Espresso Machine Drive Mechanisms – Which Type Make The Best Coffee Espresso?

When you are in the market for a new espresso machine, you will eventually stumble upon several types of drive mechanism that you have to choose to suit your needs and experience. There is a type for experts and novice, or even for people who doesn’t want the hassle when making a cup of coffee. We are going to list them out one by one to help you decide which type is best for you and cut down the time you’ll need to spend to hunt for the correct machine type.

Let’s start with the oldest one:

1. Steam Driven Espresso Machine

This steam type is the oldest of all. It was first invented in the middle part of 1940s in Milan and it is a type of machine that use steam pressure forcing through the coffee ground to make the coffee. It’s one of the very old method that is not widely used right now because the temperature of water/steam is inconsistent and it’s impossible to generate thick crema.

You’ll only want to choose this type of machine if you never care about the taste and crema, and you want to save money. This steam-driven expresso machine is cheap and it has been categorized as the low-cost consumer machines.

2. Piston Driven Espresso Machine

Piston driven machine is developed in 1945 by Achille Gaggia. This is the type of machine that has made the possibility to produce the crema, which has become a kind of a grail. This type of machine has a lever to pull when making up a coffee, and it’s also where the term “Pull a shot” coming from. Even nowadays, people love to use this term even they are now “Pushing a button” instead of pulling some tough lever when brewing coffee espresso.

There are two main type of Piston-driven machine: The Manual Piston and Spring Piston.

The manual piston is, well, manually pulling long handle to produce a shot. The machine will directly pushes the water through the ground coffee without anything to set. Simply simple.

On the other hand, the Spring Piston is going to require a bit of spring tensioning before you can pull a shot. However, this type of machine will generate crema as it has enough tension/pressure to squeeze out the oil and CO2 from the roasted coffee ground.

3. Pump Driven Espresso Machine

Pump driven mechanism is introduced later in 1961, exactly 16-year after piston-driven machine invented. A lot of refinement has been done on the piston driven machine, which end up with this motor-driven pump mechanism that released users from manual lever pulling or pushing activities when making a shot.

type-of-espresso-machine-pump-driven-semiMotor driven espresso machine has become the most popular machine design in commercial espresso bars and it’s been categorized as the machine that stand in both mid and high-end home espresso machine.

Pump espresso machine is also the type with the large variation of machines offered in the market. Generally, there are three type of pump espresso makers available in the market. They are:

Semi Automatic Machines

this type is the most popular out of all. It’s been heavily focused by a lot of companies, where it end up with a lot of choices of semi-automatic espresso machines in the market. The price range is pretty huge as well, where you can actually find a machine from $100 to $1000 on this type of machine!

The reason people love this type of machine is because the quality of the espresso shot is depend on each person’s skills and experience. The better you are in crafting your own golden ratio, the better it will taste. Of course, it might not a good machine for the lazy starter who unwilling to learn some skills before pulling a shot with semi automatic machine.

It’s only good for those who are keen to learn and don’t mind to improve their skill of brewing. However, since it’s a semi automatic machine, it doesn’t come with built-in grinder that is very crucial for making ground coffee. Unless the machine has the E.S.E. technology intact for coffee pods, you have to allocate some of your fund to get a quality coffee bean grinder with adjustable fineness.

We have done some exclusive reviews on popular semi automatic espresso machine. Have a look if it will suit your taste:

Automatic Machines

type-of-espresso-machine-pump-driven-autoAutomatic type is easier to use than the semi automatic type. The best example of automatic espresso machine is Nespresso CitiZ. The machine comes with a preset of water volume where you can simply push a button to get either single or double shot mode. The preset is often programmable and you’ll never have to grind the bean yourself, tamp it on the filter or make your hand dirty with ground coffee.

Usually, this type of automatic machine will either come with the E.S.E. technology for easy serving espresso, or a capsule technology like what you can get on Nespresso CitiZ. The machine has an automated pump and automated temperature controller in the boiler that works together harmonically to brew a cup of espresso without your intervention.

Automatic Machines are suitable for people who want a practical solution for a cup of self-brewed espresso. However, you’ve got no control of the taste and quality as it’s all pre-determined.

Super Automatic Machines

Now this is the DELUXE version of pump driven espresso machine. Not only it has a lot of features, the machine can work by itself independently, from grinding coffee beans to a freshly brewed espresso! Super Automatic Machine will produces consistent result and taste that won’t vary much unless you are using different type of coffee beans. Most people get this super automatic machine for commercial purpose, turning it to be a commercial espresso machine. The reason is because the machine is very expensive, generally above $1000 or even $10,000 on some extreme models, which is just crazy to have them on your home.

No, personally I wouldn’t want to look at them even I’m desperate for an easy to use machine, unless I’ve hit some jackpot in Las Vegas. But in the nutshell, super automatic espresso machine could really live up the name. All you have to do is to fill up the grinder with freshly roasted coffee beans, push a button and you are good to go. No skills required to make tasty espresso all the time!

Some example of Super Automatic Machines:

4. Air-Pump Driven Espresso Machine

air pump espresso machine was introduced in late 2007, as one of a machine with hand pump, N20 or CO2 cartridge or an electric compressor. The company who use this machine is Handpresso, which is the first air-pump espresso machine ever created.

Most people consider this machine as a portable espresso machine because it is much smaller and lighter than any electric machine you can find in the market. But you will have to work it out a bit before you can use it to brew coffee because it came with a hand pump.

Taking the Handpresso espresso machine as the best example, it works by pumping the Handpresso machine until it react a certain level of pressure (it’s about 16-bar). Then you’ll need to fill the 50ml water reservoir with boiling water, insert the coffee pods containing your favorite coffee beans into the machine and finally, with a push of a button you can see the coffee start the drip out from the filter.

After each shot, the pressure will drop to 8 bar or less. So you have to pump it again if you need another shot. Kind of tiring, but it’s good picnic or traveling.

So, Which One Make The Best Espresso?

Look for a pump-driven machine. Period. Steam-driven espresso machine will not be able to maintain the best water temperature and most of the time, they are not having enough pressure for squeezing out the crema. We do hope that the budget friendly steam type espresso machine can do a great job, but the fact is telling us to keep away from them if you are looking for a cup of espresso with thick crema.

As the rule of thumb, only Pump-type machine with 15-bar or above can be categorized as the best espresso type to brew your espresso. Never compromise with anything less than that.

Visit our espresso machines zone for more reviews and tips.

Info: There are other types of espresso machine as well. However, they are not machine driven, so we have trimmed them down from the list.

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