2- vs. 3-group Comparison

I’ve used both 2 and 3 group espresso machines in casual or training settings, but my only experiences in high-workload periods have been on 2-group machines (Lineas and Slayers). I was discussing yesterday with a co-worker whether, and if so, how, throwing in the additional group would affect (speed up) service.

In my current workflow, my wipe-grind-weigh-distribute-tamp process takes ~35 seconds on average, and it’s rare that I’m puling shots longer than 35-38 seconds – meaning I’m limited by the dosing portion, not the availability of a portafilter to dose into. I can have my two groups operating back to back with a <10 second gap between shots.

It seems to me that adding another group just means there would be a group sitting idle while two are active (even if all three are in use on a rotating basis). Am I wrong about this? Am I just too slow to benefit?

I suppose that with a Strada EE or similar, a third group could allow for an additional profile or such, or on a volumetric machine, it would mean another available setting. Is this the only advantage?

The only other thing I can think of is that a larger machine has larger water capacities, but temp stability has never been an issue on my machines eve when pulling and steaming constantly for 30-60 minute stretches.

What am I missing?
Any input appreciated.

I have also wondered if the third group is worth it. Here are some of the instances where I’ve realized it can be valuable:

  1. Multiple people on the machine. Like, maybe 3 or 4. One dosing & distributing. One starting & stopping all shots. One steaming milk. One pouring art. You gotta be real busy to justify those staff costs tho.

  2. Different profiles for different espressos. Also, depending on how different your roast profiles are, residuals on & around each group’s screen can affect flavor as well.

  3. Having 3 groups can mean that if you have to clean or repair one of them, you still have 2 going.

I am speaking in terms of 2 boiler espresso machines only.

In my experience, 3-groups are very rarely used to the fullest. However I feel that a high volume shop should opt for a 3-group not for it’s shots/hour number but rather the temperature stability. I actually still scratch my head as to why the hot water spigots even exist on an espresso machine. All it does is kill the temp stability and raise energy costs. If I were to open a cafe I’d go with a 2-group and remove the hot water spigot and install a hot water tower. If i expected it to be a high volume cafe I would probably opt for a 3-group and also remove the hot water spigot.

Yes a Strada is sexy as hell but i feel are a bit unnecessary for 80% of cafes. Rebuilding the groups is very labor intensive (sometimes can take hours), which as a tech I don’t mind but as a business owner is overly pricey to repair. So if you must buy a Strada, get a 2 group. Getting a three group with the reasoning of, “if one of the groups goes down, I have a backup” is nonsense. Spend that extra cash towards a proper RO water system and get quarterly PM (preventative maintenance). The steam boiler on a 2 or 3 group will rarely give you issues even with high volumes. The beauty of a double boiler espresso machine is you can adjust the water level and temperature of the steam boiler and it wont adversely effect the coffee boiler.

If you have an automatic dosing grinder (needs to grind fast obviously) and you don’t have to hold onto the portafilter while grinding, then you can shave a few seconds off the time it takes to make 3 espressos, but can the milkman keep up with steaming and pouring?
I saw a modded machine where one group was used for tea exclusively.

We have a 3 group at our shop. The extra group is rarely needed, but it can be useful at times. Mainly, you have a 3rd hot portafilter which can be dosing while the other groupheads are running. Though we seldom need to, it is possible to have the pump running continuously by cycling through groupheads.

The biggest benefit is if you are running long shot times (likely due to lower pressure). If your shots are 40 seconds, it gets a lot easier to outpace the machine.

The decision to go with 3 group machines is usually tied to larger steam boiler capacity, and rarely because of a need for a 3rd group.
There are some that use all 3 groups most of the day with 2 baristas on staff, though. They can do some pretty hectic volume.

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we use a 2 group machine and find that simply adding a 3rd portafilter allows us to prepare the next dose while the others are running. this means the person making shots is continually busy, no waiting.
Yes there’s some heat management required but it really does improve our speed of service.