Types of Espresso Machines, and how to Choose the Right One

There’s nothing like a freshly brewed shot of espresso, whether it’s at the start of your day, in the middle of it, or when your day’s done and you want to lay back and relax.

And since espresso is such a quick beverage to consume, if you’ve got the right beans, the aroma generated from the brewing process makes up for the quick consumption!

What Makes Espresso “right”?

Brewing your own espresso at home allows you to control the entire process – from start to finish.

Aspiring home espresso aficionados can truly create a customised cup of espresso with their very own espresso machine. And depending on what your machine has to offer, you’ll be able to control specific aspects of your espresso shot, including:

  • Brew temperature
  • Water pressure
  • Ability to brew other specialty drinks
  • Capacity
  • Ease of cleaning/descaling

So how do you get what you want to out of your espresso shot? The result depends on the type of espresso machine you buy.

Espresso Machine Options

Espresso machine technology has progressed significantly since Italian inventor Luigi Bezzera, fondly known as the Steve Wozniak (the genius behind apple computers) of espresso, invented his single-shot espresso machine in the early part of the 20th century.

Types of Espresso Machines

While the technology has changed, the underlying principles have remained the same.

The basics of espresso making

What a good cup of espresso boils down to is the pressure used in the brewing process.

Today, like in the 20th century, you can buy steam-driven espresso makers that use steam pressure to push water into the coffee-ground container to produce espresso.

Alternately, you may also opt for a pump-driven machine that essentially does the same thing – only these gizmos use an electric pump to force the water into coffee grounds to produce the espresso.

While the steam-driven devices are a good start-up machine that’s budget-friendly for new and aspiring espresso aficionados; to brew a truly great cup of espresso at home, you should look at the pump-driven choices.​

Super vs Semi Automatic vs Manual

When it comes to buying an espresso machine, you basically have two broad types of devices to choose from: The types that “do it all” for you, and the types that help you “do it your way”.

The former are called super-automatic machines, while the later are semi-automatic machines.

Relinquishing control with a Super-Automatic

If you are someone that doesn’t have too much time to “fuss” about the nuances of espresso-making, and also don’t care much for fine-tuning your brew, then the “do it all” super automatic machine may be what you are looking for.

Typically with a super automatic you’ll get the following:

Built-in coffee grinding capability

Rather than needing to get a $300 grinder separately in order to get that super fine espresso grind, a super automatic machine will usually have a grinder built right into its housing, so that at the push of a button the unit will fire up and start grinding the precise amount of coffee needed for a shot without you having to even “see the sausage being made.”

Automatic water filling ability

Another major factor that is usually taken right out of your hands is the amount of water, the pressure, the extraction time, and all of those other nuances to pulling a shot that can be difficult for even the most accomplished barista to deliver on a consistent basis.

Capability to automatically dispense milk

Finally, we have the milk.

While any barista in a cafe can make this look as easy as pie, steaming and frothing milk can actually be a pretty tricky business. Not so with a super automatic! Again, all it takes is the push of a button (and making sure that milk is in the machine!) and in seconds you’ll get a magical, frothy cup ‘a joe!

At the end of the day, super automatics are meant to be one-touch marvels for the laid back espresso lover. Just set it and forget it. You’ll be able to enjoy restaurant quality espresso as and when you want it.

2 Super Automatic Espresso Machines to Consider:

The DeLonghi ESAM3300 Magnifica Super-Automatic Espresso Machine
The DeLonghi Magnifica Super Automatic is an easy-to-use espresso machine that grinds beans instantly amd comes with a patented “Cappuccino System” frother that helps create a rich, creamy froth.
The Gaggia Brera Super Automatic Espresso Machine
The Gaggia Brera is an easy-to-use super automatic espresso machine that comes with a Pannarello wand that is perfect for making cappuccinos and lattes.

Taking control with a Semi automatic

For those of you that want to tweak the quality, look and feel of your espresso often, depending on your mood, the semi automatic machine may be your “cup 'a joe”! These devices allow you better control on some crucial espresso-making variables, including:

Adjustable water flow

The first and obvious one is the fact that a semi-automatic gives you more control over the actual brewing itself.

While a super automatic will have a preset time for extraction (and, just to be clear, some semi-automatic options will also come with this preset water flow) a semi-automatic ALSO generally includes a feature that allows you to make adjustments to that time, giving you more control over how long short of a time the shot will take to brew.

Automated water temperature and water pressure

While the ideal water temperature and pressure is going to be the same regardless of whether you or the machine are doing the brewing, with a semi-automatic, you can typically make minor tweaks and adjustments when you deem necessary in order to dial in the precise conditions for optimal brewing.

Grind it yourself

While some semi-automatic machines (like the Breville Barista Express) come with built-in grinders, even with the Breville you have the option for a single or double dose as well as manually filling the portafilter with your preferred amount of coffee grounds. Many other semi-autos don’t even have the built-in grinder, which means you’ll be left in total control to get the exact grind and quantity (not to mention tamping it manually) for your shot.

Steaming and frothing by hand

Finally, there’s the steam wand. While a super automatic will usually dispense that silky, creamy goodness right along with the shot, a semi-automatic classically comes with that swivel steam wand in order to allow you to froth and steam by hand to your heart’s content.

While the semi automatic machines do require extra time/effort, they allow you to personalize your espresso each time you feel the urge.

2 Semi Automatic Espresso Machines to Consider:

The Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
The Rancilio Silvia is a semi-automatic espresso machine that is made of high-quality parts and is able to handle commercial-size brewing. It comes with a cup warmer and a stainless steel steam wand that allows for a complete range of motion for steaming perfect latte quality milk.
The Gaggia Classic Semi-Automatic Espresso Maker
The Gaggia Classic is a great semi-automatic machine for the budding home barista. It comes with a Pannarello wand for steaming milk for lattes.

Complete Control With A Manual Machine

Finally, if you’re an old pro that lives and breathes espresso, you’re probably familiar with manual machines. These take complete control into your hands ...literally! 

Lever espresso machines are also popular with those who like the finer (and slower) things in life. Rather than just controlling the temperature, extraction time, etc., with a manual machine you literally push a lever and control the pressure of the shot itself!

These machines are expensive and take time to use, but you're rewarded with possibly the best tasting shot of espresso that's ever touched your lips. Take a look at a few of these beautiful manual espresso machines here.

One brand with several options in espresso machines is Rocket, make sure to check the R58 model, and the R 60V model.

Making The Right Choice

So how do you decide which is best for you?

 Well, at the end of the day it all boils down to personal preferences. Here are some things to consider when making your choice:

  • Looks: Today’s espresso machines come in varying styles, shapes, designs and colors. Go for what aesthetically pleases you, or for what works with your kitchen décor
  • Capabilities: While espresso-making would obviously be the prime consideration, some machines come with frothing features that allow you to brew macchiatos, cappuccinos, and Americanos. What’s your poison?
  • Capacity: If you don’t entertain a lot, then a smaller-sized unit may suffice. However, if you have a large family or extended circle of espresso-lovers, you may need something that produces 8 to 10+ cups at a time!
  • Maintenance: The cleaner your machine is, the better its produce will be. Look for easy cleaning features – like quickly being able to disassemble, wash/clean and reassemble the device

The importance of each of these features will differ from individual/family to individual/family. However, they all need to be weighed when choosing the espresso machine that’s right for you.

Find our top espresso machine choices for 2018 here.

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