The Beginner’s Guide to Espresso Machines

By:  Katya Coen

Baristas are trained in the art of making the perfect espresso. It requires a lot of patience and practice and is not easy to master. However, there is an easier way. An espresso machine. They make espresso a much simpler beverage to create by controlling the temperature precisely.

There are several different types of machines available, each functioning in a different manner. There are piston-driven espresso machines, semi-automatic machines, and automatic machines.

In the Beginning

Espresso came into being when people were looking for a quicker way to make their coffee. In Italy, around 1901, Luigi Bezzera found a way to make hot pressurized water and its steam push through a bed of finely ground coffee. The result was a quick, individual cup of highly concentrated coffee that came to be known as espresso. Bezzera acquired a patent for his machine and in 1903 these first espresso machines were sold in Europe.

These machines were not easy to use. There was no consistency to the espresso produced because the temperature and steam were controlled by the operator, leaving room for a large amount of diversity in the resulting beverages.

In 1935 Illy invented a coffee maker that used compressed air instead of steam, thus solving the problem of exploding espresso makes. His machine gave a more favorable, stable result.

The lever action espresso machine was invented by Achille’s Gaggia in 1945 and still today bears his name. Both the Illeta and Gaggia versions of espresso machines are available on the market today.
Illy continued to expand and simplify his espresso machine by combining the best parts of other makers.

Various Types of Espresso Machines

Piston Driven Machines

Piston-driven machines are more authentic than any other espresso machine. It is the most primitive of the machines. Designed in Italy in 1945, this design 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. The piston driven espresso is also how the crema came to be a part of the drink.

Espresso drinkers who also value authenticity tend to opt for the piston-driven machine. Otherwise you can usually find them as part of a display. Advancements in technology that brought the semi-automatic and the automatic machine made the piston-driven machine obsolete.

Semi-Automatic and Automatic Machines

Semi-automatic machines are hard to find due to the advanced popularity of fully automatic espresso machines.

Semi-automatic machines and automatic espresso machines both have the hot water delivered using a pump system. However, in a semi-automatic machine the bean grinding, preparing and placing in the machine are all done by hand.

Automatic and super automatic espresso machines require that you only put the beans in. The machine measures the water, regulates the temperature and even grinds the beans to make the espresso. Many true enthusiasts believe that the quality of the espresso is lost in the automation.

Commercial or Home Use

In addition to the types of espresso machines are the uses for the machine. If the espresso machine is intended for home use then the cost is going to be decreased significantly. For commercial use, the cost can skyrocket.

Home espresso makers should be purchased with longevity in mind. The purchaser should have an idea of how often it will be used. If it is going to be used a lot, a low end commercial maker might be a better choice. For occasional use, a home maker will suffice.

Commercial makers can be plumbed to a water source or be manually filled – another cost to consider when looking into espresso makers. The more automated the machine the higher the cost.

Espresso makers come in a variety of types and sizes, all designed to prepare the very best espresso possible. When deciding on a machine, care should be taken to get the one that best serves the intended purpose.

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