Pump vs. Steam Espresso Machine

As a coffee lover, you probably have your favorite shop where they make your espresso just the way you like it. As any coffee aficionado can agree, having the ability to brew your own at home is also priceless.

Making a pot of drip is pretty straightforward, but when it comes to espresso, there are a few variables that can dramatically affect the taste of your cuppa. 

If you are looking to recreate espresso-based beverages that are as good or even better than those whipped up in your local coffee house, you will need to know the difference between various espresso machines. The main options for espresso are pump and steam espresso machines. 

The way your machine works will affect the overall taste of your drink. Grab a cup of Joe as we dive into the differences between pump vs. steam espresso machines.

Pump Espresso Machine

Most people assume that espresso is the name of a coffee bean, but in actuality, it is the process in which the bean is brewed. A pump espresso machine uses hot water and pressure to create espresso. The pressure forces water over the grounds and will generate a nice crema on the top of the beverage, thanks to the steady flow.

The main drawback of a pump espresso machine is the high cost when compared with other types. This type of espresso machine is found most often in commercial settings such as a coffee shop or a cafe. It is the best machine for making authentic espresso and espresso-based beverages.

How do they work?

Pump-style espresso machines use a thermo-block system for brewing. This means it will heat the water with a radiator inside of the machine, specifically passing water over hot coils to convert it to steam. Once the water has been superheated and transformed, it will be forced via pressure over the coffee grounds.

The pump in the machine is what creates the pressure, which is why there is a consistent flow of both steam and pressure over the coffee grounds. The pump in this type of espresso machine generates 9 bars of constant pressure. The water also doesn’t need to be boiled prior to being passed over the heating element. As a result, the taste of the espresso will be smoother and much more balanced. The constant pressure and pump-action allow for a consistently brewed cup of espresso with a thick layer of crema to be produced time and again.

Steam Espresso Machine

Steam espresso machines have been around for quite some time and are commonly found in homes across the country. They use steam and heat to force water over the grounds and create a perfectly brewed cup of espresso. Steam espresso makers have been around long enough that they are easily affordable, even for home use.

The main drawback of a steam-based espresso machine is that there is a cooldown time between cups, so if you are looking to make several espresso shots, you could be in for a long wait. Also, pressure is needed to make crema for espresso. There won’t be enough pressure generated with a steam machine, which means that your espresso won’t have that trademark top.

How do they work?

Steam espresso machines are often the first type purchased for those looking to make espresso at home. The machine generates steam pressure inside of it by bringing water to a rolling boil inside of a sealed chamber. As the chamber heats, the water is transformed into steam and then forced over the coffee grinds in a different section of the machine.

Steam espresso brewers are able to generate three bars of pressure which will give you an espresso, albeit rather weak and often bitter. The pressured steam forced over the grinds will be its strongest at the start and lessen as the built steam dissipates. The inconsistent pressure often causes a less flavorful or strong cup of espresso. The most common type of steam machines is stovetop models such as a Moka pot and residential countertop pressure units. While the steam machine won’t generate crema, most have a steam wand that allows you to froth milk to add to your espresso beverage.

Which is better to make Espresso at Home?

Both pump espresso machines and steam-style espresso makers are suitable for use at home. The main difference on which is best for you will depend on your budget, experience making espresso, and your taste preferences.

A steam-style espresso machine is easy to operate and quite affordable. It produces weaker espressos without a crema layer. If you want to experiment or don’t mind a weaker brew, try with a more affordable steam-style espresso machine.

Which is Cheaper?

Espresso machines that use steam are very affordable and much cheaper than a pump-style machine. You can purchase a steam machine for just slightly more than a drip coffee maker, which is the main reason people often try this type first. If you are interested in learning to make your espresso at home or considering a gift, a steam unit is a good option.

Pump-style espresso machines are more costly, and generally, there are not going to be lower-end options. They do, however, create coffee shop-style espresso drinks, so if you are looking for perfection and a golden layer of crema, a pump style may be right for you.

Which lasts longer?

Espresso and espresso-based drinks have been trending for several decades, and there seems to be no end on the horizon for their popularity. Espresso is made through high heat and high pressure, so it makes sense that you want to purchase a sturdy machine to handle both. The adage that you get what you paid for holds true for most products, including espresso makers. A low-end steam-powered espresso maker will last you about two years with regular use. A better quality steam-powered machine can last as long as four years before you need to replace it. Of course, it is essential to clean your espresso maker and operate it correctly to extend its lifespan.

Pump-powered espresso makers don’t run cheap, even the most basic of models. A pump-powered starter model will generally last 4-5 years before it needs to be replaced or repaired. A higher-end model can last a long as ten years with proper care and maintenance. Like with steam models, it is crucial not only to operate the machine properly but also to regularly clean all of the moving parts. Nothing will degrade a coffee or espresso machine faster than water, milk, and coffee grounds allowed to fester and rot inside the machine.

Are Espresso Machines Automatic?

Most espresso machines made for home use are semi-automatic or fully automatic. This allows the water flow and extraction to be simpler and safer. Manual and semi-automatic machines are most often found in a commercial setting and operated by someone trained in their use, specifically a barista. You can also find automatic machines in cafes, especially those in chain stores where each cup needs to maintain a certain consistency.

Of course, there are super-automatic machines, but you will hardly find them in a commercial setting. They are typically do all of the work for you, but you can’t customize your drink. They will grind the whole bean, measure and fill the portafilter, and brew your perfect espresso shot, all with a single touch of the button.

Final Thoughts

Espresso is a fan favorite among coffee lovers the world over. If you are looking for a great way to get your favorite brew at home, steam or pump-powered espresso makers are a great way to go about it. The quality and taste of your drink mainly depend on how you brew it and the machine you use. If you are looking for a full-flavored cup of espresso with golden crema on the top, a pump-powered machine is your best bet. If you are looking more for the essence of espresso and are less focused on strength or crema, a steam-powered machine will work well in your kitchen.

Beginners and those on a budget will be able to appreciate the ease of use that steam-powered espresso makers offer, but don’t expect to get the crema from this type of brewing process. Also, steam-powered machines have a tendency to produce a slightly bitter-tasting brew when compared to pump-powered machines.

A perfect cup will have an equal measure of acidity, sweetness, and bitterness which can easily be achieved using a pump-style espresso maker. For those who are a bit more discerning with their brews, this is going to be your go-to option. Keep in mind that pump-powered machines though better in quality, also have a price tag to match.

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