In this espresso machine guide post I’m going to list the different types of espresso machines that may be purchased, the technical components that go to produce the coffee flavours and the advantages and disadvantages to be found in each machine.
The term ‘horses for courses’ applies to the espresso market as much as it does to any other market. If, for example, your into making frothy cappuccinos, steamed lattes and chocolate mochas, then the cheaper espresso machines will be more than adequate for your needs. However, if your more a student of the art of making the perfect espresso drink and want a machine to do all the work for you, then your requirements will be better met by the more expensive models.
The next question you have to ask yourself is how often are you going to be using the machine? If the answer is occasionally, during the week or at weekends, then the cheaper espresso machines will be more than adequate for your needs.
Espresso Machine Guide – Categories
Essentially, cheaper espresso machines fit into 6 broad categories:
The Moka pot has 8 sides and produces espresso using 2 bars of pressure. The pot consists of an upper and lower chamber screwed together with by a filter. The process works in the following way: finely ground coffee is placed into the upper chamber and water is then poured into the lower part of the machine. As you place the machine onto a stove the water will rise into the coffee in the upper chamber and at this point you can pour your drink. The Moka does produce a partial version of crema but before it can be classified as a true espresso it must be powered by 9 bars of pressure – this machine does not produce that type of pressure. However, the Moka comes into it’s own when you need to be on the road for any length of time as it’s small enough to take with you.
The Stovetop works of a higher degree of pressure than the Moka (4-6 bars) which is enough to provide 1 to 2 shots of coffee. The Stovetop works by loading the boiler section with water, placing a cap on the machine and waiting for the steam inside to rise. Once the machine is prepped, foam can be produced through the steam wand so long as your using the correct amount of pressure.
The machine can be frustrating to use because, after you’ve poured your first shots, you must let the Stovetop cool down before you can use it again. It contains no moving parts and has largely been superceded by more advanced machines.
Piston / Lever / Manual
The manual, or piston lever espresso machine, works by allowing a user to push down on a lever. This action pushes water out through the coffee grounds. These stylised machines normally appeal to purists who prefer to be fully involved in the art of creating an espresso, rather than letting the machine do all the work for them. As these machines are so stylised, they’ll look good in any kitchen. However, they do show a high portion of dirt marks because of their chrome finish. They also tend to be slow to warm as the boiler and reservoir are integrated into one. This results in one component pulling of the other, which results in the entire heating up process slowing down.
The semi-automatic machine is the choice of most users as these models are the most versatile . The semi-automatic machines have electric pumps that push the water through the coffee grounds at high pressure to create silky, smooth espressos. This type of machine offers the greatest versatility in that it has a removable water tank to heat the water, coffee baskets to insert your coffee and a portafilter which manages the extraction process. A good balance is struck here between user and machine interaction as a user can choose either short or long drinks based on the amount of time they let the pump run.
The automatic machines carry out almost identical functions to the semi automatic models, with the exception being the user has the option to pre program shots and manually switch off the pumps.
The super automatic machines work of the one touch principle. One touch of a button runs the machine through a full cycle, grinds and tamps the coffee and removes any excess waste from the brew into the basket. Some will even automatically clean themselves. One of their drawbacks is they require a greater amount of maintenance than other espresso machines.