Posted July 13, 2014 by Matt in Buyer's Guide
 
 

What is the difference between Steam and Pump-driven Espresso Machines

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f you are looking for the perfect espresso machine, it is important to consider a number of factors, including whether to get one that is steam or pump-driven. There is a big difference between these two types of espresso machines, and it is important that you understand the difference before making your final decision. Each of these types of espresso machines come with their own advantages and disadvantages, which is precisely why I have written this guide.

Steam vs. pump-driven espresso machines

I will first guide you through the difference that can generally be seen in the espresso shot when it comes to taste and the crema layer, before I will look at the pricing of the different machines. At the end I will let you know how these different machines works with their pros and cons.

The espresso – taste and crema

The taste of the espresso that your machine makes will obviously be one of the most important things to consider. One of the drawbacks of some steam machines is that they can sometimes leave the espresso tasting a little bit bitter as well as burned because of how hot the water tends to get. The steam machine needs to heat the water to really high temperatures to get the desired pressure needed to create a proper espresso shot.

Photo credit: Schill / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

This brings us to their ability of creating crema. Crema is the thick foamy layer on top of an espresso shot. To create crema the espresso shot needs to be pulled with a pressure of about 8 to 10 bar. The steam-driven machine tends to struggle a bit to create as thick layer of crema as the pump-driven machine.

Overall, the pump-driven machine will produce a better result when it comes to both taste and crema. There is a reason why all baristas and coffee shops use a pump-driven machine.

Also be aware that the overall quality of the machine is a huge factor in how the espresso that is made tastes, a good quality steam-driven machine can of course make a better espresso than a bad pump-driven machine.

Pricing

When it comes to pricing, there is no doubt that most steam-driven espresso machines are far less expensive than pump-driven ones. Pump-driven machines typically cost at least $100 to $200, while most steam machines are far less expensive. While it is true that the price of these machines varies depending on the brand as well as many other factors, steam driven is the cheaper option.

How does the steam-driven espresso machine works?

The steam-driven espresso machine has a water reservoir that is airtight. As the water boils the reservoir is filled with steam and the pressure increases. The steam machines usually have a “ready light” to let you know when the pressure is high enough and is ready for you to pull an espresso shot or froth the milk with the steam wand. Remember that the machine usually needs to build up more steam between the frothing and pulling of the espresso shot.

Don’t forget to add enough water for both when you start or you will have to start the process for the beginning again. Be careful when opening the sealed water reservoir straight after you have used the machine as it will probably be under pressure and hot steam will escape.

Advantages of steam machines

  • Reasonable price.

Disadvantages of steam machines

  • Tends to burn or make the espresso tasting slightly bitter.
  • Lacks pressure to make a good espresso with crema.
  • Be cautious when opening the sealed reservoir (burning hazard).

How does the pump-driven espresso machine works?

The pump machines, as the name implies, uses a pump to create pressure. The water is first heated to the exact temperature needed to brew the espresso before the pump forces the hot water through the grounds. The result is an espresso shot with better taste and a thick layer of foam on top.

The pump machine allows you also to switch from frothing milk to brewing with almost no waiting time.

Advantages of pump machines

  • Produces café-quality espresso.
  • Lower brewing temperatures prevent burning or scalding.
  • Very short lag time between brewing and steaming.

Disadvantages of pump machines

  • Relatively high cost.
  • Often larger in size.
  • Slightly more difficult to use.

Bottom line

Whether you should get a steam or pump-driven espresso machine depends on your own personal preferences, but those who are looking for a simple and inexpensive model will most likely want to go with one that has a steam design.

If you drink a lot of espresso or espresso based coffee drinks it might be worth investing in a proper pump-driven machine. Just consider for a minute the cost of a cup of coffee at your local coffee shop, you will easily get back what you have invested.

Also remember that each of these types of espresso machines have their own merits, and it is very important to look at what each specific model has to offer as a whole.