There is a confusing assortment of espresso machines on the market these days, coming from a variety of manufacturers. This can make it somewhat difficult to decide what type of espresso machine is best for you. Let’s explore the different types of machines and what they are best suited for.
The type of espresso machine that you will find today can be divided into three categories: the electric steam-driven espresso machine, the manual lever/piston espresso machine, and the electric pump espresso machine.
Electric Steam Driven Espresso Machines
This is the least expensive type of espresso machine available. These machines simply work by steam pressure. The water heats up in an airtight chamber until it becomes steam and is then rapidly forced through coffee grounds and into a carafe or cup.
Electric steam machines are only able to get the water pressure up to about 1 bar which is really not enough pressure to extract and brew a real espresso (the preferred pressure at which espresso is brewed is about 8 bar) and doesn’t produce a very good crema. These machines usually have a steam wand allowing you to froth milk to make a latte or cappuccino.
Pump Espresso Machines
The “pump” type of espresso machine doesn’t require (or allow) the water to reach boiling temperature and become steam. The water is mechanically or electrically pumped through the coffee at a slightly cooler, and more espresso-appropriate temperature. When done correctly, pump machines produce a significantly better shot of espresso than steam-driven machines.
There are two types of pump espresso machines: the manual lever/piston espresso machine, and the electric pump espresso machine.
Manual Lever Espresso Machines
The manual “lever/piston” type of espresso machine gives you complete control over the entire brewing process including dosing, tamping, pulling the manual lever to pressure the water through the coffee, and timing each of these operations. Manual lever machines don’t use steam pressure or pup pressure.
Instead, the pressure for brewing espresso is achieved by pulling on a hand lever which is attached to a piston. Moving the lever up moves the piston up which brings pre-heated water into the brew group.
Pulling it down then forces hot water through the grounds. The phrase “pulling a shot” refers to this type of machine, since you actually have to “pull” a shot. These lever/piston machines are capable of producing a pressure of 8-9 bar, the benchmark pressure of a genuine espresso drink. Like the steam boiler model, the water reservoir heats up to the appropriate temperature for both milk frothing and steaming. You just need to open the steam valve and you can begin foaming your milk.
Electric Pump Espresso Machines
More home versions of “electric pump” type espresso machines are coming to market every year. The electric pump machine uses a pump instead of a lever to move water through the system. The pump pulls water from a reservoir and returns it into a tank that heats the water.
After the boiler heats the water to brewing temperature and you press the brew button the pump will first push water through the boiler, then through the ground coffee in the brew group. With these machines you can set the exact temperature you want the water to reach before the machine quickly pumps it through the coffee grounds.
There are three types of electric pump espresso machines: The semi-automatic, the automatic, and the super-automatic espresso machine.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
The “semi-automatic” type of espresso machine is one of the most popular machines available. It is called semi-automatic because after flipping a switch, the pump does the work that the lever and piston used to do. The pump continues pumping water through to the brew head.
The brewing process starts with the simple flip of a switch; you then choose to end the extraction by moving the switch in the opposite direction. You have control overdosing and tamping, and the used grounds will need to be removed manually.
Automatic Espresso Machines
The “fully automatic” type of espresso machine is very similar to the semi-automatic machine with usually just one small difference. You flip the switch to begin the brewing process but then the machine will stop itself after a pre-defined amount of time.
Super-Automatic Espresso Machines
These are the top of the line and at the top of the price range. The “super automatic” type of espresso machine does everything for you. They will grind the beans, dose the ground coffee, tamp the coffee, pump the water through the system, and brew your espresso or coffee drink.
All you have to do is fill the bean hopper with your favorite roasted beans, fill the water reservoir, and clean it every now and then. Manufacturers are adding new and more features to these machines every year.
The super-automatic machines may have other additional features like digital displays, strength settings, temperature settings, water volume settings, grind-size selections, and others. These machines also provide hot water and steam through a steam wand for heating and foaming milk for lattes and cappuccinos.
Hopefully, these descriptions will prove to be helpful in your being able to find the best espresso machine for you and your budget.