April 16, 2020 3 min read

When you need a good espresso machine and go shopping for one without knowing about all the technical terms and confusing features each of them offer, it can be quite a confusing experience. You might be left wondering “but how do I know which one will make a good Espresso?”. 
Don’t worry. In this article, we will introduce you to some of the most important espresso machine features that influence the flavor, aroma, and quality of coffee.

Espresso machine features

Boiler

The boiler is the part of the espresso machine where the water is heated to make your coffee. While there are several variations and types of boilers, like Thermo block and dual boiler features, the most important thing about a boiler is what type of material it is made of. This will ultimately determine how fast it heats up and how well it retains temperature. Here’s three materials that are commonly used:

Aluminum
This is the cheapest material and, therefore, one of the most common for low-end machines. It heats up rather quickly, which is good, but tends to leave a metallic taste in the water. Also, it wears down faster than other materials, which can cause performance problems after a while.

Steel
The standard in the industry. It is great at heating up and also very durable. It can, however, heat up too much, which is why steel is usually not seen on bigger, more commercial models.

Brass
The more stable material of the three, you can never go wrong with a brass boiler.

Portafilter

A well-engineered portafilter can make the difference between a mediocre cup of coffee and a great one. There are roughly two types of portafilters:

Commercial portafilters
This type of portafilter has a greater surface area than regular portafilters. This is so that the grounds can be properly tamped and fitted in place, either with a special tool or by the barista’s own hand. These portafilters allow for a greater nuance in flavor and aroma.
Pressurized portafilters
The most common type of portafilter. They are made smaller than commercial portafilters: This way, even if the barista doesn’t pay enough attention to the grind & tamping of the grounds, the coffee will be extracted well enough. It is ideal for inexperienced baristas.

Grouphead

The grouphead is a vital part of the espresso machine, though it often goes unattended. A good grouphead must be easy to clean, that is, easy to take apart, and should also be made of either aluminum or steel. 

When it comes to groupheads, the quality is usually dictated by the quality of the portafilter and boiler. As long as you choose a good machine, the grouphead should match the quality of the rest of the machine’s features.

Valves

Without getting too technical, valves control the flow of air, water, and also play a role in the extraction of coffee.



There are two types of valves:

Spring Valve
The most simple, low-budget valve there is. Materials can vary to make them longer-lasting but they are ultimately a second tier choice.
3-way solenoid valve
The only viable choice if you intend to use your espresso machine in a commercial setting. 3-way solenoid valves have a reputation of never breaking down, which means that one of these will probably last longer than you will. 

Water Reservoir

Largely a concern for home espresso machines, water reservoirs come in many different forms and sizes. Fortunately, the kind of water reservoir ultimately comes down to personal taste: Larger, smaller, fixed in place or removable. Most of these considerations don’t have as big an impact on your coffee as other features.



If there is any vital feature regarding water reservoirs, it would be a water filter. A water filter will ensure the taste of your coffee isn’t compromised by hard water full of minerals and chlorine.

Compatibility

Lastly, you will want to check how just how compatible your espresso machine is with alternative espresso brewing methods. Espresso pods, for example, are ground coffee inside a pocket made of a similar fabric to that of teabags and are designed to make the brewing process faster and easier.

Likewise, there are machines that can also be compatible with coffee pods similar to those of Nespresso while still allowing one to use their own ground coffee.

Thomas Gerber
Thomas Gerber


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