Steam vs. Pump Espresso Machines

by Kate Carpenter

There's nothing like a smooth, rich shot of espresso to get you going in the morning. And while buying a latte from the coffee shop is expensive, it's often difficult to recreate that taste at home. The key to brewing perfect espresso, though, might be in the machine you choose.

How Steam Machines Work

Steam machines brew espresso by heating water until it's hot enough to boil and produce steam. The pressure from that heat forces the steam through the espresso grounds until the liquid drips out on the other side into the espresso pot.

How Pump Machines Work

Pump machines, on the other hand, heat the water until it's just hot enough to extract coffee from the grounds. The system uses a pump inside the machine to force water through the grounds and result in a shot of espresso.

Advantages

In general, steam machines are far less expensive. In addition, because the water used to create it is so hot, the resulting espresso is much hotter. With a pump machine, however, the resulting espresso has a higher quality taste and the foam is also better.

Disadvantages

Steam machines, thanks to the high heat of the water, can leave espresso tasting slightly bitter and burned. They can also struggle with producing good foam. Additionally, the high temperature of the process makes it impossible to open the machine to refill it without burning yourself. Pump machines, though they produce better results, are far more expensive. They can also be larger and more awkward, especially if you're short on kitchen space, and can be slightly more difficult to use.

Other Considerations

In addition to choosing a steam or a pump model, take a few other factors into consideration when buying your own espresso machine. If you are impatient or don't have much experience brewing espresso drinks, opt for a simpler model without too many complicated features so that you'll be able to brew your drinks quickly and easily. You'll also need to choose between semiautomatic and fully automatic models. Fully automatic machines are much more expensive, but they also do everything for you, from grinding the beans to the entire brewing process. If you're pressed for time, the extra expense may be worth it. Espresso machines vary widely in price, from as little as $50 to more than $1,000, but before you automatically reach for the least expensive model, consider how much you might save by brewing your own espresso at home. Opting for a more expensive model that produces better results could be more cost-effective in the end.

Photo Credits

  • Bjb-de: Wikimedia Commons

About the Author

Kate Carpenter is a reporter and designer based in Pocatello, Idaho. She has worked as a writer, designer and copy editor for three years, and she earned a degree in magazine editing and design from the University of Missouri in 2007.