Ask any coffee aficionado about espresso and it’s likely he’ll tell you a story rather than a short, straightforward answer. Coffee is available pretty much on every street corner and with Starbucks packing in locations every couple miles, most people see it as a fast caffeine-filled pick-me up, just another drink to help them make it through a long work day. Coffee aficionados, however, know of the nuances among the different types of coffee, understand individual flavor profiles and enjoy a much higher-level drinking experience. Want to join the club of true espresso and coffee enthusiasts? Looking to start brewing your own espresso at home and need some guidance? Allow us to enlighten you on the basics and help put you on the path to espresso nirvana.
Espresso is the type of coffee made by forcing a few ounces of pressurized, nearly boiling water through finely ground coffee beans, producing a cup of coffee characterized chiefly by its concentrated flavor. Espresso’s other distinguishing characteristics are its being thicker in consistency than most of the other types of coffee and its having a creamy foam on top, called a crema, and a higher concentration of solid particles than the others.
While many people believe that espresso is the strongest type of coffee, it isn’t. Although it has more caffeine per unit than most of the other types, due to its usually small serving size, the total caffeine content of a cup of it is less than your regular cup of joe.
Since espresso is the base for several of the other types of coffee, such as cappuccino, caffè latte, caffè Americano, and caffè macchiato, it may also be considered the most popular type. Due in large part to the success of popular coffee shop chains like Starbucks, it’s likely you buy coffee every morning at one of these establishments rather than make some by yourself at home. There’s nothing inherently wrong with buying from a chain shop, since there are now numerous baristas trained in preparing all of the different types of coffee while using high-quality, expensive coffee makers. But you should know that there are now many coffee makers available in the market that enable you to make coffee by yourself at home that is as good as if it were made by a well-trained barista, and these machines continuously increase in number, variety, and quality. If you ask us, a cup of great coffee made right in the comfort of your own home beats the $5 alternative made by even the best barista any day.
To help you learn which type of coffee maker might be the best fir for you and your lifestyle, allow us to discuss the different types, beginning with the various types of espresso coffee makers: steam-driven, piston-driven, pump-driven, air pump-driven, with boiler, stove-top, and automatic.
The first espresso coffee machines were steam-driven. They brewed coffee by forcing a certain amount of water through ground coffee beans using steam or steam pressure generated by a boiler. Steam-driven espresso machines aren’t costly to mass produce, especially since they contain no moving parts, so such espresso machines are still available commercially as low-cost espresso coffee makers.
Piston-driven espresso machines brew coffee by sending pressurized, hot water through ground coffee. These machines do so after being activated by a lever, pumped by an operator. Also referred to as lever-style espresso coffee machines, piston-driven espresso coffee machines require pulling their long handles to make espresso, giving rise to the expression ‘pulling a shot of espresso.’
The 2 types of piston-driven espresso coffee machines are manual and spring. A manual piston-driven espresso coffee machine requires an operator to push a certain amount of water through ground coffee directly in order to produce espresso, while a spring piston-driven espresso coffee machine requires an operator to apply tension to the spring himself in order to deliver the pressure needed to make espresso.
Motor-driven pump espresso coffee machines are generally considered the refined version of piston-driven espresso coffee machines. Instead of manual force, the aforementioned coffee makers’ motor-driven pumps generate the needed force for making espresso. The other distinguishing characteristic of these espresso coffee machines is their ability to take in water directly from either a supply or from a separate water tank. Motor-driven pump espresso coffee machines that can take in water directly from a supply are currently used at most of the coffee shop chains, while motor-driven pump espresso coffee machines that can take in water only from a separate water tank are most commonly used at home.
The 4 different types of motor-driven pump espresso coffee machines are: single boiler (SB), single boiler / dual use (SB/DU), heat exchanger (HX), and dual boiler (DB).
Single-boiler, motor-driven pump espresso coffee machines can only brew coffee, without steam, and that requires only a single boiler for making espresso. These espresso coffee makers are the most uncommon type among the 4 different types of motor-driven pump espresso coffee machines.
While single-boiler, dual-use, motor-driven pump espresso coffee machines each come with a single chamber that enable them to heat water to brewing temperature and boil water for steaming milk, they cannot perform these operations simultaneously. They require a warm-up period between executing an espresso pull and frothing milk, making using them somewhat of a chore to use.
Most heat exchanger, motor-driven pump espresso coffee machines heat the water for brewing by passing it through a ‘heat exchanger’, the part that takes some of the heat emitted by the steam generated during the brewing process without rising to the same temperature. Although the water remains at a lower temperature range than that required for steaming milk, it is still too hot for proper brewing, necessitating 4–6 seconds of cooling before use. Once the said espresso coffee makers are set to the proper temperature, as many shots as required can be pulled; however, if the machines are left unused for several minutes, the flushing process has to be repeated, making using them a bit of a hassle.
Dual-boiler, motor-driven pump espresso coffee machines heat the water for brewing in a separate chamber, which requires two separate boilers. Many believe these coffee makers can generate the needed temperature for brewing in a more stable way than most of the other coffee makers available in the market, but at the expense of steaming performance and speed.
Air pump-driven espresso coffee machines use compressed air to force hot water from a kettle or a thermo flask through ground coffee. The compressed air is generated by a hand-pump, N2 or CO2 cartridges, or an electric compressor.
One of the advantages in using these types of coffee makers is that they are much smaller and lighter than most of the other espresso machines currently available in the market, especially the electric-powered ones. Indeed, most air pump-driven espresso coffee machines are portable and handheld.
Also called Moka pots, stove-top espresso coffee makers are similar to espresso machines in that the former brew under pressure, make coffee with a similar extraction ratio, and produce crema of the same quality, except they do so without any automation.
These coffee makers consist of 3 chambers: the bottom chamber, where the water for brewing is to be poured and contained; the middle chamber, where ground coffee is to be put; and the top chamber, where the coffee ends up after it funnels through the 2 aforementioned chambers while the coffee makers themselves are being heated on a stove top.
Espresso machines that come with grinders, pumps, sensors, and valves for automatic brewing are called automatic espresso machines. There are 3 different types of automatic espresso machines with varying degrees of automation: semi-automatic, automatic, and super-automatic.
Rather than manual force, semi-automatic espresso machines use a pump to deliver the water needed for brewing.
Automatic espresso machines control ‘brewed volume’ automatically by way of an in-line flow meter attached to a grouphead. When the programmed amount of water has passed through an automatic espresso machines’ flow meter, its pump turns off automatically, ending the brewing process. These coffee makers still require manual grinding and tamping of coffee, like the semi-automatic machines.
Super-automatic espresso machines can grind coffee, tamp it, and make espresso all without any interference on your part. The only help these coffee makers need from you is filling their bean hoppers and pouring water into their water tanks. Some models of these machines come with an automated milk frothing and dispensing device, enabling them to make the other types of coffee, besides just espresso.
While automatic coffee grinding and tamping is convenient, many believe doing both manually ensure that proper espresso is produced every time.
Automatic espresso machines are our top pick for the at-home brewer and they now come in a wide variety of designs, sizes, and features, making finding the best one for at-home brewing a little tricky, especially for the novice. To help you, here are 3 that we believe will give you the best possible at home espresso experience:
Designed relatively compact at 9 lbs and 8” x 11” x 10” in dimensions, the De’Longhi 15 Bar Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker is sure to fit cozily on your kitchen countertop, island, or coffee bar, providing to you the joy of brewing espressos and cappuccinos anytime, right in the comfort of your home.
The De’Longhi 15 BAR Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker comes with several features that not only make brewing coffee at home remarkably easy for you, but also give you a lot of control over how your coffee comes out. For example: If you’re sensitive to hot coffee, the espresso and cappuccino maker lets you brew using 2 separate thermostats, enabling you to enjoy espressos or cappuccinos at the temperature you’re happiest with. If you prefer espresso, the espresso and cappuccino maker lets you brew easily and with no fuss using De’Longhi’s easy-serving espresso (ESE) pods and the unique, patented, dual-filter holder allows you to switch to ground coffee at your convenience. If you prefer cappuccino, the De’Longhi comes with an easy-to-use swivel jet frother, which ensures each cup of cappuccino it prepares comes topped with foamy steamed milk every time.
The other features we like that this machine comes equipped with are: self-priming operation, which makes the start-up preparation quick; a durable, high-quality, stainless-steel boiler with 15-bar pump pressure; a removable drip tray with 35 oz. removable water tank with indicator light, both of which can be cleaned easily; and a cup warmer, which lets you leave your cup of coffee sitting for several minutes without worrying that it will get cold.
Despite all of the De’Longhi 15 BAR Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker’s useful features, some customers say there are some downsides to using it. One of them has complained about the frothing wand, the grounds basket, and the built-in tamper, though most reviews are overwhelmingly positive.
Nonetheless, the espresso and cappuccino maker received a solid rating of 4 stars out of 5 on Amazon, making it the best espresso machine under $100.
A great place to buy is on Amazon and here is why:
Coming in at 14 lbs and 11” x 9.1” x 11.6” in dimensions is the De’Longhi EC702 15-Bar-Pump Espresso Maker. You may notice that this espresso maker is heavier and larger than the previous espresso and cappuccino maker by De’Longhi. This is a slightly upgraded model, which shows not only in the features it offers, but also in a more solid, spacious construction.
If you hate waiting for your espresso to brew, you’ll love the De’Longhi EC702 15-Bar-Pump Espresso Maker’s self-priming operation, which enables this coffee maker to brew quicker than most of the other espresso makers, all without your assistance. This model also comes with the fan favorite cup warming functions which keeps your espresso hot, even if you let it sit for a few minutes after brewing.
If you’re particular regarding the temperature at which you like to drink coffee, the EC702 comes equipped with 2 separate thermostats, enabling you to control both the water pressure and steam pressure generated by the espresso maker separately, allowing you more control over how your coffee is brewed than most of the other espresso makers currently available in the market. If you aren’t finicky, the espresso maker comes with De’Longhi’s patented dual function holder, which not only lets you use pods and ground coffee beans, but also makes brewing quick and easy. this is great for the newbie brewer who just needs a quick morning fix.
The other features this espresso machine has that we love are: a durable, high-quality, stainless-steel boiler with 15-bar pump pressure; De’Longhi’s patented cappuccino system frother, which enables you to make rich, creamy froth every time; the Sempre Crema filter, which enables you to make delicious crema; the ESE filter, which helps make brewing quick and hassle-free; and a 44 oz removable water tank with anti-drip design, which makes cleaning the espresso machine a cinch.
The De’Longhi EC702 received a solid rating of 3 and a half stars out of 5 on Amazon, making this one of the best home espresso machines on the market.
The Barista Express Coffee Machine is the most expensive coffee machine on this list, but it will provide you with a seriously life-changing and luxurious espresso experience at home. If you want to be your own home kitchen barista and tinker with all the different settings for a truly customized cup, this is a great option for you.
To begin with, the Breville machine weighs in at 23 lbs and 13.2” x 12.5” x 15.8” in dimensions, not only making it as stable as the two previous coffee machines, but also making it similar in size to most of the other coffee machines currently being sold commercially, ensuring that it would fit comfortably on your kitchen countertop, island or coffee bar.
If you drink nothing but proper coffee, this espresso maker comes with several features that ensure it produces nothing but perfect shots, including: an integrated conical burr grinder with stainless-steel conical burrs, which enables the coffee machine to fully extract flavor from every coffee granule, it also includes a hopper for storing of your beans; 54 mm stainless-steel portafilter with commercial-style spouts; a pressure gauge that monitors the pressure generated during flavor extraction; a Thermocoil heating system, which controls the temperature of the water accurately; and an auto-purge function, which adjusts the temperature of the water after steaming automatically to the best temperature for full flavor extraction.
The rest of the espresso maker’s features include: a half-pound bean hopper with a locking system, which enables you to remove, transfer, and store coffee beans easily; a filter size button, which indicates whether you’re using a single or double-wall filter basket, enabling the grinder to dispense the amount of ground coffee beans required for the appropriate filter type; a hands-free grinding cradle, which pushes the portafilter into the cradle, signaling the coffee maker to dispense freshly ground coffee beans into the filter; and a water tank and drip tray that are both removable, making cleaning the machine a cinch.
The only complaint about this machine that customers have aired are the occasions in which it left a mess after brewing sessions, and the awkward placement of the water tanks. Nevertheless, the Breville espresso maker received an impressively stellar rating of 4 and a half stars out of 5 on Amazon, it is also one our list for one of the best espresso machines under $1000.
The commercial coffee industry has made so many leaps in bounds in making coffee brewing at home an enjoyable, hassle-free experience that anyone can dive in and be their own home barista. We hope this guide and list makes getting started a bit easier for you and helps you select the best machine for your daily use.
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Week 1 - Home Espresso Machines
Week 2 - Coffee Beans
Week 3 - Types of Drinks
Week 4 - Advanced Brewing
Join Mike (me) and learn all the basics of making great tasting espresso!
I am a die-hard espresso fan. I love every form of the drink from straight espresso shots to lattes and cappuccinos. I currently use a Breville BES870XL Barista, it is an awesome machine. BUT, my dream machine is definitely an Italian Quickmill Andreja. Those bad boys make badass espresso. I love answering your questions, leave a comment or question below!