We all love a quality cup of joe, don’t we? Did it ever cross your mind on breaking out of the drip-brew, or made-by-the-pot coffee trend? Ever wanted to get into the sphere of specialty drinks? Drinks that you get at Starbucks or from your local favorite coffee shop?
This sphere is enormously confusing. It seems like there’s no end to different types of espresso machines. And right now, you may not know the difference between them. If it’s the situation then our article will make sense to you. In the sections that follow, we’ll shed light on those types and details. So you’ll fully understand the difference between the espresso machines that are available today. When you’ll be done reading this piece, not only you’ll have a good idea but also be able to pick one for yourself.
But first, let’s inform you shortly on what is an espresso machine in the immediately following section!
Espresso drink itself is made by forcing boiling water or, near-boiling water, or even steam to run through very finely ground coffee beans. Making espresso is causing very hot steam or liquid to come in contact with the finely powdered coffee.
Many espresso machines do also have steaming wands. Wands are for steaming milk for drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, etc. Water must be heated up to a way hotter for steam compared to espresso brewing. Temperature, pressure, feature, ease-of-use are the main focus of the varieties for different espresso machines, which you’ll see below.
16 Different Espresso Machine Types
Single boiler espresso machines are just like they sound. These machines come with a single water boiler. It’s used for both the steaming wand and the actual brewing. Steaming happens at a much higher temperature than brewing. Meaning you cannot pull shots in quick succession as it has just one boiler.
Honesty, it’s not all bad. Single boiler machines are here because they are compact and efficient. Ideal to be regarded as a home-grade espresso machine. Because of its small footprint and lower price range. If you need a machine for a busy cafe or restaurant, and avoid long waiting times – this isn’t for you.
Among many precious single boiler machines, we’d say Gaggia Classic Pro and Rancilio Silvia are the most popular choices in this category.
- Compact and small.
- Cheaper than most other espresso machines.
- Comes with a steaming wand for steaming milk.
- Not suitable for commercial usage.
- Requires a cool-down period in between every shot.
Similar to a single boiler and a heat exchanger machine (see below) works, a double boiler isn’t hard to understand now. These machines have two water boilers. One for the steam wand and the other for extracting the shots. A barista can control two temperatures independently and also dial in on the temperature whenever they feel good to brew at.
The double boiler machine also enables faster brewing and steaming. No need to do a cooling flush or even need to wait for the boiler to cool down to an appropriate temperature every time. You can run a constant cycle of brewing and steam without any pause. This is why most high-traffic and high-end coffee shops prefer using double boiler machines.
When we think about the best double boiler machines out there De’Longhi La Specialista, La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi 2 are at the top of that list.
- Provide the option of steaming milk.
- No cool-down period is needed between the shots.
- Generally bulky-sized machines.
- More expensive price range than single boiler machines.
A pour-over or reservoir is the most well-known among the espresso machine types. But don’t mix up a pour-over espresso maker with a pour-over coffee maker as they are two very different machines.
A pour-over / reservoir machine refers to the crucial fact that it has a water reservoir. You pour the water into it before brewing. Ideally, this water should be properly filtered or softened to avoid the calcification of your machine. This kind is ideal for home users. Users who don’t want to mess with their espresso machine.
If you are thinking about what could be an example of a top-quality Pour-Over espresso machine – La Pavoni PUB 1 EM 1 Group Pour-Over is the answer.
- Can be easily moved around and traveled with if required.
- Small-sized, designed to fit in tiny kitchen counters. No need for installation.
- Regularly needs to be refilled.
- Needs frequent descaling and cleaning.
Heat exchanger espresso machines also have single boilers (read above). But they still have significant distinctions. Firstly, its boiler holds the water at a higher temperature. So it’s always ready for steaming. However, this doesn’t indicate that it also brews your coffee at the same temperature.
When you brew coffee through the heat exchanger espresso machine, there is an individual tube situated inside the boiler that feeds the portafilter. This tube cools the water down. So the appropriate brewing temperature (around 195 degrees) can be reached before it ever touches the ground beans in the portafilter.
It’s a prime option for espresso lovers who prefer price over consistency. Having a cheap, small, heat exchanging machine with no cool-down period between shots is a great option for the money’s worth.
Nuova Simonelli Musica, La Pavoni Bar T2, and T3 are prime examples of how good a heat exchanger espresso machine can be both in-home and in a commercial setting.
- Cheaper price range than double boiler machines.
- Little to no cool-down time in between individual shots.
- Also offers an option for steaming milk with your coffee.
- Little control over the coffee brewing temperature.
- Gives you a fairly inconsistent amount of espresso shots.
Volumetric machines are also known as “automatic” machines from time to time. They have a very specific attribute. The volumetric machines are renowned as commercial espresso machines. It takes any complicated brewing procedures and turns them into simpler, consistent, and repeatable. On top of that, it still allows you to modify your shots according to your liking.
The volumetric machine measures the dispensed water amount into the group. Then halts when the pre-programmed capacity is met. This threshold can be programmed by yourself. So you can alter the program until you find your exact setting.
As long as you have a grinder dialed-in correctly, you’ll be capable of brewing espresso that will have consistency shot after shot. But you also need to find the right settings too.
If we really had to recommend you a top-of-the-line volumetric espresso machine, we’ll recommend checking these – Breville BES840XL, La Pavoni Bar T2, and T3, and La Spaziale mini Vivaldi 2.
- No barista skills are required.
- Programmable to fit your taste.
- Produces highly consistent espresso shots.
- May offer limited programmability for some users.
- Doesn’t consider the ground volume or size in its program.
A direct connect espresso machine is also known as a plumb-in espresso machine. It allows a user to hook up directly to its waterline. Enabling access to a constant stream of water. A bit like your kitchen sink! It doesn’t require constant refilling of the tank. Of all the types of espresso machines it’s the most suitable for any busy commercial setting. Hence, it’s a must-have for a high-volume espresso operation. Some more seasoned home baristas will also go for this machine but still, it’s an exception. It’s not designed to take the tap water directly. For proper maintenance of a direct-connect machine, you must install a water softener. Otherwise, two bad things will happen.
Firstly, the espresso’s taste will diminish. Because tap water carries calcium and other minerals and they affect the coffee taste. Secondly, using tap water will cause scale buildup. Calcifying of espresso machine will completely ruin it. Would be a real shame as these machines aren’t cheap!
- Endless supply of water during runtime.
- Great for serving large volumes of espresso.
- With a water softener, it has a prolonged service life.
- Demands a dedicated plumbing line.
- Needs professional aid for the installation.
- Hard to move around and costlier installation process.
Pod Espresso Machines
Since the rise of single-serve coffee makers, brands like Nespresso and Keurig have made pod espresso machines fairly popular. These machines take pods filled with espresso grounds. Pod machines often use a pump to generate enough pressure to brew a single serving of espresso. Most of these don’t have milk-steaming options. Highly convenient since users don’t require grinding or measuring with it.
Pod machines are popular and affordable espresso machines for those with limited time in the morning and who love a quick cup of hassle-free coffee. Fits well in limited space. Offers many different flavors of espresso anytime.
- Small footprint and compact.
- Convenient, easy-to-use machine.
- Mostly without milk-steaming option.
- No need for measurements or weighing.
- Offers limited customization.
- Pods can be expensive and hard to find.
Stovetop Espresso Machines
Stovetop machines, also known as Moka Pot, are quite simple to use. They are small and compact. These machines are the cheapest way for you to start making espresso at your home comfort. Just fill with water and bean grounds. Then place it on the stove (medium-to-high heat). The stove heats up the water to a boil. As a result, the steam is pushed through the coffee grounds. Thus comes the espresso. There isn’t any space for customization and control. But don’t forget, the appeal of this type of machine is its simplicity.
Stovetops are perfect for making a compact shot of espresso without fearing any mess up. Great for those who want to have an affordable espresso machine and start making espresso at home.
- Cheap and easy to use.
- It doesn’t need much of your attention while brewing.
- Lacks control and customization.
Manual Lever Machines
One of the coolest looking types on our list. They’re also the hardest ones to use on a daily basis too! They reflect the traditional way of brewing espresso. It carries the function and term “pulling a shot”. Because it requires pulling the lever on these machines. Proper utilization of these machines demands a lot of knowledge and practice.
A basic overview of the functionality of these machines:
- Once the lever is pulled, it starts the pre-infusion stage.
- During this stage, the coffee in the portafilter gets in touch with the hot water from the boiler.
- Once the lever is released, the water is pumped more robustly through the portafilter. This is when the coffee starts flowing into the cup.
Lever machines don’t make as much noise as the other commercial-grade machines. Because they don’t have a pump or motor to force the water into the portafilter. These machines are prefect commercial espresso machines. But also recommended for home baristas who adore the total control over their espresso shot.
- Creates less noise.
- No pumps or motors can fail.
- Allows total control and customization.
- Requires experience to operate.
- Pulling the shot is a long learning curve.
PID stands for Proportional Integral Derivative – A mechanism that has lots of separate commercial-grade uses, such as robotic arms and disk drives. In an espresso machine, it has one simple job – to regulate the temperature only.
Without the PID, the heating mechanism in the espresso maker works more like an air conditioner. Once an area goes up to a certain high temperature, the AC turns on and begins cooling the area. The same situation applied in an espresso machine will have water temperatures that are unstable and inconsistent. As a result, the machine will be incapable of making consistent espresso.
Monitoring by a PID system, the water gets ensured that it won’t go too cold or too hot and bring overall stability.
- Ensures stable temperature while brewing.
- Non-stop monitoring and temperature control.
- A massive reason for consistently serving delicious cups of espresso.
- PID espresso machines are more expensive.
- PID machines are more useful to advanced baristas.
Steam Pressure Espresso Machines
Manually pulled by hand with a lever until steam builds the necessary pressure for making good espresso. These are known for heating the water to boiling point. Thus the steam pressure builds up. Then the pressure gets transferred onto the coffee grounds for brewing. These heavy stress machines are most often both sophisticated and delicate at the same time. One can mess a shot quite easily. Hence, these machines do require experienced users. Also, these tend to be very expensive.
Steam pressure machines are prime for making highly pressured premium quality espresso but don’t want as much headache as traditional manual lever pulling machines.
We sincerely recommend you to check out Breville barista touch and Bezzera Magica E61 w/ PID if you’re interested in acquiring a steam pressure espresso machine.
- Doesn’t need physical exertion.
- Guarantees highly pressured delicious espresso shots.
- More expensive than other kinds of espresso machines.
- Difficult to handle and needs an experienced set of hands to operate.
Pump Driven Espresso Machines
These have a pump installed in them to help to brew coffee at accurate temperatures. This factor is sometimes taken for granted when people argue about an espresso machine. Among the different types of espresso machines it is the most common type.
In the last few years, espresso makers have become recently synonymous with pump-driven espresso machines. A pump-driven machine creates the right amount of pressure (9 bars – 15 bars). The electric pump helps baristas to serve high-quality espressos. Also, these machines have a single boiler that heats up the water to the optimal temperature (195 – 200° F) for prime extraction.
Some coffee shops have commercial-grade pump espresso machines that hold multiple group heads. The extraction temperatures in these machines can be set differently for each group and used for different drinks.
- Physical exertion isn’t needed.
- Produces quality espresso consistently.
- Cheaper compared to steam-driven machines.
- Lacks customization aspect.
- Costlier than manual pump machines.
- Costlier than most other espresso machines.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
Semi-automatic machines have a switch or a small-sized lever. Dubbed as perfect home espresso machines. The switch/lever turns the espresso extraction on or off. To get quality coffee from these espresso machines, users have to load the porta-filter attached with a ground filter. Following the tamping, lock the group handle into the group head. Then place a mug/cup under the portafilter. Push the lever/switch on the front panel to start the extraction.
These machines are superb for enabling an easy brewing process that includes an option for milk steaming.
- Allows a certain amount of customizations.
- Allows users to grow and refine his/her skills.
- Often comes with an option of steaming milk.
- More user-friendly type than manual machines.
- Requires user’s attention while brewing.
- Some models don’t allow any temperature control.
- Mediocre experience is required for proper brewing.
Fully Automatic Espresso Machines
Fully automatic (also referred to as “Automatic”) espresso machines are all the same as a typical semi-automatic but carry a microprocessor. This processor can be programmed to suit your extraction variables i.e. strength, temperature, and quantity, etc.
These machines have multiple buttons instead of just one switch. Each button is for different drink options. You need to select a drink and then load and tamp the portafilter with ground coffee. Fresh coffee will pour out at the press of a button.
If you can afford it, it’s the best thing to own. Perfect for offices and other commercial-grade spaces. Ideal for bars, restaurants, and coffee shops where fully trained baristas are not needed. Little or no knowledge is required to extract great coffee from these machines. Geared towards ease-of-use and effortless perfect shots.
- Can be set on different timers.
- Quick and simple brewing process.
- No experience and knowledge are required.
- A moderate amount of customization for the price.
Super-Automatic Espresso Machines
Super-automatic espresso machines are also known as espresso centers. Espresso centers have all the attributes you can find in an Automatic machine but with more bonus features. Super-automatics have built-in grinders. This means you can buy your favorite beans to grind and brew in one. Also, it saves you from wasting any separate grinding time.
With a push of a button, you can select drink size, and the machine will do the rest. It grinds coffee beans to the perfect granularity for your selected beverage. Then tamps and loads the portafilter. Finally, extracts the coffee with the right water volume and temperature. All of that, just with a push of a button. With affordability, it’s the perfect type of home espresso machine.
Super-automatics also offers a larger variety of drinks than automatic machines. Only steaming and frothing are manual tasks for super-automatics.
- No experience is needed.
- Guarantees fresh espresso.
- The timer function is a more commonality for these.
- Cannot use pre-ground espresso.
- Various automated but no room for manual customizations.
Ultra-Automatic Espresso Machines
Ultra-automatics are known for simplifying the whole brewing process to almost a breeze. These offer equally the same features as a super-automatic machine. But they have one exception. Ultra-automatics can steam the milk automatically. Even though these are the new kids on the block, they have already got heavily adopted as commercial espresso machines. Previously, these have been a staple in vending areas and cafeterias.
They come in all sorts of price ranges for office, and home use. You just need to put the roasted beans into the hopper, select a drink, and the put required milk in the milk reservoir. Voila! The rest is done by the espresso machine. The only thing an ultra-automatic do is latte art.
- High range of beverage options.
- Capable of making a mixed drink.
- Most drinks can be set on timers.
- Ground coffee per drink and steamed or frothing accordingly.
- A highly expensive piece of machine.
- No manual control or customization.
Why Espresso Machines Are So Expensive?
If you’ve finished reading our list above, you’ve already noticed this in your mind – Most of them are expensive.
- It’s because of the higher cost of materials. Components that get in a quality espresso machine are not cheap at all.
- Also there’s low demand. Since most espresso machines can easily run for a decade, the demand for high-quality espresso machines is low.
- Finally, research and branding. Established brands do various levels of research before installing a new technology/feature and place it on the market. This also keeps the brand’s names high and the high prices get justified. People relate brand names to quality.
If you began reading this piece with the question in mind “what are the types of espresso machines?” we hope that we’ve answered that. We tried to offer a clear understanding of the differences. Also, our typology expands long enough to encourage you to pick your favorites and dive into those. We believe you’re about to fascinations in this fantastic world of coffee and brewing.
Also, don’t fret. We’re not demanding farewell to any “regular” coffee. Because these machines and methods can make an excellent Cup of Java too! On the other hand, so many variations, amazing flavors, and combinations are at your fingertips, it doesn’t matter which kind of espresso machine you buy for yourself. The real joy is to discover and embrace new flavors and enriching your coffee experience.
So, happy caffeinating! Cheers to your health and enjoyment to a daily quality cup of caffeinated magic; anytime, anywhere, from the comfort of your home, or favorite café, or even at your workplace!