7 Espresso Machines Types Explained: Which is Right for You?

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There are many different types of espresso machines ranging in price, size, functionality, user friendliness, and design. The level of automation also varies greatly. There are fully manual machines and completely automatic ones.

Some even have a built-in, automated grinder, doser, and tamper so the whole process starts and stops at the push of a button. 

No matter the machine, the result should always be a concentrated cup of coffee with a creamy body. However, the quality of the espresso can depend heavily on the quality of the machine. 

Since espresso is the base for many coffee drink recipes, choosing the right one is of utmost importance. Without a good shot of espresso, the flavor of your latte, cappuccino, americano, mocha, or macchiato will suffer.

But don’t forget, quality is not the only aspect to consider when shopping for a machine.

You’ll want to consider how much room you have on your counter, your budget, and what level of maintenance you are willing to manage. 

Finding the right machine for your specific needs is easier when you know what options are available. Here are some of the different types of espresso machines.

7 Types of Espresso Machines

Manual Espresso Machines

manual type espresso machine
Mark via Flickr

The level of automation you want your machine to have is a matter of preference.

A fully manual espresso machine takes time to learn to use well, but it’s great for people who want to have a part in every stage of the process. 

The variables that affect the quality of the espresso you end up with are the grind size, amount of coffee used, tamping pressure, length of brew time, brewing water temperature, and amount of pressure used in the extraction.

All of these variables can be adjusted in a manual espresso machine, giving the user full control over the final result.  

 

Semi-Automatic

semi automatic espresso machinesemi automatic espresso machine
Gaggia Classic

Some people want some control, but not all of it. For these people, semi-automatic machines are perfect.

The user grinds the coffee, doses it into the portafilter, tamps it down, and starts and stops the flow of water through the bed of coffee inserted into the machine’s grouphead.

What the user doesn’t have control over during the extraction process is the temperature of the water and the amount of pressure used. 

With this type of machine, the user also steams the milk. For a lot of people interested in making espresso drinks, this is the fun part. 

 

Automatic

automatic espresso machine
Connor Renwick via Flickr

An automatic machine is very similar to a semi-automatic in that the user controls most of the process.

The biggest difference is that the user does not stop the machine when the shot is done pulling.

This relieves the user of timing and weighing the shot themselves. The machine needs to be programmed to the user’s espresso recipe and preferences in this case.

 

Fully-Automatic (Super Automatic)

semi automatic espresso machinesemi automatic espresso machine

A fully-automatic espresso machine (sometimes called super-automatic), like this Jura Z8 often lets the user program the brewing and milk preferences, but does all the work for you after you’ve established what you like. 

Fully-automatic machines are not known for the best quality espresso, but rather ease of use. This is the ideal machine for someone who wants espresso but doesn’t want to put much time or energy into making it. 

 

Pump-Driven Machines 

pump driven espresso machine
Huyzee Vu via Flickr

The most common type of espresso machine is pump-driven. This means an electronic pump pushes the hot water through the machine.

The greatest benefit to this mechanism is that it is able to maintain consistent, high pressure throughout the course of the espresso extraction. 

Semi-automatic, automatic, and fully-automatic espresso machines are usually built with this feature. 

 

Lever-Driven Machines

lever type espresso machine
Mickey via Flickr

The other type of water delivering mechanism is lever-driven. In this case the user physically operates either a manual or spring-loaded lever to pull a shot.

This is the mechanism that is used to push the water through the coffee and into the cup on a manual espresso machine. 

 

Boiler-Type

dual boiler espresso
Dorian Bodnariuc via Flickr | Breville Dual Boiler Espresso Machine

The boiler is the part of the espresso machine where the water is stored and heated. There are two main categories: heat exchange machines and multi-boiler machines. 

In a heat exchange machine, there is a single boiler that is used for creating both steam for the steam wand, and hot water for the espresso.

This is what you’ll find in a lot of home espresso machines because they are reliable in maintaining a consistent temperature when they aren’t being used in high-volume situations. 

In a dual- or multi-boiler machine, there are separate boilers for separate functions. For instance, the steam wand will use a separate boiler than the groupheads.

This way you can steam milk while pulling a shot, without the temperature of the water fluctuating and affecting the outcome of the espresso. You will find these in a lot of commercial machines used in high-volume coffee shops. 

Conclusion

Knowing the different features and functions of an espresso machine can help you find exactly the right machine for your needs, based on your preferences and intended use. Pick one that’s right for you, and start making coffee!

Isaiah Ram
Isaiah was a former Starbucks barista partner. He prefers using a Chemex brewer than espresso machine to make his coffee. Why? He believes that a good cup of coffee takes time to make. And if you're looking for special Starbucks secret menu, he's the guys to ask to! Read more about the site here.
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