sizes and programmable coffee recipes, this Bunn grinder can automatically grind any amount of coffee from start to finish at the press of a button.
  • Using a microchip in the Smart Funnel coffee filter basket, the Multi-Hopper Grinder can transfer your preferred settings to any BrewWISE component, including the ThermoFresh brewers.
  • With a 0.75HP motor and high-grade precision burr, the Multi-Hopper Grinder is one of the most powerful grinders available.
  • Bunn’s interchangeable, front-loading Smart Hoppers holds up to 6 lbs of coffee each, and their lock-tight lids makes them ideal for coffee storage when not being used.
  • NSF and ETL approved for health department compliance.
  • Dimensions of this grinder are: 29.1”H x 9.36”W x 17.5”D

Grind Fresh

It’s very important that you purchase a grinder so that you can grind and brew for every order. I would never grind out coffee ahead of brewing. Doing so will spoil the coffee, by removing the moisture, and give your beverage a bad taste. So if you go into a coffee shop and you see that they are grinding the coffee ahead of brewing, turn around and walk out and find a place that is brewing to order. By grinding to order you’ll be giving the customer the best tasting coffee.

After running four cafes and setting up multiple wholesale accounts I have found Bunn and Fetco equipment to be very dependable. They are also user friendly to allow you to train, your employees with ease. The grinders were reliable and performed with no issues for many years. You can check out our website for additional grinder options; we have a nice selection that you can choose from.

So now we have broken down what it takes to own your own coffee shop, we have figured out what grinders are recommended for your cafe, now it comes to what coffee machines you should be using. 

Drip Coffee Maker 

Coffee makers are tricky, in my experience it’s best to purchase a brewing system based on the type of business you’re trying to open.

Be sure to buy for your volume. Automatics are best as they are plumbed to a water line. Pour over units will you need to fill manually! The air pot brewers are the better fits because they brew the coffee directly into the air pots. There are single unit models and double unit models. You will save a lot of time especially in a rush, with a double brew unit.

Over the years of roasting coffee and setting up wholesale accounts I have installed tons of coffee equipment. Here are some of the brewing systems I installed and how I feel they best fit the application being used.


You can either purchase a pour over brewer like the Yama Silverton Dripper or a Yama Hunter Cold Brew Coffee Maker . Both of these brewers would be able to keep up in a heavy rush. When things are slow you can scale down the amount of coffee being brewed, so that you’re not throwing any away.

Small Cafe

It’s important that you choose a brewer that’s based on the volume.  Make sure that you purchase extra airpots. With a small café I had two pots of regular, one for decaf and one for flavored. I always had a back up airpot just in case one started leaking and I needed to repair it. I always choose Bunn brewers for my stores. 

Large Cafes

When choosing a brewing system for a large café you’ll want to keep in mind the same principles. It will be based on the volume of cups you’re planning on selling. In my experience with owing a large café selling about 300 cups a day I’d say the bigger brewers are what you should be looking at. I’d also look into purchasing some back up airpots. I had three pots for regular coffee, two for decaf and three for flavored. The two large cafes I owned I used the Bunn BrewWISE Single ThermoFresh Brewer. I purchased extra airpots to support me when I got busy. I’d also keep in mind to have extra pots in case one breaks down.

Let me know if you need any assistance with picking out a brewer. I set up a lot of different coffee brewers over the years and have a lot of knowledge on what type of brewers would best fit different applications.

Thanks for reading through this how-to and being apart of the WholeLatteLove comunity conversation!