11 Useful Espresso Machine Mods: Get More for Your Money
Want to turn a good espresso machine into a great espresso machine? A great espresso machine into something top-of-the-line? Then you’ve come to the right place!
In this post, we’ve rounded up the 11 best espresso machine mods. Some are easy swaps, others require a bit of technical know-how, but all are guaranteed upgrades. For tastier espresso, a more efficient workflow, or a fresh new look, keep reading.
1. Adding a PID Controller
A PID controller controls boiler temperature and thus brew temperature. Compared to the pressure stats found on cheaper machines, a PID provides a more stable brew temperature — and a more delicious espresso (1).
Installing a PID is one of the most popular mods because it makes a huge difference in espresso quality, but it’s not the easiest. You’ll need a good understanding of the internal layout of your machine and some basic electrical skills.
2. Changing the Steam Wand
Even easier than changing the steam wand? Change the steam tip! This controls the speed of frothing, making it easier to steam milk.
If steaming is going too quickly, you can slow it down by using a 2-hole steam tip. This is a perfect idea if you’re steaming small volumes of milk. On the other hand, if steaming is frustratingly slow, you might want to switch to a 3 or 4 hole steam tip.
3. Changing the Steam Tip
Even easier than changing the steam wand? Change the steam tip! This controls the speed of frothing making it easier to steam milk.
If steaming is going too quickly, you can slow it down by using a 2-hole steam tip. This is an especially good idea if you’re steaming small volumes of milk. On the other hand, if steaming is frustratingly slow, then you might want to switch to a 3 or 4 hole steam tip.
4. Adding an Adjustable OPV and Pressure Gauge
An overpressure valve (OPV) lets you adjust the pump pressure and thus brew pressure. Fancier models often have an adjustable OPV, but it’s an increasingly popular modification for cheaper machines. We now know that different coffees extract best at different brew pressures (2).
Of course, if you’re adding an OPV, you’ll also want to add a pressure gauge to see which brew pressure yields the tastiest shot. That makes this mod one of the more complicated in terms of tools and skills required.
5. Adding Flow Control
These days, flow control (aka pressure profiling) is all the rage with serious espresso nerds. It lets you optimise extraction by varying the pressure as you pull a shot. Some fancy machines have this option built-in, like the La Marzocco GS3, Lelit Bianca, or Slayer.
There are after-market mods for those that don’t, which consist of a controllable valve and pressure gauge. ECM/Profitec makes one for E61 group heads, and the Smart Espresso Profiler from Naked Portafilter works with nearly any machine (3).
6. Upgrading the Shower Screen
The shower screen creates an even flow of water over the puck of ground coffee in the filter basket, a key to proper extraction. There are several inexpensive ways to upgrade your shower screen.
You can get a “precision” shower screen, which is more carefully machined to produce a more even flow of water. Or you can further upgrade to a coated shower screen, which stays cleaner by resisting the build-up of coffee oils.
7. New Filter Baskets
Inexpensive espresso machines come with pressurised filter baskets, which are designed to give a great-looking espresso. If you want a great-tasting espresso, it’s worth the very inexpensive upgrade to a non-pressurised basket — provided you also have access to a decent burr grinder.
Want to take it a step further? Invest in a precision basket, which is carefully machined to yield fewer clogs and better extraction.
8. Bottomless Portafilter
Okay, this isn’t exactly a mod, but it’s a popular addition to any espresso lover’s arsenal of accessories. Also known as a naked portafilter, a bottomless portafilter doesn’t have spouts at the bottom; instead, the filter basket is exposed.
Sure, this is frustrating, but it’s also an incredible learning opportunity. If you’ve prepared your puck poorly, espresso will spurt all over the place. Plus, once you’ve mastered your technique, the sheer beauty of a perfect shot falling from a bottomless portafilter is unmatched.
9. Group Head Thermometer
Adding a group head thermometer is common on heat exchanger espresso machines because you don’t set the brew temperature directly in this style of machine. So adding a thermometer allows you to know your brew temperature precisely.
Because different brewing temperatures are ideal for different roast levels of coffee (for example, light roasts extract better at slightly higher temperatures), a group head thermometer is a great mod if you like to experiment with different coffees (4).
10. Steam Wand Controls
Steam wand controls are a matter of personal preference. Just like the steam wands themselves. Some people prefer joysticks for their instantaneous response, whereas others like the more tactile control of a knob.
Most manufacturers are consistent with a particular style, but many distributors will let you swap one for the other when you purchase. You can also make the change yourself at home, provided you have a bit of technical know-how.
11. Aesthetic Changes
While some people declare aesthetic adjustments a waste of money, I strongly disagree. If you’re buying an expensive espresso machine, spending a bit more to have it perfectly suit your space is well worth it for the smile it’ll bring to your face each morning.
Common aesthetic changes include swapping plastic knobs and handles for wood accents, adding stylish panels, or powder coating the machine the color of your choice.
Which espresso machine mod is right for me?
Does a list of 11 feel like an overwhelming number of possibilities? Don’t worry. It’s easy to narrow it down to just one or two that will most benefit your espresso machine.
- Suppose you have an inexpensive appliance-grade espresso machine (like Cuisinart, Breville, Delonghi, and so on). In that case, the first thing you should do is swap the pressurised filter basket for a non-pressurised basket. It’s inexpensive and easy to do. Want to work a little harder? The next step would be an upgrade to a more professional steam wand.
- Entry-level prosumer espresso machines (like the Gaggia Classic Pro or Rancilio Silvia) are the most popular to mod. They’re relatively inexpensive upfront, without a lot of bells and whistles, and they have plenty of open space inside for adding new plumbing or wiring. If you have one of these machines, adding a PID, an OPV, and/or a pressure gauge is a great start. You could also upgrade the shower screen or switch steam tips.
- Upper-level prosumer espresso machines already have a lot of features, so in these cases, you’ll either be adding advanced functionality or just adjusting the machine to suit your taste. In terms of features, adding a flow control device adds a whole new variable to optimise extraction. You might want to try a bottomless portafilter, change out the steam wand controls, or make aesthetic changes in terms of preferences.
- If you have a heat exchanger prosumer machine, a group head thermometer is an easy mod that can have a big impact.
Did you enjoy this list? Are you ready to pull out the tools and start tinkering with your espresso machine? Are you making better espresso than ever before? If so, be sure to share this list with all your espresso-loving friends! Let us know in the comments how it went.
- La Marzocco. (2015, October 15). A Brief History of the PID. Retrieved from https://home.lamarzoccousa.com/history-of-the-pid/
- Kilbride, D. (2017, June 8). How Does Pressure Affect Espresso Quality? Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2017/06/how-does-pressure-affect-espresso-quality/
- Bryman, H. (2018, September 17). The Smart Espresso Profiler (SEP) Adds Flow and Pressure Profiling to Virtually Any Machine. Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2018/09/17/the-smart-espresso-profiler-sep-adds-flow-and-pressure-profiling-to-virtually-any-machine/
- Fekete, M. (2019, February). How brew water temperature effects espresso extraction. Retrieved from https://www.beanscenemag.com.au/brew-water-temperature-effect-espresso-extraction/