Filter coffee machines may be very popular, but espresso coffee drinks are even more sought after. Ordering a cappuccino from your favorite coffee shop is one of the greatest joys of a coffee lovers. But espresso machines are usually pricier than drip brew machines.
The History of Espresso Machines
An espresso machine brews coffee by pushing water that is close to boiling point through a “puck” of ground coffee and a filter. A thick, concentrated coffee called espresso is produced. The first espresso machine was built in 1884 by Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy.
In 1901 Luigi Bezzera created an improved design which was patented, it was bought by the founder of the La Pavoni Company. From 1905 espresso machines were commercially produced on a small scale in Milan.
The different kinds of Espresso Machines
Different espresso machines share some common elements such as a group-head and a port-a-filter. Espresso machines are either steam-driven, piston-driven, pump-driven or air-pump-driven and can be manual or automatic.
A steam-driven machines functions by pushing water through the coffee ground with steam pressure. The first espresso machines were steam types. They produced espressos when a common boiler was connected to four group heads, this ensured that multiple types of coffee could be made simultaneously.
The piston, or lever, machine was developed in Italy, 1945. It was created by, Achille Gaggia, the founder of espresso machine manufacturer Gaggia. It uses a lever, pumped by the operator, to generate pressurize hot water that is pushed through the coffee grinds.
There are two types: manual piston and spring piston. The manual machine requires the operator to directly push the water through the grounds. The spring design uses the tension of a spring, which then creates the pressure to make an espresso.
An improvement of the piston concept, is the pump-driven machine. It was introduced in 1961 and has become the most popular commercial design. Instead of manual force a motor-driven pump provides the force needed to produce an espresso.
Espresso Machines for Home Use
Some home pump machines use a single chamber both to heat water and to boil water for steaming milk. These actions are performed separately, a warm up period is needed between the espresso pull and the milk frothing.
The temperature for brewing is lower than the temperature for creating steam. Single boiler, dual use machines are no longer very popular after the introduction of the steam wand system that simplified the process.
The heat exchanger system uses a single boiler that is kept at the correct steaming temperature, but water that is used for brewing is passed through a heat exchanger. This takes away some of the heat from the steam, without increasing it to the same temperature.
The water for brewing does remains at a lower range, but it is still too hot for proper coffee extraction. Hence this type of machine requires a cooling flush of between four to six seconds before the first espresso pull.
When the machine has reached the proper temperature, as many shots as required can be pulled without refreshing. But if the machine stands idle for some time, the flushing process must be repeated.
The dual boiler or dual heater system can be used commercially or at home. The system has two boilers, for brewing and creating froth. It creates a more stable brew temperature, but at the expense of steaming performance and speed.
Moka pots or stove top espresso makers, can produce similar coffee to espresso machines. They are often classed as percolators but have some subtle differences. Another name is a “macchinetta”, Italian for “little machine” or “caffettiera”, Italian for coffee maker.
They brew under pressure and the coffee produced shares some similarities to the espresso machines. Their use of pressure and steam to complete the brewing process, makes them similar to espresso machines prior to the 1948 Gaggia.
They produce coffee with an extraction ratio similar to conventional espresso machines. Depending on the bean variety and grind selection, Moka pots can create crema, the same foam emulsion that espresso machines produce.
They do brew under substantially lower pressure, 1.5 bars (21 psi) rather than 9 bars (130 psi) and also use hotter water, a mix of boiling water and steam at above 212 °F (100 °C), rather than 197.6–204.8 °F (92–96 °C) of espresso machines. This makes them very similar to the early steam brewing machines.
The bottom section contains the water. The middle section has a filter-basket that holds the ground coffee and it sits within the bottom section. The top section with a metal filter then screws onto the bottom section.
As the pot is heated on a stove plate, the pressure from the steam building up in the bottom section, pushes the water through a tube into the filter-basket and passes through the ground coffee and metal filter. It is then funneled into the top section where the coffee is collected.
Air-pump driven machines use compressed air to push the hot water through the coffee grounds. The hot water is added from a kettle or a thermos flask. The compressed air is created either from a hand-pump, N2 or CO2 cartridges or an electric compressor.
These machines are much smaller and lighter than electric machines, often handheld and portable. The most famous air-pump, is the AeroPress, invented by Alan Adler in 2005. The Handpresso Wild, was introduced in 2007. It was invented by a French innovation house, Nielsen Innovation SARL.
The Best Espresso Machines
Four of the best espresso coffee machines are reviewed below.
This formidable machine will transform your kitchen counter into a coffee shop hub. Produce the same quality cappuccino that you usually order from your favorite commercial coffee spot.
Fitted with a stainless steel conical burr grinder with 1/2lb bean hopper and 15 bar Italian pump. It features a 1450W stainless steel thermo-coil heating system and adjustable grind size and grind amount settings.
The advanced electronic system has preset options, re-programmable shot volumes or a manual over-ride if you feel confident enough that you have mastered the art of espresso making.
Rated as the no.1 best seller steam espresso machine on Amazon.
The machine makes use of steam heat to force hot steam through the filter, creating a dark and rich espresso brew. The frothing arm produces creamy froth to create delicious cappuccinos and lattes. The easy pour glass pot serves up to four shots.
A drip tray collects coffee drips and keeps the brew space neat and clean. The drip catcher is removable and washable.
With this stylish little machine, espresso preparation is simple and fast. It uses a convenient pod or ground coffee system with a patented dual function filter holder. You can easily prepare lattes and cappuccinos with the swivel jet frother. Create the perfect drink every time.
You can eliminate annoying preparation with the self-priming operation. Two separate thermostats ensure that the water and steam pressure is controlled separately. This results in consistent temperature monitoring.
This unique coffee maker uses total immersion and gentle pressure to produce coffee with an extraordinarily rich flavor. You can make American style coffee or an espresso-style shot, perfect for use in lattes or cappuccinos.
Due to the lower brewing temperature and short brew time, the acid level of the coffee produced is much lower than conventional brewers. The micro-filtered brew is pure and particle-free. It can even be stored as a concentrate for a few days.
The Breville Barista Espresso Machine with Grinder will give you the luxury of a commercial style espresso machine in the comfort of your own home. With the built-in grinder, you have a complete little coffee station at your disposal.
The system can seem daunting to first-time coffee machine users, but the automatic functions makes it easy to use.
The Mr. Coffee 4-Cup Steam Espresso Machine is ideal for effortless brewing. It’s also very handy when you are hosting a party to make more than one cup of coffee at a time.
The De’Longhi Retro Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker is perfect for an effortless brewing experience with user-friendly automatic settings. The two-cup preparation is a very handy feature.
The AeroPress Coffee Maker is a very recent addition to the coffee brewing world, but it has taken the market by storm. Its distinctive pressure system is very easy to use and quick. It produces a high quality cup of coffee unequalled by many other machine brewing systems.