Small Coffee Shop Faces Huge Expenses: The Struggle of a Barista

Cafe and roastery owners have been scrutinising their electricity bills more closely than ever over the past two years, in the face of an ongoing global energy crisis. Rocketing energy prices particularly affect cafe and restaurant owners, since they typically use five to seven times more energy per square foot than most other commercial buildings (Beals 2018).

While electricity and gas prices have come down somewhat from the dizzying heights they attained last winter, the crisis is not over — and there may yet be worse to come (Keating 2023).

When global events restrict the supply of fossil fuels on the world market, the big energy companies, bafflingly, make more money than ever. The oil and gas industry already rakes in US$3bn profit day to day (Carrington 2022). The cartel-like behaviour of the big energy companies amounts to price-fixing on a colossal scale, and a global shock to the energy markets simply presents another excuse to ratchet up prices higher still.

Meanwhile, at the first sign of a correction in energy prices, governments in the UK and elsewhere have already begun rowing back on the windfall taxes and other measures that were supposed to curtail the rampant profiteering in the sector.

With Russia’s botched invasion of Ukraine dragging on, and the price-gouging by major energy companies continuing seemingly unchecked, the coming winter in the Northern hemisphere will be a hard one, for both businesses and consumers.

For most business owners, the past year has already been traumatic.

“In 2016 our electricity bill was about £400 a month and I used to think that was a lot,” says Joe Meagher, owner of Tiny Tiny (formerly known as Flat Caps) in Newcastle.  “It crept up year on year as we grew, until last year it was around £1200 per month. Our contract was up in November and the best deal available was £4,600 per month.”

Faced with the risk that prices may rise again, cafe owners are trying to find new ways to reduce their energy usage. For most, the many significant contributor to their bills is the espresso machine. In a busy cafe, the machine might draw 26 kWh per day (Salinas 2008), more than three times the entire electricity consumption of the typical household in the UK (Ofgem 2023).

The cost of running a coffee machine can be significant for home baristas, too: one study estimates that coffee machines can be responsible for a bigger proportion of a household’s electricity utilize than the oven or the fridge (Nipkow and Bush 2006).

The Inefficiency of an Espresso Machine

The problem is that heating up water takes the majority of energy, and traditional espresso machines are highly inefficient. Their large, uninsulated boilers lose a huge amount of heat to the atmosphere. Furthermore, the thermosyphon at the heart of lots of classic machines requires heat loss at the grouphead in order to work.

Even a small change in machine design can reduce energy utilize substantially. In one study, just insulating a machine’s boiler reduced its energy work with by 38% (Westerdahl 2012), while modern machine designs with smaller, PID-controlled boilers, insulation, and clever heat recovery systems, can reduce energy utilize even further.

A Cafe Racer, the espresso machine used at Tiny Tiny. According to Sanremo UK (2020), this espresso machine saves energy compared with traditional machines thanks to its insulated, PID-controlled boilers, however still consumes a substantial amount of energy when left idle.

Being careful how you use the machine can help, too. Using less water to purge the groups between shots, for example, can reduce energy utilize considerably. For home baristas, turning the machine off when not in work with can save a lot of energy. Even in machines with auto shut-off, the energy spent keeping the machine hot far outweighs the energy spent creating coffee (Bush et al 2009).

Turning the machine off between shots isn’t an choice for a cafe, however — even though it may be useful to turn the espresso coffee machine off overnight. Any coffee machine in a cafe requires to be kept hot all day, ready to brew at a moment’s notice, and this ‘idle time’ is where many brewing device wastes the the majority of energy.

Tone It Down

“It takes roughly the same amount of power to heat the water for brewing, no issue what kind of brewer you use. It’s the energy utilize when you’re not brewing that you need to take care of,” explains Gordon Howell, product developer at coffee device maker TONE. “Most espresso coffee machines — and definitely a lot of brewers — have no insulation, so the loss of temperature per hour is huge.”

European Commision scientific research study backs this up, saying that the amount of energy an espresso coffee machine uses to brew coffee is ‘of little relevance’ in calculating the overall energy efficiency of a machine. About three-quarters of the energy consumption of average coffee machines goes to keeping them hot or on standby mode (Bush et al 2009).

Tone’s latest models of brewer use boilerless technology to slash their energy consumption while idle

“What does it cost to run that machine that’s doing nothing? Even if you turn it off, you’ve got litres of hot water sitting there doing nothing, never mind the effect of this stagnant water on the taste of the coffee the next day,” Gordon says.

This applies to both espresso coffee machines and batch brewers — particularly those machines that utilize hot plates to keep coffee warm. Not only are these terrible for the flavour of the coffee, but they likewise use more energy than brewing the coffee in the first place (Kreitz et al 2011).

Cafe owners like Joe have not often prioritised energy-efficiency in the past, when deciding what tool to buy. “I’ve always looked for the perfect device to produce the perfect coffee I can, and until lately the energy consumption was a distant thought,” Joe says. “I am, nevertheless, on the hunt for a second espresso coffee machine. One thing I will undoubtedly be asking is about energy consumption and efficiency when creating my purchase decision.”

Scrapping the Boiler

Under pressure for both environmental and financial reasons, manufacturers are scrambling to find new ways to make brewing tool more efficient. One of the a lot of promising avenues is boilerless machines, which are built around flow heaters.

A flow heater can heat small volumes of water really quickly. Flow heaters consist of a narrow water pipe passing through a special type of flat heating aspect spoken about as a thick film heater.

Until recently, flow heaters have been primarily connected with the smallest home espresso machines, but as the technology improves they have started to appear in higher-end equipment such as the Decent or Unica Pro. The first commercial boilerless espresso machine, the Heylo, is currently in the early stages of production.

The key advantage of a flow heater is that you no longer need to keep a large volume of water hot between making each shot. This significantly cuts down on the amount of energy the machine uses while idle. Since the Heylo machines can fully heat up in literally 5 minutes, according to this interview with John Gordon, there’s also much less barrier to turning the machine off overnight, or even during quiet times of day.

Tone’s latest models of batch brewer, the Touch 03 and Touch 04, also include flow heaters, which greatly reduces their energy use and enables them to heat up in simply a few seconds. “When the machine is idle it only has to power 4 LED lights” Gordon Howell points out. “We estimate that the total energy utilize while the machine is idle is basically 0.03W — far less than any other machine.”

Brewing More With Less

Using a flow heater has other advantages — one of which is the ability to alter the water temperature rapidly during brewing. The Heylo and Decent espresso machines both exploit this to allow temperature profiling. With Tone batch brewers, the barista can switch between different temperatures to brew different kinds of tea, for example, or create a cold-brewed coffee recipe that begins with a hot blooming stage.

This precise level of control over the brewing parameters gives baristas another way to reduce their costs and their impact on the environment, Gordon Howell says — utilizing less coffee.

“The flow heater is not just about energy saving — it’s designed to give the user precise control over the extraction, to get higher, better yields, so there’s scope for utilizing less coffee,” Gordon says. With a higher extraction yield, you don’t need as much coffee to achieve the same brew strength, he explains, saying: “we are confident we can get extractions above 23% that tastes good. That’s a substantial shift from the norm of hitting 19–21%.”

Reducing the amount of coffee used in each brew will save cafe owners a small amount of money, but it likewise has knock-on impacts on the whole coffee supply chain. Utilizing less coffee will reduce emissions, save water, and reduce the pressure on vulnerable habitats such as tropical forests that might otherwise be cleared to grow more coffee. “We have to treat coffee as a scarce resource that callsfor energy to produce it throughout the supply chain,” Gordon says. “As device manufacturers we focus on our part of that, but we’re likewise looking at the impact of the approach to brewing on the whole supply chain.”

Batch Brewed Espresso coffee

While espresso machines are getting more efficient all the time, a small company in Los Angeles referred to as Bar Nine has taken things a step further by dispensing with the espresso coffee machine altogether. Instead, at their cafes, they serve only batch-brewed espresso.

To supply their cafes, they make the espresso coffee offsite in large batches and store it in fridges in oxygen-free bottles. The exact details of the brewing method, known as Pure Espresso, remains a closely-guarded secret until their patent is approved.

Bar Nine’s cafes are kitted out with milk steamers, so all the barista has to do to make a latte is steam some milk and pour it into the espresso. If a customer orders a straight espresso coffee, the barista steams it to heat it up.

“Shots out of the bottle have that wonderfully zippy quality you would expect from a freshly pulled shot,” claims Zayde Al-Naquib, the company’s co-founder.

Bar Nine’s cafes are equipped with steam wands, however no espresso machine.

While we haven’t yet had the chance to taste their espresso ourselves, the recipe is certainly intriguing, particularly for cafes that serve many mixed coffee drinks. “Here in Los Angeles, most our drinks are iced,” Zayde says. “The bar fridge is the only thing taking up electrical energy for those drinks.”

Since they needs to work with energy to brew the espresso coffee in the first place, a lot of the overall energy savings of the recipe comes down to efficient use of the device and the beans. “We don’t need to dial in or purge our grinders, run cleaning cycles throughout the day, or dispose of shots that were not to spec,” Zayde says. “In our own coffee bars, we used to waste around 2 pounds of coffee for espresso coffee daily once you factored all that in. Beyond the ingredient waste, that’s energy being used in a way that for us is no longer necessary.”

“Another simply big element for us is water usage,” Zayde continues. “When we dial in espresso coffee normally, we are purging through those groups more than double the water we need for any given extraction just by rinsing the group head.”

“All of the water used in that method would normally come from a Reverse Osmosis system which itself wastes the majority of water. In a state where we are often in a drought, any water savings can be huge.”

Incremental Changes

Not every cafe will be in a position to do away with the espresso machine, or will have the budget to switch their existing machine out for new technology. Seemingly small changes can have a big impact on energy use, but, reducing both the financial and the environmental cost of doing business.

To find out which changes will have the most impact, Joe suggests hiring a professional. “We had someone come out and assess our business and where we were using energy inefficiently. They gave us a report that detailed the cost to replace what we essential to, but also showed when we would see the return on that investment. The best thing was the service was free and provided by the local authority,” he says. “One of the big things for us at Tiny Tiny was the light bulbs. To replace them all with LED versions that looked truly as good however used less energy cost us hundreds of pounds — nevertheless we crafted that money back in a issue of months.”

Zayde indicates that business owners question every technique they have in place, and look for small wins. “A lot of systems in place in cafes are there because that’s how we’ve been doing it for a long time,” he points out. “Try weighing out milk before steaming it, finding ways to incorporate batch service, even things like reflective paint on roofing that reflect light and heat to reduce the need for air conditioning. There is no element too small to consider.”

Feeling the Heat: How Cafes are Tackling the Global Energy Crisis

Hey there, coffee lovers! Have you ever wondered how much energy your favorite café uses to brew that wonderful cup of joe? Well, with the ongoing global energy crisis, café and roastery owners are now paying more attention to their electricity bills than ever before. It’s a hot topic (pun intended) due to the truth that cafes and restaurants typically utilize five to seven times more energy per square foot than the majority of other commercial buildings. Yikes!

The Big Squeeze

While we’ve seen a bit of relief from those sky-high energy prices we experienced last winter, the crisis is far from over. And with global events like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affecting fossil fuel supplies, things could get even tougher. The big energy companies seem to be creating a killing during these times, raking in around US$3bn profit everyday! Talk about cashing in on a crisis.

And simply when you thought things might be looking up with governments introducing windfall taxes and other measures to curb this profiteering, they’re already backpedaling at the first sign of price corrections. It seems like it’s going to be another long winter for both businesses and consumers.

“In 2016 our electricity bill was about £400 a month and I used to think that was a lot,” says Joe Meagher, owner of Tiny Tiny in Newcastle. “It crept up year on year as we grew until last year it was around £1200 per month.”

The Espresso coffee Machine: A Power-Hungry Beast

In an attempt to cut costs, café owners are trying new ways to reduce their energy usage. The greatest culprit? The espresso machine – it can draw 26 kWh each day in a busy café, more than three times the entire electricity consumption of an average UK household. Even home baristas aren’t off the hook; coffee machines can utilize more energy than your oven or fridge.

However why are espresso machines such energy hogs? Well, it turns out heating water takes many energy and traditional espresso coffee machines are notoriously inefficient. Their large, uninsulated boilers lose a ton of heat to the atmosphere. But don’t despair! Even small changes like insulating a machine’s boiler can reduce its energy work with by 38%.

Turning Down the Heat

So how can we make our beloved coffee machines more efficient? Gordon Howell, product developer at coffee tool maker TONE, has some insights: “It’s the energy use when you’re not brewing that you need to take care of,” he explains. “Most espresso machines — and definitely the majority of brewers — have no insulation, so the loss of temperature per hour is huge.”

And it’s not just about turning off your machine when it’s not in use. The ‘idle time’ – when brewing equipment is kept hot and ready to brew at any moment – is where many energy waste happens.

A New Brew on the Horizon

In response to environmental and financial pressures, manufacturers are exploring new ways to make brewing device more efficient. One promising solution is boilerless machines built around flow heaters which heat small volumes of water really quickly. This gets rid of the need to keep large volumes of water hot between shots, drastically reducing idle energy usage.

“When the machine is idle it only has to power 4 LED lights,” says Gordon Howell from TONE about their latest models with flow heaters. “We estimate that the total energy work with while the machine is idle is basically 0.03W — far less than any other machine.”

Doing More with Less

Flow heaters don’t just save energy; they also offer precise control over brewing parameters, allowing baristas to work with less coffee. “The flow heater is not basically about energy saving — it’s designed to give the user precise control over the extraction, to get higher, better yields,” Gordon explains. This not only saves café owners money nevertheless also reduces emissions, saves water, and eases pressure on habitats that might otherwise be cleared for coffee cultivation.

A Radical Approach: Batch Made Espresso coffee

While espresso coffee machines are becoming more efficient, a small company in Los Angeles known as Bar Nine has taken things a step further by ditching the espresso coffee machine altogether. Instead, they make their espresso offsite in large batches and store it in oxygen-free bottles in fridges. Intriguing? Absolutely! However we’ll have to wait until their patent is approved to know more about this process discussed as Pure Espresso.

Small Changes Make Big Differences

Not every café can afford to switch out their existing machines or ditch them completely. However even small changes can have a big impact on energy utilize. Joe Meagher from Tiny Tiny means hiring a professional to assess your business’s energy usage: “They gave us a report that detailed the cost to replace what we necessary however likewise showed when we would see the return on that investment.”

Zayde Al-Naquib from Bar Nine advises questioning every procedure and looking for small wins: “Try weighing out milk before steaming it, finding ways to incorporate batch service… There is no element too small to consider.”

In these challenging times, it’s heartening to see how café owners are innovating and adapting. So next time you sip your favorite brew at your local café, spare a thought for the energy that went into creating it and the efforts being brewed to keep it sustainable. After all, we all want our coffee fix to be around for a long time, right?