How Many Espresso Group Heads Do You Need?

Post by: Tim Lee
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Most businesses need 2 group heads to accommodate foot traffic of fewer than 300 people. Anyone serving 300–500 cups daily will need 3. And those who serve more than 600 people will need 4. There’s more to choosing a machine than the number of group heads. Keep reading to learn more.

how many espresso group heads do i need

As a former business owner, I want to optimize my entity’s productivity in any way possible. A coffee shop owner would do so by picking the right number of group heads for their espresso machine.

Having the correct number of group heads ensures you can serve large amounts of folks quickly. This is critical to maintaining returning customers. I will explain the ideal number of group heads based on different business types.

Here is an overview what we will talk about:

Read on to figure out the number of group heads you’ll need.

Key Takeaways

  • Coffee shops should strive for at least 3 group heads.
  • Businesses should stick with 1-group super-automatic espresso machines.
  • Bars, restaurants, & bakeries should use 1 group head.
  • Group heads are the component responsible for delivering hot water to coffee beans.

How Many Group Heads Do I Need for a Commercial Espresso Machine?

The following sections will explain how many group heads you should use for different business types based on their foot traffic.

# of Group Heads1234
Cups per Day Served<5050–300300–500>600

Here’s a breakdown of how many group heads you will need for a commercial espresso machine:

  • Coffee shops:
    • <300 cups/day: 2-group
    • 300–500 cups/day: 3-group
    • >600 cups/day: 4-group
  • Bars & Restaurants: 1-group
  • Offices: Super-automatic or capsule espresso machines (1-group)
  • Bakery: 1-group

I recommend reading the following sections to learn more about why you need each group head amount.

1. Coffee Shop or Café

On average, small coffee shops sell around 230 cups daily, warranting 3 group heads (3-group espresso machine) [1]. For comparison, an average Starbucks sells at least 600 cups daily and requires a 4-group machine.

If you sell fewer than 300 cups daily, opt for 2 group heads. 300 to 500 cups per day sold will require 3 group heads.

Don’t opt for a 1-group espresso machine in any scenario. They won’t scale well with your business and require much time to brew each cup. And the longer customers spend waiting for cups, the less likely they’ll return.

What if you are starting out?

It depends on your location, estimated foot traffic, and budget. If you have a low budget, opt for 2 group heads. Those with a bit more to spend and who estimate a decent amount of traffic should at least use 3 group heads.

And if you estimate you will churn drinks frequently and have a big war chest to spend on an espresso machine, opt for a 4-group. Better to be safe than sorry.

Perhaps you are not serving strictly coffee.

2. Bar or Restaurant

Whether you are making Irish Coffee or want to serve a pick-me-up, you may do 10 to 50 espresso drinks daily. This number of drinks would call for a single group head (1-group). Considering you are a bar, you likely won’t have many folks ordering coffee.

The next part will focus on a more professional environment.

3. Office

Get one group head if you opt for a semi-automatic espresso machine in your office if it has a café. Get 3 group heads if you have 300 team members who will want coffee during their lunch breaks.

In most scenarios, businesses will get super-automatic, automatic, and capsule espresso machines for offices. They brew coffee much quicker, have minimal cleanup, and don’t take long to heat up.

Considering each person will hover around the espresso machine, it won’t likely have space around it to accommodate multiple people brewing espresso.

Don’t use a semi-automatic espresso maker in an office unless it’s in a café and under watch from a trained barista. These machines require a bit of skill and manual effort to work. Effort that will slow your business’ workflow.

One more area to cover.

4. Bakery

A bakery will likely need a one-group espresso machine. They’ll probably sell fewer than 50 espresso drinks daily in a medium- or large-sized city. You may sell around 20 cups daily if based in a town.

What is a group head

What Is a Group Head on an Espresso Machine?

espresso machine group head
How Many Espresso Group Heads Do You Need? 3

A group head is a part of an espresso machine that delivers hot water to the coffee grounds in the portafilter. It’s located on the front of the device and made of metal or plastic. Metal ones will distribute heat better.

The group head holds the portafilter. The portafilter is the part of the machine that holds the coffee grounds and used to extract the espresso. It also has a showerhead. This small, perforated disc distributes the hot water evenly over the coffee grounds.

Machines will have different types of group heads. A couple examples include:

  • E61 group head: The most common type of group head & known for its consistent temperature & durability [2].
  • Saturated group head: Less expensive than an E61 group head, but it’s not as consistent with temperature.

If you want a machine that will produce consistently high-quality espresso, then an E61 group head is a good option. If you are on a budget, a saturated group head works better.

More things to consider when choosing a group head for your espresso machine include:

  • Number of group heads: If you are a high-volume coffee shop, then you will need a machine with multiple group heads.
  • Size of the group heads: The size of the group heads will affect the amount of espresso that you can make at one time.
  • Ease of cleaning: The group heads should be easy to clean to prevent the build-up of coffee oils & residues.

Group heads aren’t the only part of an espresso machine responsible for speed. There’s also the time it takes to heat a machine. The boiler type will determine this. Machines with dual boilers will heat the quickest and allow for simultaneous coffee brewing and milk frothing. But they cost the most.

We explain the differences among all the boiler types in a separate piece.

The number of steam wands your machine has shouldn’t impact your speed too much. If you have a single barista, it will prove impossible for them to use more than 1 steam wand simultaneously.

Let’s discuss the number of group heads on a given machine.

Different Numbers of Group Heads Compared

The numbers before the word group determine the number of group heads on a machine. For instance, a 4-group machine will include 4 group heads.

Any device having more than 1 group head will have 2 steam wands. These are essential for producing microfoam for drinks like cappuccinos.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into group head number comparisons:

Number of group heads1234
Espresso capacity1 shot2 shots3 shots4 shots
PriceMost affordableMore expensiveMost expensiveMost expensive
Ease of useEasiest to useMore complexMore complexMost complex
Maintenance requirementsLeast maintenanceMore maintenanceMore maintenanceMost maintenance

An espresso machine rental business said that more than 70% of their rentals went out to companies who needed 2-group machines [3]. This data suggests that most businesses use 2 group heads.

Opt for a 3- or 4-group machine if your business has the extra budget. It will scale well with your company and prepare you for events (e.g., conventions). You must make a good impression during these times, and you can’t let having fewer group heads slow down your productivity.

In addition to owning machines with multiple group heads, you must clean them.

How to Clean a Group Head

What You Will Need:

  • Blind filter
  • Espresso machine cleaning solution
  • Microfiber rag

Time to Clean: 10–20 minutes

Follow these steps to clean each of your espresso machine group heads:

  1. Remove the portafilter from the group head.
  2. Insert a blind filter into the portafilter.
  3. Add a few drops of espresso machine cleaner to the blind filter.
  4. Lock the portafilter into the group head.
  5. Turn on the espresso machine & activate the brew cycle for 10–15 seconds.
  6. Turn off the espresso machine & allow the pressure to release.
  7. Remove the portafilter & discard the blind filter.
  8. Rinse the portafilter with hot water.
  9. Repeat steps 4–9 two more times to make sure that all the cleaning solution is gone.

Once finished, dry your portafilter with a microfiber rag. Use this specific type of rag to prevent lint or other debris from getting on your machine’s components.

FAQs for Group Heads

Read on to find frequently asked questions about espresso machines for businesses and group heads.

What Brands Make Commercial Espresso Machines?

Brands that make commercial espresso machines include Gaggia, Astoria, La Marzocco, La San Marco, and Cecilware.


For businesses serving less than 300 customers, it’s recommended to use an espresso machine with 2 group heads. However, if you want to prepare for busy events or rushes and ensure returning customers, consider using a machine with 3 or 4 group heads.

Do you need help finding an espresso machine? Check out our buying guide.

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Tim Lee is, as you might have guessed the founder of He is a former barista and a professional web publisher. He has now combined his knowledge and expertise in both subjects to create
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