There is no better way to start the morning than with a shot of espresso or your favorite mixed coffee drink.
The complex taste and high caffeine content in espresso are convincing more coffee enthusiasts to start making their own espresso at home!
Are you curious about making the switch from your favorite coffee shop to your home? If so, the number of different types of espresso machines might be overwhelming.
In this article, we break down the different types of espresso machines, along with their pros and cons, so that you decide for yourself if you are ready to try pulling your own creamy espresso shots.
Before we begin, it’s important to understand how espresso machines work at a basic level before getting into the various types of espresso machines.
Espresso is made by forcing water or steam through finely-ground coffee beans using high pressure, ideally around 9 bars.
Some espresso machines come with steam wands to steam milk and brew coffee like cappuccinos, lattes, and flat whites.
The method for heating the water that goes through the coffee grounds and to produce steamed milk depends on the machine, and the water temperature needed to extract espresso is much lower than the high temperature needed to produce steam.
Now that you have more of an understanding of how these coffee machines work, let’s examine the different types of espresso machines on the market.
What are the types of espresso machines? There are 13 major types that result from differences in…
There are also pod and stovetop “espresso” machines that will be addressed later.
Alright, that’s a lot!
Now grab an espresso and let’s go through each type.
Also known as a direct connect espresso machine, plumbed-in espresso machines are some of the most commonly found in coffee shops. With this design, a dedicated water line is professionally installed to constantly provide an unlimited supply of water to the espresso machine.
These machines are great options for people that need to make many shots of espresso, but it comes with the added time and expense of getting a new water line installed professionally.
One thing is for sure: you will never have to worry about running your espresso machine without water and potentially damaging it.
Unlike plumbed-in machines, reservoir espresso machines are much more common in households. They come with a container that holds a limited amount of water and can be refilled whenever it’s running low.
This style of machine is perfect for people who don’t drink a crazy amount of espresso each day and who don’t want to go through the troubles of getting a plumbing line installed by a professional.
Just make sure that you refill the reservoir when it is running low so you don’t risk damaging your machine!
And you certainly don't want all the stressful warning lights flashing every time you make a shot of espresso...
Single boiler espresso machines come with only one heating element to heat both the water for extraction and the water for steaming the milk. This is a cheaper option than a double boiler espresso machine, ideal for someone on a budget.
Because the temperature of the water used for brewing is much lower than the temperature needed to produce steam for milk, single boiler espresso machines have to go through a cool-down period between shots.
This may be fine if there are only one or two coffee drinkers in the household, but it wouldn’t be suitable for a busy coffee shop or the office.
Single boiler machines are usually relatively small in size and don’t take up too much counter space.
Unlike a single boiler machine, double boiler espresso machines come with two heating elements. They tend to be larger and more expensive, but this comes with the benefit of not needing a cool-down period between shots.
Double boiler espresso machines use one heating element to dial in the temperature of the water used for brewing and the other for boiling water to produce steam to froth milk. Now it’s possible to brew and steam milk at the same time.
If you have the counter space and budget, this is a great option if you don’t want to waste any time between shots and want more consistent temperatures for brewing and steaming.
Because these machines allow a high volume of espresso shots to be pulled back-to-back, coffee shops usually have double boiler espresso machines to better handle busy hours.
The heat exchange espresso machine was created to keep some of the benefits of the double boiler machine without the expensive price tag. These machines use one heating element (a thermoblock) to mimic the results of machines with a double boiler.
Water is first heated to its boiling temperature to produce steam for the wand, usually using a heating element with a thin coil wrapped around it in which water flows and heats up. The machine then employs certain mechanisms to quickly reduce the temperature of this water to a lower temperature that is better for brewing.
As a result, there isn’t much of a cool-down period like in single boiler espresso machines. However, these machines are less thermally stable than both the single boiler and double boiler machines.
Heat exchange espresso machines are a great option if you can sacrifice some consistency for convenience and a cheaper price.
Of all the different types of espresso machines, manual ones get the least amount of press. They simply aren’t as efficient or as practical as their pump-driven and steam-driven counterparts.
A manual espresso machine requires physical strength to pull a shot of espresso. Because water needs to move through the espresso grounds in a quick and exact amount of time, you must time your movement perfectly.
There are two types of manual espresso machines: lever and spring-driven. Using a lever, you have control over the length of the pre-infusion, brew time, and pressure.
In spring-driven machines, a similar process occurs. Pulling the lever down causes the spring to compress, bringing the piston up and allowing for water to enter. As the lever comes back up, the spring releases tension and pushes the water through the coffee grounds.
While manual machines give you control over more variables, they have a steep learning curve and can be difficult to pull consistent shots with.
Steam-driven machines aren’t as popular as they used to be. When they were first introduced, they replaced many manual espresso machines. People no longer had to physically pull any levers to create pressure.
Instead, steam is created by boiling water to generate the amount of pressure needed to pull a shot of espresso. Steam-driven machines tend to be expensive, intricate, and prone to breaking if not properly maintained and regularly serviced.
While they are capable of creating a very high amount of pressure, these beautiful machines are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Pump-driven machines are currently one of the most popular options. This technology has been around since the 1960s and continues to dominate the market.
It works by using an electric pump to do the heavy lifting of creating pressure for you. No more need for a manual lever workout!
Once the pressure builds up to the right amount, pre-heated water is sent through the brew chamber and into the coffee grounds.
With a pump-driven machine, it’s easier to achieve consistent high pressure. If you don’t mind sacrificing some control over the amount of pressure, this machine will help you pull more consistent shots of espresso.
There are three main categories of pump-driven machines (semi-automatic, automatic, and super-automatic) that we will talk about next.
Semi-automatic espresso machines tend to be pump-driven and offer more customization than “regular” automatic and super-automatic machines. You start and stop the brewing process by pressing a button, so it’s important to understand how long you want the extraction to be before starting.
Baristas tend to prefer the semi-automatic espresso machine option because it gives them more options to customize their shot. It strikes a good balance between human input and consistency from the machine.
Automatic machines differ from semi-automatic espresso machines because they automatically stop the flow of water after a certain amount has passed through. While they are also used in coffee shops, semi-automatic machines are more common because they allow for more customization.
While some automatic espresso machines allow you to program the brewing time or the shot volume, that’s not generally the case. If you don’t mind trading less control over brewing time for a more automatic and repeatable experience, an automatic machine could be perfect for you.
You will still need to grind your own beans, but once you press “start” you don’t need to monitor your espresso anymore.
Super-automatic machines provide even more automation. No surprise there! They automatically shut off and usually come with timers.
Unlike semi-automatic and automatic machines, super-automatic espresso machines grind the beans and tamp the measured grounds for you. This can be messy and requires more cleaning and descaling of your espresso machine. These are popular options for homes and offices, but not for coffee shops.
One distinguishing characteristic of super-automatic espresso machines is that they come equipped with an internal brew unit instead of a portafilter.
Some models even automatically froth and dispense milk, at the expense of requiring more cleaning.
While the added grinder may be seen as a benefit to some, lower-end models don’t have fine grind increments or perform as well as other standalone grinders.
If you want a fully-automated experience, a super-automatic espresso machine is your best option. There are many options, including the low-cost Gaggia Brera, the medium-range De'Longhi Dinamica to the high-end JURA E8.
Single-serve pod espresso machines are becoming household staples thanks to espresso maker brands like Nespresso, Breville, and DeLonghi. These machines use small capsules filled with pre-ground coffee and a small pump to create espresso.
While pod machines deliver a final product that is like espresso, it actually can’t be considered espresso because the machine does not brew under pressure.
But don’t let that stop you from purchasing one. Many people like the flavor and convenience, and it could be a good stepping stone into the world of espresso machines for people on a tight budget. Plus, they take up almost no space in the kitchen.
Stovetop espresso machines are a lot of people’s first experience with “espresso” coffee at home. Devices like the Moka pot are small, light, and easy to use. They might be the cheapest way for you to start making espresso.
Moka pots and other similar machines work by putting water in one reservoir and finely ground coffee beans in another reservoir on top. You place the Moka pot on the stove on medium/high heat. The water begins to boil, creating steam that is then pushed through the coffee grounds. Once the cup is full, you simply remove it from the stove and serve.
It’s a very simple process that is perfect for beginners, but there isn’t much room for customization. If you are on a tight budget and want something you can travel with, a stovetop espresso machine is one way to go.
Additionally, the low pressure of about 1.5 bars and high boiling temperatures will not create complex, rich flavors in your cup. Expect “burnt” and “bitter” flavors when using this method.
The same options in the consumer market exist in the commercial market. All the different types of machines described in this article can be used for the home, office, or coffee shop… it just depends on what your needs are.
When planning to use an espresso machine in a coffee shop or restaurant, it’s important to consider how often the machine will be used, how quickly it can prepare shots, and how much space you have available.
Make sure to choose reputable brands that are built specifically for commercial applications. Machines built for making espresso at home may be prone to breaking sooner.
They are designed to dispense only a few shots per day. Quality commercial-grade espresso machines should come with the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) Certification.
Generally speaking, most coffee shops use semi-automatic, pump-driven, plumbed-in espresso machines.
How’s that for a mouthful?
In order to make the best decision for your needs, you must consider the following:
The three main types of espresso machines are semi-automatic, automatic, and super-automatic.
Semi-automatic espresso machines tend to be pump-driven and offer more customization than “regular” automatic and super-automatic machines. You must start and stop the brewing process by pressing a button.
Automatic machines differ from semi-automatic espresso machines because they automatically stop the flow of water after a certain amount has passed through. There is no need to monitor the brewing process.
Super-automatic machines provide even more automation by grinding the beans and tamping the measured grounds into an internal brew unit. These are popular options for homes and offices, but not for coffee shops.
The major differences in espresso machines are found in water flow (plumbed-in, reservoir), boilers (single boiler, double boiler, heat exchange), mechanics (pump-driven, steam-driven, manual), and automation (semi-automatic, automatic, super-automatic).
How water is supplied, heated, pressurized, and used during extraction all depend on the type of espresso machine that you have. Some espresso machines are more automated for ease of use and consistency but lack the customization that more manual machines offer.
There are many differences in espresso machines, and it’s up to you to decide what works best for your specific needs.
Both steam and pump espresso machines produce quality espresso shots, but the technology and mechanisms for producing pressure are different.
For steam-driven espresso machines, water is boiled to create steam that is then passed through the coffee grounds. It’s a mechanical process with lots of parts subject to breaking. It’s a more sensitive machine than a pump-driven one.
For pump-driven espresso machines, an electric pump does the heavy lifting of creating pressure for you. Once the pressure builds up to the right amount, pre-heated water is sent through the brew chamber and into the coffee grounds.
With a pump-driven machine, it’s easier to achieve consistent high pressure.
Expensive espresso machines tend to be better made, come with higher-quality materials, and offer more automation than cheaper machines.
However, just because a machine is more automated doesn’t make it more desirable. If you want more customization, a semi-automatic, pump-driven espresso machine might be a better option than a more expensive super-automatic espresso machine.
Simpler, more manual espresso machines will be cheaper, but they also require more expertise to use properly.
Now you are equipped with all the knowledge you need about all 13 types of espresso machines. We hope you find the best espresso machine type for your needs and are able to pull some delicious espresso shots soon!