The Mastrena espresso machine is a coffee lover’s white whale

How much would you spend on a coffee machine?

Starbucks equips their shops exclusively with Mastrena espresso machines by Thermoplan AG. We’ll get to their cost in a moment, but for comparison’s sake, let’s think about what you might spend for your daily caffeine kickstart.

If you’re a college student, maybe you’d skip the cost of a machine entirely and head straight to Starbucks itself. If you do have a coffee machine, it’s probably an inexpensive four-cup unit that costs less than a hundred dollars.

As you grow older and head out into the job market (whatever shape it’s in these days), your need for coffee doesn’t abate but hopefully you can afford to pay a bit more—maybe a couple hundred for a nicer model.

Eventually, you might go full-on coffee snob, sneer at Starbucks and buy an expensive elegant five-star espresso machine.

But would you spend a five-figure sum on an espresso machine? Probably not, but that’s what Starbucks spends on its Mastrena espresso machines. The high price, coupled with an exclusive supply deal, means the Mastrena is as elusive to most coffee lovers as the white whale was to Captain Ahab.

The Mastrena espresso machine

 

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First, let’s review the machine itself.

In the 1990s, Starbucks used a different type of machine, the Linea by La Marzocco. These are standard espresso machines with regular portafilters. They require some expertise to use to their full potential, of course, but they’re nothing that you couldn’t master yourself if you worked up to that level.



Once Starbucks became the all-powerful coffee force that it is today, the company switched to super-automatic machines. While the former espresso machines needed a bit of attention, super-automatics just require you to set the settings, push a button, and away you go.

They brought in the Mastrena from Thermoplan AG. This Swiss coffee machine, the Mastrena CS2, was a super-automatic. It featured a huge hopper on top that could hold an enormous amount of beans—far more than even the most ardent of coffee addicts are likely to use for themselves in one day.

Mastrena CS2 espresso machine for Starbucks
The huge hopper atop the Mastrena CS2 allowed Starbucks to serve espresso in high volumes without a lot of delays to refill and grind the beans. (© mynameisnotcharlie | Creative Commons)

The CS2 also had a built-in burr grinder that could grind beans at a faster rate than you would need for home use. Of course, the unit had a frothing wand attached to it.

Over the past couple of years, a new model called the Mastrena II has begun to replace the Mastrena CS2.

 

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How much does a Mastrena espresso machine cost?

The Mastrena is believed to cost between $15,000 and $17,000. Needless to say, that is more than even the most passionate espresso lover is likely to fork out.

Can you buy a Starbucks espresso machine?

I know what you’re thinking. “If I can just work my way up the corporate ladder, or become a successful entrepreneur, I’ll be able to afford a Mastrena myself!” And perhaps that’s true. But you probably won’t be able to buy one. You’d have to buy Starbucks first. Not just a cup of coffee, mind you, but the whole company. Because under their existing deal, only Starbucks gets to use Mastrenas. This is part of what gives them such an allure, and part of what keeps Starbucks’ rivals from being able to tap into their espresso-making secrets.

So, if you’re hoping to tell your friends you’ve bought a “Starbucks machine,” then your options are limited.



You could go for one of the traditional espresso machines Starbucks used in the ’90s. While they still cost several hundred dollars, at least they’re more attainable than a machine that costs as much as a used car.

Another option is to wait for the Mastrena CS2 to become obsolete and hit the secondary market. As this replacement cycle progresses, used CS2 machines should become available and they will likely cost considerably less than they did when they were new, much like the old Marzocco machines do today.

Why is a Mastrena espresso machine so expensive?

Mastrenas are industrial machines engineered to handle a massive amount of espresso grounds as quickly as possible while still maintaining beverage quality. For most of us, that’s not something we have to worry about. For Starbucks, it is essential to their brand, and so they pay these exorbitant sums. Being the global coffee-making giant that they are, they can afford it.

Starbucks’ deal with Thermoplan AG

Thermoplan AG entered into their present deal with Starbucks in 2008. While they may be a little company nestled in a tiny part of Switzerland, there’s no denying that these machines are big business for them. The company raked in $130 million in 2013 alone from sales of these machines to Starbucks.

Thermoplan AG manufactures machines that distribute coffee to countless millions around the world, but they are actually a relatively small company that employs around 230 people. The town in Switzerland where they are located, Weggis, is also small. It’s home to just a few thousand people.

Weggis, Switzerland, home of AG Thermoplan which builds Mastrena espresso machines for Starbucks
Beautiful scenic view of the small town and mountains in Weggis, Switzerland (© Roger Bieri and Daniel Di Palma | Creative Commons)

A few dozen people among the Thermoplan AG workforce are dedicated to making the machinery faster and better. Most of the other employees are factory workers who assemble the machines. The assembly process takes time, but perhaps not as much as one might think for such a vaunted machine—about eight hours.



The machines are subject to a rigorous testing process before they can be shipped. They must brew at least 100 perfect cups of coffee before they are considered ready to be sent off. (No word on how many of those 100 perfect cups go towards well-deserved coffee breaks for the staff, although that would definitely be quite a “perk.”) Computers help achieve this perfection, standardizing the brewing process for the machines and helping reduce the potential for human error that might spoil your espresso.

So the big secret about Starbucks’ commercial espresso machines is that they are industrially designed for industrial services, and yet from the customer’s perspective, they deliver a fairly intimate latte and espresso-making experience.

From the little company that makes them, to the big revenue they generate, Starbucks’ super-automatic computerized espresso makers provide the multi-billion-dollar coffee conglomerate with priceless efficiency and the taste of success.

Photo at top: © Paul Lloyd | Flickr

6 thoughts on “The Mastrena espresso machine is a coffee lover’s white whale”

  1. Any real coffee professional will be able to tell you that the Mastrena, while impressive for what it is, is NOT a good espresso machine. At all.
    It delivers high speed, consistent coffee but at woefully low quality. It fits the super dark Starbucks roast just fine, there isn’t much in the bean to be extracted. But there are real espresso machines meant for real professionals out there that are in another galaxy when it comes to quality.
    This article is offensive to me.

    Reply
    • Hahahaha, I agree!

      This article just feels like Starbucks shilling.

      Their big secret is actually just pushing a button to make espresso go brrr

      Reply
      • You forgot the Verismo 801. That but piece of machine was crazy, and definitely wasn’t the best superautomatic.

        Regardless of what you think: machines can’t replace and do what people do, and do it better with more consistency.

        As someone who worked with the Lines, Verismo 801, and Verismo 901 (Mastrena), the potential quality of espresso from Mastrena is truly top notch only limited by the beans you’re using, once properly calibrated.

        Reply

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