Building a coffee van

1st January 2019

Having your own coffee van business – there’s nothing better in life! The freedom of working your own hours, being your own boss, making beautiful coffee every day, meeting new people and flexibility to travel.

These are the things you might be thinking before you start your own coffee business, but I can tell you from experience, having a mobile coffee van isn’t as luxurious as it sounds.

Standing in the pouring rain, working 20 hour shifts, hazardous winds blowing coffee everywhere, espresso machines freezing during the winter months, trenching through mud when you’ve run out of milk, sleeping in tents for 6 months of the year, waking up at 4 am on a regular basis: These are all things you will have to do if you’re intending to start a mobile coffee business.

Although there are shit times, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve always been a hard worker and love a new challenge, just like everyone here at Routes Coffee. So if you are like us, then let’s build a coffee van.

I’m pretty sure everyone has the dream of using a classic split screen Volkswagen campervan as the shell to a coffee van, but hey, who has £20k to spend on an unreliable van. Why not get on eBay and see what’s on offer. If you didn’t know, you can turn almost any vehicle into a coffee van. I’ve seen Range Rovers, Minis, Tuk Tuks, Piaggio vans, double-decker buses, you name it, it has been done. Try and be original, think outside the box. Event organisers want originality. They want a mobile coffee cart that is unique and will stand out from the crowd.

Our little beauty is a 1989 Bedford Rascal. I was steaming milk at an old job when I stumbled across this little van. £500 on eBay, low mileage, few bits of rust and a good engine… what a steal. With the initial low price, we could afford to give the van a full makeover. The rascal was stripped down, de-rusted and re-sprayed in its original pastel green and cream colours. The engine was re-built and many parts replaced. Looked as if it had just rolled out of the factory back in 1989!

Designing the interior was my favourite part of building the coffee van. A good layout is key for any mobile espresso bar. We needed to make sure everything fitted and workflow was efficient. Once decided, the woodwork was fairly simple, you’ll find attachments and holes in the main body of most vans, which you can use as the support to strengthen your framework. If you are unsure/ not naturally skilled with a wood saw, you could seek professional guidance, or just call Jim (co-founder of Routes Coffee), he was born to be a carpenter.

So what is the best equipment for a coffee van? This is a question we get asked all the time. Machine preferences are different from person to person, but what is it you need from an espresso machine to make a good cup of coffee?

I always recommend La Marzocco Linea Classics. Simple design, consistent brew pressure, the stable temperature in hot or cold conditions and an absolute dream to work on. These machines are leaders in the industry, affordable and can be modified to run on less electrical wattage, which is ideal for events which don’t offer a large amount of power.

Victoria Arduino Mythos coffee grinders are our go-to grinder. Temperature controlled burrs for an even grind size and consistent particle distribution. We’ve smashed out 30kg days on these grinders with no issues, just beautiful tasting brews.

Just because you might be serving coffee in the middle of a field doesn’t mean you can get away with making shit coffee. I’m sure there is already enough shit in that field without you adding to it. What’s the point of building a coffee van if you’re not going to care about your product? We’re starting to see the standard of coffee at events overtake coffee served in shops. So there are no excuses, love what you do, or do something else.

Other bits of kit we recommend for a banging brew.

(All available to buy through us)

CTU water filter
Flow jet
Tiamo pitcher rinser
Professional barista kits (tamp, tamp mat, milk jugs, scales)
Marco water boiler
Routes Coffee t-shirt (optional)

Now you’ve got your mobile coffee van, go and have some fun!

If you would like to purchase wholesale coffee beans or would like any further information or guidance on building your coffee van, please don’t hesitate to call one of us or email [email protected], we will do our best to help!

Follow the journey @routescoffee

Our favourite coffee

We accurately micro-roast our own speciality coffee on a Giesen Coffee Roaster in Oxford, using sustainably sourced green beans.

More coffee blogs

Latte Art: Heidi Philip-Smith’s 10 Top Tips
Latte Art: Heidi Philip-Smith’s 10 Top Tips

My name is Heidi Philip-Smith and I'm a 3x UK Latte Art finalist & 2017 World Latte Art competitor. I have been lucky enough to work with some of the UK’s leading latte artists including 6x UK champ Dhan Tamang and ‘latte art ... Read more

The Beginning of Routes Coffee Roasters
The Beginning of Routes Coffee Roasters

Coffee Roasters Routes Coffee always dreamt of one day roasting our own beans. Experimenting, learning and developing our skills in coffee and ultimately improving our event coffee service. Read more

Routes Coffee Top 10 Coffee Shops of the World
Routes Coffee Top 10 Coffee Shops of the World

Back in 2013/14 when dreadlocks and bleached blonde hair was cool, Jim & I found ourselves travelling through the Eastern hemisphere, visiting some of the coolest coffee shops, cafes and coffee roasters we could find. Read more