Espresso engineers band together

A new co-operative association of coffee machine service mechanics has been formed, in an attempt to provide trade customers with as ‘a national network of highly motivated and passionate local espresso engineers’.

The Association of Independent Espresso Engineers will have about 15 memberb companies, and engineers which will shortly be found through a single portal website, http://www.aiee.org.uk.

The subject of coffee machine servicing has long been a fraught one. The coffee industry has long protested that the subject is too complex to be left to amateurs, and many in the beverage trade say they are quite scared by many caterers’ apparent complete disregard for what are extremely complex machines. There are constant horror-stories of beverage operators buying used espresso machines across the internet and sometimes even hiring domestic plumbers to install them.

When Louie Salvoni created his Espresso Service network in 2006, he estimated 150,000 commercial espresso machines to be in use in the UK, and predicted that with a slowdown in the market for new machines, there would be a rapid increase in the care and maintenance required for those already in the field… yet, he observed, a vast number of caterers give no thought to service back-up. In 2007, Soner Yilmaz of the Coffehouse group was reported as saying he was ‘shocked by the number of unsupported coffee machines that are out in the field’, and Marco Olmi of Drury Tea and Coffee said that many caterers who had tried to buy or install coffee machines on the cheap were ‘quite literally playing with fire’.

There is a constant fight for status in the machine-servicing trade, with certain big machine brands arguing that no independent engineer can compete with their national networks… yet many rivals argue that some ‘national service networks’ are actually contacted-out to those very same independent engineers!

The one thing that the beverage industry is agreed upon is that far too many caterers are risking their businesses by using inadequately-maintained machines. In the words of an American coffee expert : “your coffee machine is your business’s artificial heart – if it stops working, so do you!”

An enthusiastic founder member of the new association is Chris Palmer of Xpress Coffee Commercial, who may himself have been the first supply company to create a podcast to assist machine users with everyday problems: “We built up our own company around customer service, and one day I said that I was repeating myself very often on subjects like machine-cleaning and de-scaling –my wife said why not record it all, and we came up with the idea of the podcast service.

“There has long been an unofficial network of engineers who know each other and help each other out, and we know that the others feel the same way about customer service as we do, because many of us had talked about starting a co-operative. When we know that maybe one guy knows a certain machine inside out, then it makes sense to share that knowledge.”

The new organisation will benefit both customers and engineers, says Palmer.

“The customer will always get more from an independent operator than from a corporate, and some of the independent engineers we work with really are among the tops in the country. From the engineers’ point of view, we all share a lot of common problems – even a short illness can finish a small company overnight, unless you have someone to cover for you.

“So the idea is to promote our services together, but work as a co-operative of independents. We will make the point to clients that we are all proud of being independent engineers… but that we are happy to surround ourselves with other companies who have credibility. It has to be in everyone’s best interests.”

By coincidence, the company which has taken over a large amount of the responsibility for providing Gaggia spares has come up with a similar idea. David Lawlor of Watermark, based in Dublin, has been working on the availability of spares since Gaggia UK went under.
“We’ve gone through all the griping about Gaggia, and got to the point where people are now saying about us – ‘these people are doing the job’. Customers are impressed with the contacts we have made, and we shall probably put together a Gaggia service team. It’s similar to the idea from Xpress, but a coincidence.”

Ends-

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