Starting A Coffee Shop: Equipment Needs

So you have decided on starting a coffee shop! Congratulations! In my coffee shop business plan package, I go into more detail regarding equipment but due to space here, I am only going to give you some basic ideas of what to consider when looking at your equipment needs.

First of all, do yourself a favor and DO NOT buy any used equipment unless you know the exact age, where it came from, who used it, and that maintenance records are verifiable. 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 equipment, be VERY careful!

Even if you get it from a friend, you might be assured by them that the equipment was maintained properly and often, however did they get it used and can they get that guarantee from whom they bought it from? And how old really is it?

As you may have guessed, I fell into this trap and had things breaking down when I did not expect it shortly after I opened my coffee shop. Yes even my espresso machine. I was in a bad spot then! Luckily I had access to a one group machine for backup and a local guy was able to fix the other fast but you may not be as lucky.

I eventually upgraded to mostly new equipment when, but this can be avoided by getting new equipment at the start. You will be glad you did it, trust me!

Equipment Needs

Cash register or POS computer? – A computer POS (point of sale) system is good there is no doubt about it. These are the ones that have the touch screen monitors and such. However, they are probably (and arguably) best for analyzing your sales and inventory only, and not much more. They do not speed up your customer line.

If you want one of these guys, be prepared to pay about $5000 for a base system. The price goes up for multiple terminals and printers, monitors, a kitchen printer, etc.

In my opinion though, a POS fast food register that has price look ups (PLU) and department categories is sufficient for most coffee shops. Try to get one that allows you to download the information to your computer. Most have this feature today. It may, however increase your manual inventory and sales tracking if you have to put this info into your accounting software and spreadsheets manually but it can be a big money saver. If you get in the habit of entering the figures daily, you will not have a huge amount of data entry to do at month’s end. You can usually get these types of registers for about $800 or so.
If you end up opening other stores, I think the touch screen computer POS may be the way to go then because it will make your management and inventory control much easier, and you can link all of your stores together and control them from one place.

Espresso Machine

This is the Mack daddy of the whole business, your life blood. DO NOT SKIMP ON IT! However, having said that there is the line of overkill you do not need to cross either. I say, two group maximum, if you need more power or want a backup, get a one group as well.

The feasibility of a three or four group is great but it’s difficult to get more than one person working on them due to spacing of the group heads, etc. Ordinarily, you do not need more than one person pulling shots and making the espresso beverages anyway. It is almost impossible for one barista to use all four groups at one time so you be the judge! However that may be up to debate if you get REALLY busy. However, a two group is always my choice.

There are three basic types of espresso machines: Semi-Automatic, Automatic or Super Automatic. Well My choice is always the automatic because you can program them to cut off a shot at 23 seconds, or whatever you choose but still do it manually. The semi-automatic requires manual shut off by the operator.

The super automatic machine will grind the beans, tamp, pull the shot, shut it off and even discard the used grounds. Yes, I am serious. I believe you lose a lot of ‘art’ when you use one of these. You’d be surprised at the amount of people that love to see a barista set up and then pull a great shot. These super autos are also big bucks. But if all you want to do is move your cattle call through the line, this is the machine for you!

The boiler capacity should be large enough for a big rush, 9-14 liters should be sufficient. You do not want to run out of steam or hot water in a rush and with a smaller boiler that will happen! Trust me on this from experience!

Buy a machine based on the availability to get parts and service locally. Do not buy based on price alone, or ‘coolness’ or ‘features’ of a machine. They are all good these days. Features will not mean anything if you cannot get local service on your machine.

As far as water softeners, the choice to get a whole water system softener is going to depend on where you are located. In central Texas, the water is VERY hard but I chose to not soften my whole water system, just for the espresso machine. If you are not familiar with hard water, this is what causes lime build-up. It’s a white, crusty looking build up that will kill your $5000 or 10,000 espresso machine. It clogs up the piping that in time, builds up to the point of the water not being able to get through. Then your machine needs to be completely taken apart and de-limed. Not pretty and not cheap!

You will most likely have to have a complete de-liming performed several times over the life of your machine, however if your water is very hard and you do not soften it for your espresso machine, you will most likely have to have it de-limed at a minimum of once per year. This will get time-consuming and expensive, even if you learn to do it yourself. I had my one group de-limed for about $900 so do the math. Avoid lime scale build-up by getting a water softener.

Espresso Grinders

You will need one for decaf and one for regular espresso. There are several manufacturers and models. I will tell you though to be sure it’s automatic and has a doser/coffee hopper. They make a doserless model that grinds right into the portafilter and though this is freshly ground espresso, it does not work well in a rush! The units with a hopper allow the hopper to fill with ground espresso and have a lid to keep out the air. The bigger units have a bigger hopper and vice versa. Also, these have a bean hopper that you can get about 2 lbs of espresso beans in.

Bulk Coffee Grinder

These are the types you see in the food store bulk coffee aisle. Be sure to get the full scale version, not the shorter one. The only difference I can see is the taller one is easier to get a bag under to grind beans for customers. The shorter one is not! Try to have one grinder for regular and decaf, and another for flavored coffee if you will serve it. Using the same for all three will make the regular and decaf coffee taste like the flavored coffee. This grinder will need proper maintenance and burr replacement after so many hours as well. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on this.

Coffee Maker (drip)

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.

Pastry Case (refrigerated and non)

There are several different sizes. Take your floor space into consideration but also buy for capacity and visual display. A nice, attractive unit that holds and displays a nice array of pastries is key for merchandising. Dual zone cases are a good idea because they let you have part cold, and part room temperature (dry case) pastries that do not need to be refrigerated.


There are several models to choose from but some have features you just won’t need. Be sure to get a commercial blender. Consumer units do not have the heavy duty types of motors that commercial units have. That means they will break down a lot faster than a commercial one! I would suggest you give Vitamix a look here.

Sandwich Prep Unit

These come in single, double and triple door units. Of course, plan for your overall room but your needs as well. The larger units have more capacity inside the unit, but the bigger plus is the prep top area that has more compartments to put meats, vegetables, etc in. If you are planning on a regular deli and Panini service, I would say the double door unit would be good. You may even get away with the smaller one!

Under Counter Refrigerator

Do yourself a favor and get a double door unit. These are basically like the sandwich prep units but without the top compartments. The inside capacity should be big enough to hold a good portion of your dairy, as well as opened soy cartons, smoothie mix, bottled water and soda (if you do not have a larger unit or merchandiser for water and soda. Plan accordingly.

Storage Refrigerator

This is for the back of your shop. This will be your commercial refrigerator in the back area to house your back stock of refrigerated items such as milk, as well as your baking ingredients, food items, etc. There are double and single door units.

Ice Maker

Getting an ice maker that can make an average of 600-1000 lbs per day is good. It will give you enough and still be able to make more within 24 hours. In a busy shop, you’d be surprised how much ice you can go through: sodas, fruit smoothies, frappes, frozen chai.


You will need one of these to keep your ice cream, and other food ingredients that can and need to be frozen.


Get this based on your baking level. A ¼ size may be too small and a full size may be too big. The median unit is a ½ size and has 3 racks.

Convection oven? Most pastries, pies and other baking can be done well in a convection oven. That is an oven that has a blower wheel that disperses the heat evenly and faster throughout the oven. Therefore your baking time is usually cut in half.

Panini Grill

Cast iron (non-ceramic) with ribbed plates are the better units. With the ribbed, rather than flat plates you will get the ‘grill marks’ on the bread and that always looks impressive. I recommend a double plate unit so you can effectively grill up to four Panini at once if you have a large order

Three Compartment Sink

This will be essential per most health departments for wash, rinse and sanitize. If you have a commercial dishwasher, it usually overrides the 3 bay sink. However, most restaurants have both. You don’t need a big one, just one big enough to get your biggest ‘washable’ piece of baking or cooking hardware into.

Hand Sink(s)

Check your health department requirements because you may need a hand sink every so many feet or based on how many employees you have, or based on your floor plan. These are sinks only big enough to wash your hands in and that is it. That is why they are so small.


Pick and choose what is in between comfortable and not. This will help you avoid squatters that love to stay all day. Ordinarily, people in your store is a good thing but not if they are taking up space and just being comfy! This will include your tables and chairs, as well as couch, wing hairs, etc. If you are an eclectic coffee house, good finds can be had at Goodwill and other resale shops.


Just get one that you can hear when it rings! A cordless phone is a great idea.

Radio System

If u can, get extra speakers and have one in at least all four corners for best sound quality.

Credit Card Machine

This is the swiper w/pin pad – If you accept credit and debit cards, this is essential. Usually they are purchased from your credit card processor. Leasing one of these is usually a rip-off. Try to buy it outright.

Prep Tables

These are stainless steel or aluminum and great to make a kitchen prep area. They clean easily too. They come in various heights and widths, with or without a backsplash and usually have a shelf underneath.

So there you have some information to get you started on planning your equipment needs for staring a coffee shop. Be sure you take your floor space into account when figuring the sizes of your equipment. Also be sure you account for your anticipated customer volume. Early planning is key to having the right equipment to begin with.

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About The Author, Tony Dicorpo
Tony DiCorpo is a coffee shop owner, operator, barista and entrepreneur. He is also a coffee shop business consultant. He has authored many articles on the specialty coffee business and a business plan package that can be found at