Barista Training 101: Types of Espresso Machines


There are various types of espresso machines that can be found in today’s market which can make it quite confusing to select the one that would best suit your needs.   Many of them share common characteristics yet others operate very differently in order to achieve the desired taste of the espresso.  There are four main types of espresso machines that are commonly used which are described below.

Steam-driven Espresso Machines

steamThese types of machines produce espressos by using steam pressure which forces water through the coffee.  Many of the lower priced machines in today’s market use this type of mechanism.  For serious espresso drinkers this type of machine is generally not recommended.  Many believe it’s just an improved version of the stove top Moka Pot Coffee Maker and produces a stronger version of coffee rather than an actual espresso.

They operate by filling water up to the safety valve and then inserting a metal filter.  Then the fine coffee grinds are added to the filter and the upper part is screwed onto the base of the Moka Pot which contains a second filter, made of metal.  The pot is placed on a stove and once the water starts boiling and the steam created reaches a high enough pressure, the boiling water is pushed up the funnel and through the coffee powder and into the upper part of the Moka Pot where the coffee is collected.  Generally, this is not considered a sophisticated type of espresso machine since the final product is lacking in quality compared to the latest machines available on the market today.

Piston-driven (Lever) Espresso Machines

pistonThese types of machines produce espressos by using a lever which pressurizes hot water which is forced through the coffee grinds.  The lever is pumped by the operator.  Two different designs can be found in this type of machine and the main difference is how the lever is operated.  The first is the manual piston which requires the operator to directly push the water through the grounds.  The second is the spring piston design which requires the operator to create tension on a spring that produces the pressure to create the espresso.  This type of espresso machine is not recommended for beginners since it requires a lot of learning on how to get the espresso just right using the manual pumping lever.  It can also be time consuming to produce multiple cups of espressos using this method.

Pump-driven Espresso Machines

semi-automaticThis machine is a more sophisticated version of the piston-driven espresso machines.  It uses a motor-driven pump instead of manual pumping to force water through the coffee grinds to make an espresso.  Most coffee shops use this type of machine for espresso brewing.  There are variations in the automation of pump-driven espresso machines which include the following:

I.  Semi-Automatic:  Uses a pump instead of manually forcing water through coffee.  Your job is to put tamp the coffee grinds into the portafilter and to turn the machine on.  Once you have the appropriate amount of espresso coming out you press the same button again to stop the brewing.  An espresso you order at Starbucks will have used this type of machine in its brewing.  Many commercial coffee businesses use this type of machine since it can produce espresso shots quickly and can produce better quality shots since determining and cutting the brewing time is controlled by the operator.

II. Automatic:  It operates similar to the semi-automatic but you don’t have to push the button again to stop the brewing since it will stop on its own once the programmed amount of water has passed through the machine. Similarly to the automatic you still have to grind the coffee and tamp it into the portafilter.

III. Super-Automatic:  This type of machine automatically grinds the coffee, tamps it and supplies the boiling water which is pushed through the coffee grind using the right amount of pressure to make the espresso.  This type of machine can be quite costly a price tag that many are willing to pay for its convenience.  

Air-pump-driven Espresso Machines

These types of machines have lately being coming out in the market.  They are generally lighter and more portable because of their weight.  They use compressed air to force hot water added from a kettle or a flask through the coffee grinds.  The compressed air in these machines is sourced by a hand pump, N2O or CO2 cartridges or an electric compressor.  This type of espresso due to its portability allows you to take it with you while travelling and allows you to make a quality espresso one at a time.

Now that the common types of espresso machines as well as their characteristics have been listed, you can decide which type of machine is best suited for your home or business.