Ok, the “Looks” portion of the guide. This is going to be short… you know, these days you can find espresso machines in retro, modern, classic looks in every shape and size, if this is really important to ya, well, you just need to wade through all of the espresso machines on amazon or some similar site. There’s really not that much more to talk about.
Groups: this is what they call the “heads” or the places that you actually get the espresso from. Now, this isn’t something that you’re going to need to know for most home models… usually only commercial grade machines have more than one group on a machine, but it seemed like as good a place as any to start.
Single Boiler, Dual Use : Most common sub-1k type of machine. Like it says, it has one boiler and two thermostats, one for each “use” of the machine… one for making the espresso, the other for steaming. These machines can’t “steam” while making espresso, and vice versa. This can be a pain when you’re trying to make espressos for everyone who came on dinner night, but what can you do…
Single Boiler, Heat exchanger: the boiler maintains the water temp for making steam and when it comes to making espresso, it pumps the water through a heating coil to raise the temp to the right temperature for making espresso. These machines are generally more than 1k, but they can make espresso and steam the milk at the same time.
Dual Boiler: one boiler for making espresso and one for making steam. It’s top of the line, and only found on the commercial or prosumer units, mainly over 2k.
Brew temperature: optimally, it should be somewhere between 190 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit
“All metal construction” : To me, this is a feature. I don’t know, maybe there’s something to be said for plastic… but give me cast iron, stainless steel, and copper tubing any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.
“XX Bars of pressure”: This is something I didn’t know until I started researching this topic for you… 9 bars of pressure is generally considered best for producing espresso, and any machines that say they produce 15 Bars of pressure, actually restrict it to 9 bars at the grouphead. (There’s always more to learn.)
Mechanical knob or push button for steam: This is another one that I didn’t know about until I researched this for you. Go with a mechanical knob unless you are using a super-automatic, because if you’re using a super, then you want as much hands off as possible, and you’re only going to use the steamer to reheat your coffee drink…
Burr Grinder: If you’re getting a Super, more likely than not, it’s going to have a Burr Grinder built in, this is one fixed disk, and one rotating disk that creates a more even grind than blade grinders, and it doesn’t heat the coffee while it’s grinding it like a blade can with constant use.
Crema Enhancer: I didn’t know about this one as well… man, I’m learning a lot more about my passion having to explain things to someone else… I guess they’re right, you really don’t know what you don’t know until you try to teach it to someone else… Anywho, some machines now have crema enhancers that are supposed to produce the perfect crema each time. Unfortunately, the way that it’s done, I’m told that it doesn’t taste the same, so I would either disable the feature, or don’t get a machine with this feature. But hey, that’s just my opinion…
Cup warmers: This is like butt warmers in the seat of your car… nice, but not essential.
Heat up time: how long it takes the machine to go from “cold” to operating temperature.
line in or “plumbed in” : This is direct source water from your pipes rather than having to fill a water reservoir… it’s a nice feature if you can get it. However, you need to make sure that it’s properly filtered and good tasting water that you get from your tap… remember, coffee/espresso is 90% water, and the best beans in the world will only go so far with crappy water.
recovery time: how long it’s going to take to go from making one espresso to the next… only matters if you’re serving for a dinner party.
pod adapters: yes, they have espresso pods now, no, I don’t know anything about them, other than they are convenient. I would say, if you’re using a super, sure, why not. If you’re using a semi-auto, go the extra mile and grind it as you go…
Ready or “not ready” lights: these lights tell you when you’re able to steam, make espresso, do the hokey-pokey. The older alternative is pressure guages that will tell you the same thing with a better degree of accuracy.
Pannarello Attachment: this is a plastic sleeve that goes on the outside of the steaming wand. Never used one personally, but I hear if you can keep them on the wand with constant use, it does help when frothing the milk.
Removable water tank: if you don’t have line in water, you’re going to have to fill a tank, and having a removable one makes it easier to fill.
Lungo: This is basically a long shot. Less strong, but more bitter shot of espresso. (Italian for “long”)
Ristretto: This is basically a short shot. More strong, richer shot of espresso. (Italian for “restricted”)
Built-in Tamper: some of the newer models of automatics have a built in tamper, I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it would make for a more consistent tamping, however, it’s not that difficult, and it’s just one more thing to break down.
Built-in water filtration system: This is a good idea in theory, however, their filters are generally expensive and hard to replace. I would rather just use a brita filter or have a filtration system on my line in water.
These features should get you started… let me know if you need any other features explained.