Dear Joe,

Do you have more advice on purchasing a used espresso machine?

Anonymous

Dear Reader,

We had a few more questions regarding a previous article on purchasing used equipment. Please allow me to delve a bit further…

Buying a used espresso machine can be a great way to save money, especially with so many on the market; however, they can also lead to a lot of headaches, downtime, trouble and repair bills.  While not foolproof below are some tips to consider when buying a used or reconditioned espresso machine.

Many of the tips are comparable to buying a used car or any other used equipment, but with espresso machines there are some additional considerations.   These considerations  come from some unhappy stories we have seen when people go off and buy a machine before checking with an expert.

1—Know the seller of the machine.  Does the seller have a good business reputation?  Do they know where the machine came from, how it was used and how it was serviced?

2—Storage.  When was the machine last used and how was it stored since?  We had a customer think they got a great deal on a 4-group used espresso machine from a town near the Canadian border.  It was used only a few months and then stored in a garage.  When they got the machine delivered and proceeded to hook the water lines up, water soon flooded, sprayed and poured forth from every seal, line and outlet. 

 Turns out the machine was stored in a garage that was not heated and the water lines were not drained before storage.  Thus in the darkest, coldest days of winter, the water in all the lines, boilers, and exchanger froze and busted the lines and seals.  In the end, it would cost more to repair it than buying a new machine.  Not the bargain they had hoped for.

Conversely heat is not good for the rubber gaskets and seals and, in some cases, electrical parts.  We have had used machines brought to us that have literally torn apart.

3- Water treatment.  I think it’s important to know what water treatments were used on the machine at its previous location and how frequently the filters or cartridges were replaced.  Water treatment is not only important for preparing proper tasting coffee, it is important for the working life of the machine.  Too much foreign matter in the machine can clog lines and seals as well as make the coffee taste bad.  Mineral build up can clog up lines of the machine, affecting the flavor of the coffee.

I remember one machine that at some point, at its previous location, repair work must have been done on the main water lines and soil and sand crept into the machine.  This sand eventually clogged up the steam valve lines and solenoids.  I remember another case where a machine was used in a very hard water or high mineral content environment where the previous owners never changed out the water treatment.  There was so much calcification on the heating element that the machine was rendered useless until the part was replaced.

In both instances, the repairs were so costly the machines were scrapped.

4-Future service.  When buying a used machine or a new one for that matter, I believe it’s important to know  the availability of trained espresso equipment technicians in your area to service the machine in the future as well as helping you with water treatment selections.  A good deal today on a machine, might cost you more in the long run if you have to pay extra for service tech travel or wait on replacement parts.

Having knowledgeable experts near you is an asset to keep your machine operating properly as well as minimizing downtimes should the machine not work.

5-Installation and Initial Service.  Using a qualified technician to look at the machine before you actually purchase it is a good idea, but not always practical.  If you can, ask for service records and the technician from the current owner to speak to about the machine and its condition to obtain some assurances that it is what you are buying.  If that is not practical, talk to your roaster or technician to help determine the condition.

Using a local trained technician to install it and perform the initial periodic maintenance on the machine accomplishes several things:  One is to know the machine is in good working order and preparing your coffee properly.  Second, it helps you develop a relationship with your technician for future service and maintenance.

Yours in coffee,

Josephius A. Graham
Stockton Graham & Co.