Kitchen Appliance Advice

Espresso Machine Buying Advice

If you go to a cafe or espresso bar and ask for an espresso, what you will get is a shot-sized cup holding a small amount of very strong black coffee. There are many different kinds of espresso coffees, including cappuccino, cafe latte and cafe mocha. All are made with one or more shots of espresso with other coffee ingredients. A shot of espresso is made by forcing about 1.5 ounces of hot water through tightly packed, finely ground espresso coffee. What comes out is a dark brown, slightly thick liquid with a small amount of cream on top.

Coffee Maker
There are also espresso machines for home use too. These machines are smaller than what you may found in cafes, but they also work on the same principles. To force the water rush through the coffee, the simplest espresso machines use pressure that comes from heating water inside a sealed vessel. High pressure steam will pop out the flavor of espresso for its maximum effect.

In the machine, the coffee is packed into a funnel-shaped piece of metal that has a tube extending to the bottom of the reservoir. A few ounces of water are put into the reservoir and the top is screwed on. When the water is heated with electricity, pressure builds inside the vessel, and the only way for it to escape is up the tube, through the coffee and out of the tube in the top. Since the end of the tube is under water, the pressure forces the hot water up through the tube.

There are some disadvantages to a machine like this. The pressure in the system depends on the temperature of the water. The temperature required to build up enough pressure to force the water through the coffee might exceed the ideal brewing temperature.

Pump-style Espresso Machines, this kind of has a more complicated structure.

Reservoir: The reservoir holds the cold water used in the espresso machine. It is not pressure-tight or heated, and it is removable.

Pump: The pump will suck water out of the reservoir and pumps it into the heating chamber at high pressure.

Heating Chamber: The heating chamber is a sturdy, stainless-steel structure with a heating element built into a groove in the bottom. The resistive heating element is simply a coiled wire, very similar to the filament of a light bulb or the element in an electric toaster, which gets hot when you run electricity through it. In a resistive element like this, the coil is embedded in plaster to make it more rugged. The heating chamber also contains a one-way valve that lets water into the chamber from the pump, but not back into the pump from the chamber.

Steam Wand: The steam wand is used to heat and to froth milk which is used in various espresso drinks. This wand is connected to the heating vessel. When the user puts the valve in the steam position, steam from the heating vessel is released out of the wand and into the milk.

Control Panel: The control panel in this machine contains the on/off switch, two indicator lights and a control valve. One of the lights indicates that the machine is on, and the other indicates if the heating chamber is up to the proper temperature. The valve is used to start the flow of water through the coffee in the porta-filter or to start the flow of steam from the steam wand. It also engages one of two micro-switches that control the pump and heating element.

Buying Tips:
The most important consideration when buying an espresso machine is how serious you are about making real espresso. If you're not sure you want to deal with the mess and complicated process of making espresso, stick to buying yours ready-made at a coffee specialty store. Also, as a present to friends, an espresso machine is not necessarily a good gift unless you know the receiver really wants one. Espresso making has a bit of a learning curve to it. The more you practice, the better your espresso will be. Once you have purchased your espresso machine remember to purchase the accessories that make the espresso/cappuccino experience more enjoyable. There are special espresso cups and spoons and espresso machine cleaning brushes and detergents that can be purchased.

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