Beginner’s Guide to Home Espresso Machines

December 27, 2011

By: R.L. Fielding

Replicating that special taste and aroma of a fine restaurant-style espresso can indeed be done right in the comfort of your own home.

If you’re in the market to purchase an espresso coffee machine, it’s a good idea to learn the basics when it comes to the types of machines out there on the market. After all, you’ll want the espresso machine to be durable enough to last a long time and be able to accommodate all the different tastes in your household. Finding the right model for you will depend on the level of interest in the actual art of brewing espresso, the number of people who will be using it, and how often these people will be indulging in a fresh-brewed cup.

Manual Espresso Machines

There are four types of espresso machines. The first is the manual machine, otherwise known as the piston-driven machine, which gives the owner control of when he or she can pull their shot for optimal taste. The most primitive of the machines, this model requires strong arms to make the espresso. The piston-driven machine uses a lever that is pumped by the operator to force pressure onto hot water, driving it through the coffee grinds. This pulling down of the handle is how the term ‘pulling a shot’ came into being.

You may want to consider purchasing a manual espresso machine if you’re intrigued by the romanticism and art of espresso making; however, this process might be frustrating for some as it can take many times to get the hang of it. The manual spring piston lever machines like the Elektra Micro Casa a Leva include an internal spring that is used to push water through a bed of ground coffee at a specific and declining pressure. You’re still manually pulling the lever here for your shot of espresso, but the internal spring helps you along in the process.

The other kind of manual espresso machine is the direct lever machine, where you’re solely acting as the “pump,” by applying pressure to the water to brew a shot. A good example of what’s available on the market is the La Pavoni Professional Machine. This model also gives you manual control over your espresso, but baristas-in-training beware! This machine requires a lot of patience and practice to get a great shot.

Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

The next type of espresso maker is a semi automatic machine, like the Isomac Zaffiro Machine. Semi automatics do all the things you want an espresso maker to do, without as much effort. They maintain a good brewing temperature by automatically turning on the heating element inside whenever the machine detects a certain drop in the boiler temperature. Semi automatics also regulate and maintain the pump pressure, which means consistent pressure on the bed of coffee.

While manual machines require you (or a spring) to push water through the coffee, leading to a wide variety of results in the cup, semi-automatics allow you to control the water flow for every espresso shot you make. This appeals to many consumers because there’s a smaller margin of error.

Automatic Espresso Machines

A newer category of home espresso machine is the automatic. This machine may appeal to those consumers who don’t necessarily have the time to labor over the perfect cup of espresso. The ideal user of the automatic espresso machines is simply looking to get the job done fast and efficiently, while preserving that great European-style espresso flavor. Models such as the Vibiemme Domobar Super and the Bodum Granos are convenient for those in a rush and their consistent reliability might also appeal to commercial environments like restaurants..

With an automatic brewer, you press a button and the machine delivers a predetermined volume of water, more or less the same amount every time. (If you grind finer or pack more coffee into the basket, the overall extraction will be less.) So you load up your portafilter with coffee, tamp it, lock it into your machine, press a button, and you’re finished. The machine will stop brewing once its internal volumeter hits the preprogrammed amount.

Super-Automatic Espresso Machines

The latest addition to the lineup are super automatic machines or, in other words, the instant-brew espresso machines. If you’d prefer that the machine do all the work for you, then the super automatic machine is a perfect match. These espresso machines typically boast professional level pressure systems (15-bar or higher) to ensure full and consistent extraction for a perfectly rich and frothy cup each time. They also use airtight, single-serve capsules just like standard one-cup coffee machines for a no mess, no fuss process. This is about as hands off as you can get while still enjoying the great taste of a freshly brewed espresso. Models such as the Comobar and NESCAFÉ Dolce Gusto do it all with the press of a button and may appeal to the single person or the couple on the run. They’re also very affordably priced when compared to the more traditional espresso makers.

At the end of the day, each person should make their own, educated decision when purchasing a home espresso machine. Remember to keep longevity in mind, how many people will be using the machine on a daily basis, and know your lifestyle. If you’re an on-the-go or the impatient type, then choosing something between a semi- and a super-automatic is probably more your speed. On the other hand, if you want to take the time to indulge and practice the art of espresso making, the manual machine will create the classic café experience that you’re after. Whatever you choose, enjoy the process – and your espresso!

About R.L. Fielding

R.L. Fielding has been a freelance writer for 10 years, offering her expertise and skills to a variety of major organizations in the education, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, financial services, and manufacturing industries.

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