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Espresso Machine Features: What to Look For in an Espresso Machine

Looking for a new espresso machine? With all of the options available, it’s easy to be distracted by the bells and whistles that each coffee maker offers. But, which of these features makes a difference to the quality of your brew? Also, what can you do without?

We look at some of the standard features you’ll find on espresso machines.

The Basics – what to look for in an espresso machine

While some features (as you’ll see below) are optional add-ons, there are basic features that all espresso makers will have. So when it comes time to choosing a machine for home, you’ll need to decide which of these is best for you.

Pressurization method

You make true espresso when you extract it under pressure. But there’s more than one way to do this. You will likely see pump, steam, or lever espresso makers as options, but pump machines are the most common for home or commercial use.

Related: How many bars of pressure is good for espresso?

Automation level

Do you want to get hands-on with your morning brew, or do you just want great coffee at the touch of a button? With a semi-automatic, you’ll need to grind, tamp and pull the shot. 

The semi-automatic differs only because it has a flowmeter to stop the water after the correct amount has passed through. A super-automatic espresso machine will do pretty much everything for you. It will grind and tamp the beans, pull the shot, and in many cases steam the milk for you too.

Single/double boiler

This feature is essential if you like espresso-based milk drinks such as lattes or cappuccinos. A machine with a single boiler (which is the most lower-end espresso makers) has one heat source for both brewing and milk steaming. Meaning you can’t switch from one to the other right away.

A double boiler has two heaters, each set at the correct temperature for its purpose. So you can pull a coffee and immediately foam the milk.

If you’re having trouble with where to start, knowing how an espresso machine works can help you decide what’s right for you. We also discussed the difference between heat exchange vs dual boiler machines.

Espresso Machine Features for the Beginner

If you know exactly how you like your coffee but don’t have the skills to make it, look for a machine that will do it for you. Particularly on super-automatic machines, you’ll see one-touch drinks that will get you from bean to foamy brew in one step.

It’s also important to be able to override a preset… since factors like bean origin, roast date, and kitchen climate can alter how your shots pull.

Even for beginners, adjusting these preprogrammed drinks will allow you to tweak them to your liking regarding brew temperature, strength, and milk temperature or texture.

Related: How to make an espresso without a machine.

Extras for the Home Barista

While the beginner might want to leave the settings up to the machine, an aspiring barista will probably want more control over their brew. If this is the case, you’ll want to look for features like a brew pressure gauge so that you pull your shot at precisely the right moment. You’ll also want adjustable pre-infusion, adjustable flow, and adjustable brew temperature.

When you’re getting into the details, a machine with a PID controller will ensure consistent temperatures through the brewing process.

These espresso accessories can also give you more control over your brew.

Let’s Talk Milk

Most machines, even at the lower price ranges, will include a steam wand for milk foaming. These tend to be known as beginner, Pannerello, or froth assist wands, which are easier to use. On higher-end machines, you might see a professional wand as found on a commercial machine. The milk frothing will be built in and done entirely by the machine on super-automatic or bean-to-cup machines.

Either built into the steam wand or as a separate outlet, you can also find a spout for plain hot water, also known as a tea dispenser.

Espresso machine features: steam wands
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Final thoughts

As you can see, espresso machines can run from the most basic to the top of the line, packed with features. But don’t let the choices overwhelm you. The best idea is to work out which features are essential for you and then find something that fits your budget.

FAQs

You should backflush your espresso machine with water only once a week, then with a chemical cleaner after every 200 shots of coffee (1). Machines in a commercial setting will need to be backflushed daily.

A prosumer espresso machine is intended for home use but has many features of a commercial machine. Prosumer-grade machines often include double boilers, pressure gauges, and professional steam wands.

The best commercial espresso machine is one that can meet the needs of your customers and staff. If you need some help choosing a new machine for your business, check out our recommendations for professionals.

  1. Nielsen, L. (2015, June 03). How to Backflush an espresso machine. Retrieved from https://www.guide2coffee.com/guide-2-coffee-1/2015/5/13/how-to-backflush-an-espresso-machine

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I come from a country where people drink domestic coffee (what the rest of the world knows as Turkish coffee) and where Nescafe designates all instant coffees ever made. So, imagine my first encounter with, say, Hario V60...Yes, it was love at first sight.  Today I’m a moderate coffee connoisseur and a huge coffee lover. My favorite brewing methods are the V60 and traditional espresso-making. Yet, despite my country’s long tradition of Turkish-coffee-adoring, I somehow cannot stand it. That’s just too dark, even for me.

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