Making coffee at home means you can be your own barista; brewing up delicious Cappuccinos, Americanos, and creating your own lattes with extra foam. The key to all of these hot beverages is the perfect espresso shot, and that’s easy to create when you have an espresso machine.
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If you’ve never used an espresso machine before and your only experience making coffee is via a drip or single serve coffee machine, get ready for an entirely new experience.
With an espresso machine, you can completely customize your coffee. If you like stronger lattes, you can quickly brew up two espresso shots instead of just one. Because you can find espresso machines that range from manual to automatic, you can tweak your drink or let your machine do all the work. If you choose a model with frothing capability, you’ll also be able to create hot milk beverages too.
Before you get into making espresso, you might want to consider exactly what espresso is. Unlike a latte or an Americano, espresso isn’t necessarily a hot drink; it’s a process of brewing one or two ounces of coffee by forcing hot water over finely ground coffee beans.
You can only make espresso with an espresso machine, and there are a few terms you’ll want to familiarize yourself with before you begin to shop for one.
Espresso machines can make the perfect shot of espresso every time because they’re equipped with technology that lets them heat up the water to at least 200°. Once the water is hot, espresso machines use bars of pressure to push that water through a puck of freshly ground coffee beans. They process the coffee in approximately 30 seconds or less, and that’s so you can get the most robust taste for your beans.
To brew great espresso you should look for an espresso machine with at least 9 bars of pressure, but you’ll find espresso machines that offer up to 17 bar pressure pumps.
Single, double, or multiple boilers
Depending on the espresso machine you choose, water is heated by one of three types of heating systems: a single boiler, thermoblock, or thermocoil. The heating system is responsible for the searing temperatures your espresso machine will hit to achieve the perfect frothed milk, steam, or hot water.
Crema is a light layer on the surface of your espresso shot that looks like foam, but it’s thicker and, when done right, much more dense.
The perfect espresso shot has a layer of thick crema on top.
You can choose an espresso machine that has single, dual, and pod filters. These filters let you brew up a single shot, double shot, or use a pre-made espresso pod for ease of use.
What you should consider before choosing an espresso machine
Because there are so many different types of espresso machines available, you’ll want to narrow down your choices by asking yourself a few questions. The first and most important question is, how easy should your espresso machine be to use?
If you’d like to learn every facet of creating coffee, you may want to choose a manual espresso machine. Or, if you’d like a fully automated process, there’s super automatic espresso machines that offer you one-touch espresso creation. There’s also a few options that let you get the best of both worlds.
Manual Espresso Machine
If you want to control everything from the grind of your coffee bean to exactly how long your water will push through your coffee grinds, you may want to choose a manual espresso machine.
These machines have a lever you pull down when you’re ready to create an espresso shot, and although they’re the best for coffee customization, creativity, and extra-long lifespan, they’re also difficult to master. Manual espresso machines are usually favoured by professional baristas or someone who’s mastered an automatic type of espresso machine.
Semi-automatic espresso machine
If you want to add a little electricity to your coffee creations, just take a look at semi-automatic espresso machines. Semi-automatic espresso machines have electric pumps so they’re easier to use than a manual espresso machine, but they still give you a certain level of control over the creation of your espresso shot.
Although much easier to use than manual, semi-automatic espresso machines have a learning curve too. You control the water flow, tamping, and pressure, so if you’d like an even easier way to create espresso, consider a fully automatic espresso maker.
Fully automatic espresso maker
When the goal is to create custom beverages with little to no learning curve, you’ll love a fully automatic espresso maker. This type of espresso maker completely automates how much water is pushed over your coffee. Because of that, they’re very easy to use.
The only downside to a fully automatic espresso maker is you may lose control over the coffee-making process. Because water pressure and flow is so important to creating the perfect espresso shot, you have to rely on your machine to get it right every time.
Super Automatic Espresso Machine
Want to make the freshest coffee possible without all the fuss over setting or water? A super automatic espresso machine is a one-touch wonder that lets you add your coffee grinds, touch a button, and give you the perfect shot every time.
Even better? These types of espresso machines are designed with features like built-in burr grinders, quick programmable settings, and they can grind, tamp, and brew all in one fluid motion.
Super automatic espresso machines are great for someone who drinks a lot of espresso during the day, and they want to ensure the shot is perfect without the extra effort.
Other factors you’ll want to consider when buying an espresso machine
In addition to the type of espresso machine you want to choose, you may also want to be selective about the features your machine will come with.
Built-in coffee grinder
Also known as a burr grinder, a built-in coffee grinder is part of your espresso machine. You can grind your beans right in the machine for the freshest brew, and because it’s built into the machine you save on counter space.
When you’re just learning how to make espresso, it can take a bit of time to perfect your beverages. If you have a cup warmer built-in, your drink stays hot until you’re ready to drink it.
If you use tap water to create your espresso or you know your water has a lingering taste to it, you may want to purchase an espresso machine with a water filter built in.
If you know you’ll want to make coffee beverages that require steamed milk, you’ll want to choose an espresso machine with a frothing wand.
These wands are added to the espresso machine and, with a flip of a switch or touch of a button, switch the pressure to create steam that will froth your milk.
What can you make with an espresso maker?
Once you begin making espresso at home, you’ll soon realize why creating coffee is a passion for so many people. There are so many delicious drinks you can make with espresso.
An espresso shot can be a drink itself. If you’d like to taste what fresh brewed coffee beans are like and wake up in an instant, try a single or double espresso shot.
A macchiato is an espresso shot with a small amount of steamed milk layered on top. It’s quite strong, so you may also add a layer of foam.
A cappuccino is a popular drink created with a double shot of espresso, a layer of steamed milk, and a thick layer of foamed milk.
A mocha is made in the same was as a cappuccino, but you add chocolate during the creation process.
A favourite for many people, lattes are created with two espresso shots, a thick layer of steamed milk, and a thin layer of foam. You can flavour your latte with coffee syrup and make any type of drink including vanilla, hazelnut, pumpkin spice, and maple lattes.
Types of espresso machine accessories
If your goal is to set up a coffee bar with your espresso machine as the centerpiece, you’ll want to add a few espresso machine accessories.
Whether you drink a single espresso shot or you’d like to make lattes every day, having cups and mugs designed specifically for espresso can enhance your morning.
A cup warmer keeps your espresso cup hot until you’re ready to drink it. If your espresso machine doesn’t come with a cup warmer, you may want to invest in one.
Espresso machine cleaning
There are basic cleaning tasks you’ll take on each time you make espresso. You’ll want to wipe down the wand if you’ve used it to froth, and you’ll need to clean out the puck or pod that holds your grinds every time you use it.
There’s also other types of cleaning including descaling and decalcifying. If you don’t want to worry about that type of ‘deep’ cleaning, you may want to choose an espresso machine with automatic descaling. You can purchase a variety of descaling and decalcifying solutions to keep your espresso machine in tip top shape.
Espresso machine brands
The last choice you’ll make before bringing home your espresso machine is which brand you’ll choose.
There are many different types of espresso machine including Breville, Nespresso, Delonghi, Saeco, and Gaggia. These brands offer varying types of pump espresso machines in manual, semi-automatic, fully automatic, and super automatic, and depending on what brand you choose, you’ll find unique features including built-in grinders, 19 bar pumps, or cup warmers.