Water tank size
Espresso serving sizes are always small, but espresso machines vary in terms of how much water they hold. When you have a larger water reservoir, you can make shot after shot without needing to refill the tank. Larger tanks can hold as much as 60-70 ounces, while smaller espresso makers hold 20-30 oz. For convenience, you should be sure that the water tank is removable so you can just pop it out and refill it when necessary. Before you buy an espresso maker, think about how big of a water tank you really need and how many people will actually be drinking espresso. If you’re the only person in your home who partakes, it would be a waste to get a machine with a really large tank.
Espresso machines have been getting smaller and smaller over the years, you can save on valuable counter space. Even machines that make two espresso shots at once can be very small. It is not uncommon for a very small espresso maker to fit easily in a corner and take up less space than a blender. Ones that make two cups at once tend to be a bit larger, but many companies are able to use innovative design ideas to shrink down the size. For weight, a very light espresso machine can be 6-10 pounds, which is great for when you need to move the machine or store it in a cupboard. Larger, more heavy-duty espresso makers range from 20-25 pounds.
One of the biggest concerns with all coffee makers, including espressos, is that the coffee is not hot like a shot you would get at a cafe. Espresso machines have several features designed to combat that problem. A high-voltage boiler (1000-2000 watts) generates fast warm-up times, so your espresso gets hot quickly. A thermoblock (or thermocoil) heating element also helps with temperature. This type of element heats only the amount of water one serving requires, instead of a whole tank, which is also more energy-efficient. Other heating features include cup warmers, which prevents the coffee cooling down once it’s in your cup, and advanced pump boilers that retain heat.
One of the most important parts of an espresso machines is the portafilter. This is where the ground coffee is packed. The filter basket rests inside the portafilter, and has tiny holes that act like a sieve. Water runs through this from above and through the ground coffee, creating espresso. Many espresso machines also have filters specifically for the water, or “bottomless” filters. These filters are meant to produce flavor and are ideal for very fine grounds. They have a chopped-off bottom so you can actually see the espresso as it pours, giving you more control over the quality of each shot.
The bar pump on an espresso machine is basically a lever that applies pressure to the coffee grounds. 9 BAR equals a pressure of 130 lb/square inch, which is the standard for espresso. Many espresso machines have a very high BAR rating, because the idea is that the more pressure you apply, the richer and more intense the espresso will be. It is not uncommon to see espresso makers with a BAR rating of 15 and above. However, the reason their rating is so high is because home espresso machines tend to use cheaper pumps. They need to have such a high rating to just make sure that the machine gets to 9 BARS; it isn’t like by buying an espresso maker with an insanely high rating is going to result in the strongest espresso you’ve ever had.
Frothed milk is an important part of speciality coffee drinks like espresso. Most espresso makers have some kind of steam wand which you turn on and stick into a container of milk. The wand will froth the milk for you, with 150-155 degrees F being the optimal temperature for steamed milk. When ready, you just spoon the froth on top of your espresso shot. Some wands have special features like tiny holes to generate more airflow. Having a steam wand makes frothing milk extremely convenient, and much faster than trying to froth milk on the stove or even in the microwave.
Most espresso machines are made of stainless steel, which is a good conduit for heat and durability. They’re also very sleek-looking and give your kitchen that shiny, coffee-shop vibe. Construction also plays a part in the quality of the machine; portafilters and groupheads made from heavy-duty brass are very reliable, which is important since they are in constant use when you make your coffee. Chrome plating is very common as well, and goes over the stainless steel and any other metal surface.
Saeco, owned by the Dutch brand Philips since 2009, as originally created in 1981. Four years later, they introduced the first automatic espresso machine for non-commercial users. Since that time, they have been on the forefront of technological advances such as the cappuccinatore (a milk frother) and the automatic brewing pressure adaption. Some of the most famous features of the Saeco brand include aroma preservation, superior bean-grinding, and one-touch milk foamers.
Based in Switzerland, Nespresso (owned by Nestle) began to develop machines and coffee capsules in 1986. This was a new frontier for coffee lovers, with the convenient, pre-packed coffee capsules offering perfect, single-serving shots of delicious espresso. In addition to the quality of their actual machines, Nespresso is dedicated to offering only the finest coffees, you can find an overview of their flavors at their website. They select green coffees from all over the world, and only 1-2% of the global crop meets Nespresso’s standards. Nespresso monitors every step of the bean and machine manufacturing process.
DeLonghi originally manufactured machine parts, and then became a heater and air conditioner company. It has greatly expanded its product line since foundation over a century ago in 1902. They are most famous for their gelato makers and espresso machines, which capture the quality people would expect from an Italian company. Their espresso machines include bean-to-cup and pump espresso machines. They currently partner with Nespresso.
Founded in 1931 in Switzerland, Jura has been developing high-quality appliances for home and commercial use for nearly a century. Their product line includes fully-automated espresso machines that boast the latest technology innovations, attractive designs, and easy-to-use controls. The espresso brands are also very expensive, so they are not intended for the casual coffee lover.
Variety of speciality drinks
Many more advanced espresso machines do a lot more than just espresso. With these machines, you can make a variety of speciality coffee drinks, like cappuccinos or lattes. Some even have the options of hot chocolate and tea The drink options are built right into the machine, so you just select the kind of drink you would like. The most technologically-advanced machines even allow you to perfect your settings and then save your drink, so you don’t have to push a bunch of buttons every time.
With most espresso machines, you need to have a separate grinder if you want to use whole beans for your espresso. However, the more expensive espresso units have grinders built right into them. These include multi-level conical grinders, which capture the full-bodied aroma of the beans and grind slowly, so the coffee becomes very fine and consistent. This kind of grinder allows you to enjoy the best your espresso machine has to offer; even the best coffee maker can only make a poor grind taste so good. You also save money from not having to buy a separate grinder, and save on storage space.
Unlike most espresso machines with built in grinders that use stainless steel, ceramic grinders allow for extremely consistent coffee particles. You have a lot more control over the quality and density of your espresso this way, and can perfect each cup. If you are really interested in the art of espresso as well as the taste and quality, machines with an ceramic grinder are worth it.
Uses coffee pods
Brands like Nespresso are known for their coffee pods, also called capsules. Instead of using ground coffee, you use little single-serving pods which are cleaner and more convenient than using grounds. Other brands have pod adapters so you can go between grounds or pods as you desire. Many of these espresso machines also include containers for the used capsules which can hold up to 10 or more empty pods.
Aroma is a huge part of the espresso experience. More advanced machines have specially-designed features that enhance this aspect of the espresso. A monitored aroma preservation cover protects the beans so they stay as fresh as when you first opened the bag. There are even special built-in grinders (Aroma+ grinders) that grind gently to preserve the bean fragrance.
Cleaning out your espresso machine is the least fun part of coffee maker ownership. Many espresso brands understand this, and so have designed cleaning features that take the burden off of you. Auto clean/rinse cycles refresh the espresso maker, so you can make a ton of espresso before you need to fully clean out the machine. Other espresso makers, like KRUPS, include a set of cleaning tools like descaling powder and steam wand liquid cleaner so you can be sure you’re getting your appliance really clean.