An espresso machine is an important appliance in the kitchen that makes work easier. If you’ve finally bought one in your home, you must be eager to know how it works. You can easily know how an espresso machine works if you understand the various components that are in it.
Important Terms That You Need to Know
Even before you get to know how an espresso machine works, you must know a few terms related to espresso machines. Here is a list of key terms that you should familiarize yourself with:
- Dialing in – this is jargon used to explain the tweaking of certain parameters within the espresso machine to achieve the desired result. For example, you may adjust the grind size and amount of coffee you are using.
- Portafilter – just as the name suggests, a portafilter is the place to put your ground coffee to be filtered. During the process of making an espresso, water goes through the portafilter at a specified pressure to produce coffee.
- Tamp – it is the action of compressing coffee by creating restrictions to water channels to ensure that water doesn’t just pass through the coffee. Tamping ensures that most coffee solids are dissolved before water passes.
- Bars of pressure – this is the pressure of extracting the coffee from the espresso machine.
You should know these basic terms as you use your espresso machine. This is because you will be coming across most of these terms when you are learning how an espresso machine works.
Parts of an Espresso Machine
Even if you are using an automatic espresso machine, you need to understand the various parts of the espresso machine. This is the only way you can know how an espresso machine works. The important parts that you should know include:
- The water source
- The pump
- The boiler
- The steam wand
- The group head
The Water Source
Water is an important element for the functioning of an espresso machine. There are two primary sources from which water can enter a home espresso i.e. a reservoir or a plumbed connection. The usage of the espresso determines the kind of water source attached to it. For example, if you have a home espresso machine that makes a handful of espressos and lattes every day, you’ll need a water source fitted with a reservoir.
However, if your intention is to produce hundreds of drinks every day, you will need a supply of water that is steady. This means that a plumbed-in water source would suffice this kind of demand for espresso.
You can also find hybrid espresso machines that offer both water sources.
Pros and cons of water reservoir:
- The benefit is that it is easier to set and has a smaller footprint
- The disadvantage is that it requires regular cleaning.
Pros and cons of plumbed-in:
- Easy to operate because you don’t have to refill a reservoir
- It may require some modification to allow plumbing.
The pump is the engine in an espresso machine that gives water the strength to go through the ground coffee. 9 bars of pressure is the amount needed to push water through the ground coffee. In the past, homeowners had to manually push levers to force water out. However, modern automatic espresso machines make it easier and we no longer need a barista to pull the lever.
Types of pumps: There are two types of pumps i.e. vibratory and rotary pumps.
1. Vibratory Pump
These pumps work like engine diesel via pistons. Inside the espresso machine is a metal to which the piston is attached via a magnet. When electrical current passes through the metal, the piston moves back and forth rapidly, causing a vibration. This is why vibratory pumps are noisy.
2. Rotary Pump
This is a complex mechanical pump that uses a motor to spin a disc inside the chamber. As the spinning continues, water enters the chamber because the segmented sections are pressed against the wall and diminish in size. The benefit of a rotary pump is that it is quiet. It also has a longer lifespan of about 15 years.
What’s the Difference?
The major difference between a vibratory pump and a rotary pump is the cost. They both brew coffee of the same quality but have different prices. Rotary pumps are more expensive than vibratory pumps. If you are looking for the best budget espresso machine, you might end up with one with a fine vibratory pump.
The boiler controls the temperature of the espresso machine. You’ll encounter different types of boilers. One of the most common types of boilers is that which functions as a thermostat. It switches the heat on and off depending on the settings instructed. This means that if it switches the temperature on and off when it reaches a certain temperature.
If you have a smaller boiler for your espresso machine, you could end up with ‘burnt coffee’. This is why some newer ways of monitoring temperatures have been developed in newer machines. Some machines don’t use thermometers but rely on digital mechanisms to control temperature.
Another important component of an espresso machine is the steam wand. This is particularly important if you are making lattes or cappuccinos with textured milk. Steam is needed in the machine if you want to get the milk textured.
However, some machines do not have steam wands because they require higher temperatures to produce steam. The higher temperatures are undesirable because they reduce the quality of the coffee.
The Group Head
This is the final stop for water moving through an espresso machine. It is the visible part in front of your espresso machine from where you get your final brewed coffee.
Understanding these various elements of the espresso machine is pretty simple. So, next time you make coffee, you should know how an espresso machine works. This can also be helpful when you are buying an espresso machine. You can ask your seller to be more specific about the elements in the machine to convince you about the performance of the machine.