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Types of Espresso Machines

Steam Driven

These machines are the least expensive home machines and are using the pressure of steam in the boiler to push the water through the portafilter. Prices will tend to be in the $100-$200 range

  • Pros:
  • Cons:

Pump Driven

Thermoblock

These machines will tend to be the most affordable of the pump driven machines, often in the range of $300 - $700

  • Pros:
    • Fast heat up.
    • Found at many department stores / Best Buy.
    • Option for both Pressurized and Unpressurized baskets
  • Cons:
    • Can not steam milk and brew at the same time, though the transition from one to another will be faster than the single boiler, dual use machines.
    • Accessories may be harder to find as these commonly do not use a 58mm portafilter.

Single Boiler Double Use

These machines will be the more common machines seen at home. They will have a single boiler that is used for both steam and brew water. There is typically a switch that changes the temperature of the boiler between brewing and steaming. These machines will tend to be in the $450-$1000 range.

  • Pros:
    • Great for people who just want straight espresso shots
    • Many machines are now including PID Temperature controls
  • Cons:
    • Work flow for milk based drinks is not ideal
    • Can not steam and brew at the same time
    • Requires temperature changes between brew and steam
    • Because of the smaller boilers often found in these machines the recovery time between shots is slow and back to back drinks will take some time for the system to restabilize temperature

Heat Exchanger

These machines use a heat exchange system with a single boiler. The boiler is kept as steam temperature and then the brew water is pumped through a metal tube inside the boiler to flash heat it from room temperature to brew temperature. These machines tend to be in the $1500-$2000 range.

  • Pros:
    • Ability to steam and brew at the same time.
  • Cons:
    • Due to how the heat exchange system works a cooling flush is required on most machines of this type to cool the brewhead of the machine down to brew temps to prevent over-extraction of the bean.
    • Due to the cooling flush required on most of these machines it is recommended that you add a group head thermometer ($110)
      • This limits adding a flow control device to the machine.

Double Boiler

These machines have two boilers, one for steam and one for brew. Each boiler is held at the proper temperature for its intended purpose. These are often the higher end machines for home use, often costing $2500+, though there are some exceptions to that price (Breville Dual Boiler, Lelit Elizabeth)

  • Pros:
    • Very capable of back to back drinks
    • Minimal cooling flush needed, if any
    • Easy to add flow control
  • Cons:
    • Most expensive class of machines for home use

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