How do Steam and Pump Espresso Machines Differ?

If you’ve been thinking about picking up your own espresso machine so you can fresh brew a better cup at home in the morning while also saving a lot of time and money otherwise spent at Starbucks every day on the popular Italian-style coffee, then you’ll first need to figure out what type of machine is best for you and within your budget.

Espresso machines often work using either steam or a pump, with each having its own unique benefits and limitations. The steam version involves heating water to an extremely hot temperature until it boils and produces steam. The steam is then forced through fresh grounds using pressure from the heat, resulting in the caffeinated flavored liquid espresso flowing out the other side where it deposits into the cup.

Steam-operated espresso machines are often more lightweight, compact, quick and easy to use, and more affordable than pump-driven machines, although it can be more difficult to control the temperature. In a steam espresso machine with very high heat there is a risk of the beverage being overcooked, bitter tasting, or burned.

It is also easier to scald yourself with an espresso that is too hot or when opening the machine to refill it, so care must be taken. Additionally, steam machines have been known to experience issues with maintaining steam flow sufficient to produce a latte or cappuccino.

Of course, some steam espresso machines are calibrated to work better than others, so if you like your espresso very hot and strong, made quickly, and want to save money, you might consider picking up one of the steam-operated models, but read plenty of reviews from buyers to make sure you’re getting one that is an excellent value and can produce a quality cup of espresso.

In contrast, pump-driven espresso machines often cost significantly more than steam-driven ones, are known for being heavy-duty, producing the best-tasting espresso, and thus comprise most commercial machines. The process involves a mechanism where a pump rather than steam maintains the water pressure at a temperature that typically produces premium flavor and superior cream on the espresso.

Besides being more expensive, pump espresso machines can also be bulky and cumbersome, take longer to brew, and require special care such as frequent cleaning to ensure the pump does not clog, but for those who are serious about making the perfect shot of espresso, then investing in a quality pump espresso maker is the way to go, although high-end machines can run upwards of a thousand dollars.

No matter which type of espresso machine you decide is best for you, always spend a little time learning about the product from the manufacturer’s web site, read reviews, and look for the most durable and reliable models on the market for the price, so that you can count on a long-lasting product that produces a great cup of espresso.