Moka Pot vs French Press-Crucial Differences You Should Know


The infamous Moka Pot has been around since 1933, and its counterpart, the French press coffee maker, was invented in 1929. The huge debate regarding which of these is best has, therefore, been going on around the world for close to 90 years!

Although both of these coffee makers produce the same thing…coffee…there are a number of differences between the two, not only with the brewing methods used with each of them, but also the end result (the coffee) that is brewed in each of them.

The Main Huge Difference…

The main difference between a Moka Pot and a French press that probably will be the most important factor to you is the coffee that is the final brewed beverage. For most people, this is THE deciding factor that plays into choosing one of these coffee makers over the other.

Although both of these types of coffee makers brew up a strong coffee that is about twice as strong as your normal coffee brewed in a drip coffee maker, coffee brewed in a French press tends to have more coffee bean oil in it, as well as some grit from the coffee grounds used in the brewing process.

A Moka Pot, on the other hand, produces coffee that contains less coffee bean oil and no grit from the coffee grounds.

Therefore, if you can’t stand the thought of having grit/sediment from coffee grounds in your coffee, you should probably pass on choosing a French press, and instead go for a Moka Pot!

Neither is an Espresso Maker!

Neither Moka pots nor French presses brew espresso. Although many people, including producers of Moka pots and French presses, call these two coffee brewing appliances espresso makers, they do not make true espresso.

A Moka pot is a stove top coffee maker that produces a very strong brew of coffee.

A French press also makes a very strong brew of coffee.

Both the Moka Pot and a French press brew coffee that is basically a ratio of 1:7 water:coffee ratio. This is a little over twice as strong as that a normal drip coffee maker produces, which normally is in the range of 1:16 water:coffee ratio.

The term “espresso” refers only to the method of brewing coffee that is used by an espresso machine to make espresso, rather than a type of coffee bean used, the strength of the brewed product, or the coffee beverage that is made with an espresso machine.

That being said, if you don’t want to fork out anywhere from about $200 on the low end, going on up to the several-thousand dollar mark, but you want to enjoy lattes and other sweetened coffee drinks in the comfort of your own home, a Moka pot or French press is the next best thing to having a true espresso machine. Most people truly won’t be able to tell the difference in the flavor.

The Moka Pot

What a Moka Pot Is

The Moka Pot is a coffee brewer that “brews coffee by passing boiling water pressurized by steam through ground coffee.” There are also electric Moka pots available that are plugged into an electrical outlet.

A Moka Pot is made up of three separate chambers within the pot.

The process of brewing coffee in one involves loading cold water into the bottom chamber and ground coffee into the middle chamber, and then heating the water in the bottom chamber on a stove top.

When the water reaches the boiling point, it is forced up through coffee grounds contained in a funnel holding the coffee grounds. Steam from the boiling water then goes up through a hollow column in the middle attached to the funnel, after which it is dispersed into and stays in the upper “serving” chamber.

The French Press

What a French Press Is

A French press is “a coffeepot in which ground beans are infused and then pressed to the bottom by means of a plunger.” (Merriam Webster).

The French press is comprised of two different parts:

  1. The lid, filter, and plunger.
  2. The beaker (usually glass), handle, and base.

A French press is made up of two different components. The inside component is comprised of the lid, which covers the top of the glass beaker, the plunger (normally a metal rod) that goes down the middle of the lid and is affixed to the bottom part of the component, the filter, which traps most (but not all) of the ground coffee underneath the filter when the plunger is pressed down to the bottom of the beaker, through the water.

Because the filter is not completely 100% airtight around the edges, French presses normally let loose a small amount of sediment/coffee grounds in the coffee. There is also more coffee bean oil present in coffee brewed in a French press, again because the seal between the sides of the beaker and the filter is not 100% airtight.

Here is a diagram of the other component of a French press…the beaker and handle. This component holds the water and coffee grounds prior to, during, and after brewing.

The steps for using a French press include adding coffee grounds to the bottom of the glass “beaker” of the French press, adding hot water to the beaker, stirring and steeping the coffee/water mixture for 4 to 5 minutes, placing the lid of the French press on top, and then depressing the handle until it reaches the bottom of the French press.

Brewed Coffee Information

Coffee Strength

A Moka pot brews up a rich, heavy-bodied coffee that is versatile and flavorful, with less oils and “sediment” from the coffee grounds than you get with a French press.

The coffee brewed in a Moka pot can be enjoyed on its own, or it can be mixed with other things such as steamed milk for a Cappucchino or hot water for an Americano.

A French press also brews up coffee that is strong, about the same strength as that brewed in a Moka Pot, but normally has grit/sediment from the coffee grounds used, as well as more coffee bean oil in the brewed coffee.

If you are someone who doesn’t care for coffee that has coffee ground grit in it, a French press probably is not something you would be interested in, unless you wanted to strain the brewed coffee through something such as a paper coffee filter or paper towel after it has finished brewing.

Sizes Available

Moka Pots come in many different sizes from a 1-cup size that produces a small 1- or 2-ounce shot of coffee, on up to a 12-cup pot. Keep in mind that size truly does matter when it comes to Moka pots. A 1-cup Moka pot will produce a 1- to 2-oz. shot of very strong coffee, a 2-cup Moka pot will produce about 2 shots, etc.

Also keep in mind that you can’t fill a Moka pot half full and have it work correctly. In other words, if you plan on just brewing for one or two people daily, you don’t want to buy a 12-cup Moka Pot, as it won’t work correctly. Optimal performance can only occur when you use the appropriate size pot, which is determined by the amount of coffee you plan on making regularly.

The best size for, say a couple of people who generally each drink two normal cups of coffee with cream, is the 6-cup size. The Moka pots that are 9, 10-, or 12-cup sizes work good for families or when guests come over.

French Press Sizes: French presses come in varying sizes, with the most common sizes being those that hold 3 cups, 4 cups, 8 cups, and 12 cups. There are also a few companies that offer smaller and larger sizes, but the sizes listed here are the most common ones used.

Construction Materials

Moka Pot Materials

Moka pots can be found made of aluminum and stainless steel, which are generally used on a stovetop, as well as ones that are electric which are plugged into a wall.

Aluminum: Moka pots used on the stovetop are generally made of aluminum or stainless steel. Aluminum is known for its ability to evenly distribute heat, thus making it a very popular material to be used for Moka Pots. Aluminum Moka pots are also less costly than those made of stainless steel.

The disadvantages of aluminum are: 1) Aluminum is somewhat porous, which allows particles of coffee and coffee bean oil to become lodged in the pores of the metal. 2) Scrubbing aluminum with abrasives to clean it can scratch tiny pieces of the aluminum, which will give the brewed coffee a somewhat metallic flavor. 3) Aluminum will rust over time if not thoroughly dried after each use.

In summary, the only real advantage of aluminum Moka Pots is their affordability.

Stainless Steel: Some Moka Pots are made of stainless steel. There are a few great advantages to stainless steel ones that aluminum can’t boast: 1) Stainless steel doesn’t rust. 2) Stainless steel is not porous. 3) Stainless steel is unlikely to get scratched like aluminum can.

The only true disadvantage of stainless steel Moka pots is the higher cost. If your budget can allow for it, a stainless-steel Moka pot is definitely the better one to choose. A stainless-steel Moka Pot will last many, many more years than an aluminum one.

Electric: The other “type” of Moka pot is the electric Moka pot. Rather than heating the water and brewing on a stove top, this type sits on the counter top and has an electrical cord that is plugged into a standard electrical outlet. Electric Moka pots generally have a temperature regulator,

French Press Materials

French presses are generally made of two components – a glass or metal “beaker” (container) and a second component that includes the base, handle, and lid.

Glass beakers don’t seem to hold heat as well as metal ones, so if you live in a cold climate, you would probably be happier with one that has a metal beaker.

Water is heated in a tea kettle or pan that is separate from the French press, and is then poured from the separate container into the French press, where the brewing occurs.

You can also purchase electric French presses that heat the water, brew the coffee, and then keep the coffee heated for you after brewing is complete, although I very strongly recommend that you dispense the brewed coffee into a separate decanter after it has completed brewing, or you will very likely end up with a very strong brew.


Moka Pots and French presses are similar when it comes to price.

You can find both of these appliances starting at about $20 each, although there are also mid-range and high-range prices for both of them as well.

Water:Coffee Ratio

Drip coffee has a “water:coffee” ratio of 1:16. Both a Moka pot and a French press brew coffee that is about twice as strong as regular drip coffee, with a ratio of about 1:7. Of course the strength of the coffee will be determined by how much water and grounds that you use.

Below are charts showing the amounts of water and ground coffee that are normally recommended for a Moka Pot and a French Press. After you gain some experience using either of these appliances, you can, of course, make adjustments according to your particular flavor preferences.

Moka Pot Coffee:Water Ratio

Ground CoffeeWater
4 Tablespoons16 Ounces
8 Tablespoons32 Ounces

French Press Coffee:Water Ratio

Brew StrengthAmount Of WaterAmount Of Ground Coffee
Mild10 Ounces3 Tablespoons
Medium10 Ounces4 Tablespoons
Strong10 Ounces5 Tablespoons

How To Use A Moka Pot

Here are some basic step-by-step instructions for using a Moka Pot.

  • Step 1: Dampen a hand towel and place in the freezer. This will be used immediately after the brewing process is done.
  • Step 2: Fill the bottom reservoir with water. It’s important that you don’t fill the water over the small “nub” on the outside of the Moka Pot (called the pressure release valve). Over-filling over this valve will render it useless, and you may risk a “blow out” that could cause the coffee to overflow out of the pot.
  • Step 2: Place ground coffee into the filter basket. The best grind coarseness for a Moka Pot falls somewhere in the medium level…not too coarse and not too fine. You shouldn’t tamp (compress) the grounds, and also avoid over-filling the filter basket with grounds. A grind that is too fine may clog up the filter basket. The best ground coffee to use is that which is just slightly finer than that which you would use in a drip coffee maker.
  • Step 3: Assemble the inside of the Moka Pot and screw it together tightly.
  • Step 4: Heat the Moka Pot on medium-low heat. For gas stoves, you probably will want to go even lower than medium-low heat.
  • Step 5: After 5 to 10 minutes, the coffee should start to brew up into the upper chamber. If you hear any “spitting” or “sputtering” it means you have the stove heat too hot.
  • Step 6: When brewing is done, remove from the heat and immediately place on the dampened towel that you placed in the freezer. This will help the brewing to stop when it needs to stop, thus preventing over-brewing, which will result in a bitter tasting coffee.
  • Step 7: Pour and enjoy immediately after brewing is complete.

Troubleshooting Moka Pot Brewing Problems

If you are new to using a Moka Pot, there are a number of different things that can go wrong when it comes to the flavor of the coffee or things that may go wrong with the Moka Pot. Below is a list of the different things you may come across, as well as solutions to remedy the problems. With some experience, you likely will not come across any of these problems.

Bitter Coffee: If your brewed coffee ends up tasting bitter, there are three things you can do to improve the bitterness:

  • Use a lower heat setting on your stove.
  • Use a slightly more coarse grind of beans.
  • Stop brewing a little earlier than you did before.

Weak Coffee: If your brewed coffee ends up being weaker than you would like, there are a couple of things you can do to make the coffee stronger:

  • The next time you use it, tap the filter basket to make sure the grounds are evenly distributed within the filter basket.
  • If you distribute the grounds evenly but still end up with a weak brew, try using a finer grind, which will boost the extraction of more flavor.

Leakage During Brewing: If you notice that the Moka Pot is leaking from the side of the pot, do the following:

  • Remove the Moka Pot from the heat.
  • After cooling has taken place, make sure it is clean and sealed tightly.
  • If this doesn’t solve the problem, try using a coarser grind. A grind that is too fine tends to clog the filter basket.

Steam Leakage from the Pressure Release Valve: If you find that steam is leaking from the pressure release valve, consider the following:

  • Adding too many grounds can cause this.
  • If you tamped (compressed) the grounds, that could also be the reason. Never tamp the grounds in a Moka Pot.
  • If both of the above do not apply, try using a lower stove burner heat.

How To Use A French Press

Here’s a list of the step-by-step directions for brewing coffee in a French press.

  • Step 1: Heat the water you will use for brewing coffee in the French press in a separate container, such as a stovetop tea kettle. This should be done as the very first step because it is the step that will take the longest.
    The ideal water temperature for brewing coffee in a French press is 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you don’t get to the water in time and it reaches a full boil, that is okay also. If the water did reach a full boil, let it sit off of the heat for about 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the amount of water that has been heated. Sitting for a short time off of the heat should give the water time to cool back down to the recommended temperature range of 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Step 2: Preheat the French press by adding some hot water into the press and swirling it around inside the beaker until the beaker is warm to the touch. Then discard the water. This will prepare the French press for keeping the coffee hot longer.
  • Step 3: Measure and grind the coffee beans. You are ideally wanting to end up with a grind that is somewhere in the middle of grind sizes…not too coarse and not too fine.
  • Step 4: Add coffee grounds to the bottom of the beaker. This is done after you have disposed of the water that you used to warm the beaker, as indicated in Step 2 above. Make sure to give the beaker a shake after adding the grounds so that they will even out on the bottom.
  • Step 5: Pour hot water into the beaker with coffee grounds. The pouring of water should be done relatively quickly while at the same time making sure all of the grounds get in contact with the water.
  • Step 6: Gently stir the mixture in the beaker with a spoon. This will ensure that all grounds have been in contact with the hot water.
  • Step 7: Let the mixture of grounds and water steep for 3-1/2 minutes.
  • Step 8: After 3-1/2 minutes, you should have a crust-like layer of steeped grounds on the top surface. At this point, you have a couple of choices regarding what to do. If you want a lighter-bodied coffee, use your stirring spoon to scoop out and discard the crust, and continue to scoop and discard the grounds…or use your spoon to gently break up the crust and leave it in the beaker for a more full-bodied coffee.
  • Step 9: Grab the lid/plunger/filter screen component and place it on top of the beaker with the plunger and screen pulled up to the top-most position. Fit the lid on the top of the beaker and then gently depress the plunger down through the coffee to the bottom of the beaker.
  • Step 10: Pour the pressed coffee into mugs or a decanter and enjoy! A decanter is recommended for keeping the coffee hot for a longer period of time.

Troubleshooting French Press Brewing Problems

  • If when you depress the plunger through the coffee it goes clear down to the bottom without any resistance, this means the grind you used was too coarse and you will need to do a finer grind the next time.
  • If you find that it is taking a significant amount of effort to depress the plunger to the bottom of the beaker, your grind is too fine and you will need a larger/coarser grind the next time.
  • Sour or Weak Flavor: This usually means that the coffee was under-extracted (not brewed/steeped for a long enough period of time. Try upping the steeping time gradually until you get it to a satisfactory flavor for you.
  • Bitter Flavor: Coffee brewed in a French press that ends up tasting bitter usually ends up that way due to over-extraction, which means that too much of the coffee flavor has been extracted from the grounds. The two factors that come into play if your coffee is bitter tasting include either the grind being too fine and/or the extraction time being too long. For future brews, play around with different grind sizes and extraction times.
  • Stale, Flat Flavor: This can be caused by several factors: 1) You used pre-ground coffee, which normally will be somewhat stale. It is highly recommend that you grind coffee beans just prior to brewing them, as ground coffee starts losing freshness after the first 30 minutes to 1 hour. 2) Low Brewing Temperature. 3) Under-extraction.
  • Other “Odd” Flavors: The water you use to brew your coffee can also have a huge impact on the flavor of the coffee. If you can, use filtered water. Either bottled water or tap water that you filter yourself in one of today’s handy filter pitchers will likely make a huge difference in the flavor.
  • Another possible cause of non-optimal coffee can be dirty equipment. If you think this might be a possibility, completely disassemble your French press, and even your grinder, and do a thorough cleaning and drying.

Conclusion – Moka Pot vs. French Press

A Moka Pot generally takes about 5-7 minutes to brew coffee, while a French press is slightly less time at about 5 minutes.

One HUGE difference between these two coffee brewing appliances is the coffee that is brewed in each of them…although both coffee brewers brew a strong-bodied coffee that is about twice the boldness of coffee made in a drip coffee maker, a Moka pot brews up a smoother coffee than a French press, which tends to brew up coffee that includes sediment and more coffee bean oils.

For optimum results in brewing in either of these types of coffee brewers, it is highly recommended that you use freshly ground coffee beans that are ground just prior to brewing. It is also highly recommended that you use filtered water and thoroughly cleaned equipment.

In summary, if you love strong coffee but don’t want to spend tons of money on a home espresso machine, a Moka pot or French press should be considered.

What The Heck Is “White” Coffee?!

Nowadays, there are so many varieties of coffee/espresso and coffee beans out there, it’s difficult to keep them all straight in our heads!

Now, someone has come up with “white” coffee. This whole topic of white coffee is confusing to many, so here is detailed information for all of your white coffee questions.

There are, in fact, quite a few different unknowns that people have about white coffee, including things such as the caffeine content of white coffee, how to make it, what it tastes like, and whether the color of white coffee truly is white.

This article will cover white coffee basics and beyond.

In a nutshell, white coffee is coffee that is brewed with white coffee beans rather than brown or dark-brown coffee beans. A special roasting process is used to make coffee beans turn out whitish/cream colored. More details about the specifics of the roasting process are listed next.

How White Coffee Beans Are Made

White coffee comes from coffee beans that are categorized as being “white coffee beans.”

White coffee beans start out as the normal green coffee beans that all coffee is made of. Normally, Arabica beans or, less commonly, Robusta, coffee beans are used for roasting in the creation of white coffee beans.

To end up with white coffee beans, the green beans are roasted for only half of the amount of time than regular “brown” coffee beans.

Not only are they roasted for half the amount of time, they are also roasted at a lower temperature than their brown counterparts.

While green coffee beans are roasted at a temperature ranging from 450 degrees to 480 degrees to be roasted into brown to dark-brown beans, those same green coffee beans, when being turned into white coffee beans, are roasted at a temperature of approximately 325 degrees.

Roasting time to make white coffee beans is cut in about half of the length of time that is needed to turn coffee beans to brown or dark brown. That’s why white coffee beans are often referred to as being “half-baked” coffee beans.

What White Coffee Looks Like

Although white coffee is somewhat lighter in color than darker brews of coffee and espresso, it is not actually “white” like something such as milk is.

When prepared as espresso, white coffee beans produce a thin yellowish/tan colored brew.

What White Coffee Tastes Like

It’s difficult to describe the flavor of white coffee, other than to say that the taste is generally called a taste similar to “nutty.”

White coffee, although while still having a color resembling coffee, is lighter in color and has a much less “bitter” flavor than coffee made with darker roasts, so people who prefer cream or creamer in their brown darker roasts to get rid of the bitter taste may not feel the need to add cream/creamer to white coffee. Some people, however, do prefer additions of things such as milk/cream to even white coffee.

When white coffee is consumed without any enhancements such as milk or sweetener, it is much more mild and has no bitter flavor like darker brews of coffee and espresso. This is because the natural sugars in the beans do not get carmelized because of the low and quick roasting process, and these natural sugars override any bitterness.

White coffee is traditionally consumed with a spice mixture called Hawaij. Although Hawaij is used with a combination of certain spices for cooked food, there is a specific mixture of spices that is used for white coffee, which includes ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. You can find the specific recipe measurements for that combination here.

Hawaij spice transforms white coffee flavor from a nutty, mild brew to an incredibly flavorful cup of coffee unlike any cup you have ever had.

Caffeine Content of White Coffee

White coffee reportedly contains more caffeine than brown coffee, although this finding has not been substantiated with objective data.

The general consensus about caffeine content in coffee beans is…coffee beans that are roasted for a longer period of time in a hotter temperature have less amounts of caffeine than those that are roasted at lower temperatures and for less time. Longer and hotter roasting is thought to “roast out” more caffeine than the method of roasting at a lower temperature and less tie.

Therefore, the darkest beans are thought to contain the least amount of caffeine, a medium roast is thought to contain more caffeine than a dark roast, and a light roast is thought to have more caffeine than the darker roasts.

Coffee beans that have been roasted to be white coffee beans are roasted at a lower temperature and for less time than those roasted to be brown coffee beans. The decreased roasting heat and time required for white coffee beans causes more of the caffeine in the coffee bean to be preserved within the bean.

When white coffee beans are brewed into coffee or espresso, that preserved caffeine translates into more caffeine in the brewed coffee or espresso beverage.

White coffee, therefore, is thought to end up containing about 50% more caffeine than coffee that is made of darker beans.

How To Grind White Coffee Beans

White coffee beans are much harder than coffee beans that have been roasted at higher temperatures and for longer periods of time.

This is because white coffee beans have not had their cell structure broken down as much as beans that have been roasted longer and at higher temperatures.

Because of the hardness of white coffee beans, you absolutely should not attempt to grind them in a standard home/kitchen coffee grinder, as you could very easily damage your coffee grinder.

You will be MUCH better off if you instead choose to buy pre-ground white coffee if you want to brew white coffee at home.

How To Brew White Coffee

As previously mentioned, it is highly recommended that you don’t attempt to grind white coffee beans with a non-industrial coffee bean grinder.

Instead, you should purchase white coffee beans of high quality that have been pre-ground.

Step 1: Get your hands on some high-quality white pre-ground coffee beans.

Step 2: You will need to brew the grounds in a coffee or espresso maker that uses a high-pressure brewing method and yields a very concentrated brew. Experts of white coffee brewing recommend a home espresso machine, AeroPress, or Moka Pot.

You could also use a French press, although because of the denseness of white coffee grounds, you will need to let the grounds steep in the hot water for at least 10 minutes, if not longer.

Brew as you would a regular pot of coffee.

Health Benefits Of White Coffee

  • Antioxidant Properties: Because of the decreased roasting time and heat, the coffee bean retains more of the natural antioxidants contained within it, as the antioxidants don’t cook off like they do with darker roasts. Therefore, white coffee contains more antioxidants than does darker coffee.
  • Less Discoloration of Teeth: Because white coffee is significantly lighter in color than darker brews, you will find that it does not stain your teeth as much as darker coffees.
  • Less Stomach Irritation: Many white coffee drinkers praise the benefit of decreased stomach irritation from consuming white coffee as compared to darker brews.
  • More Caffeine Than Darker Coffee: This could either be a benefit or a detriment, depending on your lifestyle. White coffee does have more caffeine, up to 50% to 70% more than darker brews, which will give you an energy boost and increase your alertness. However, if you are wanting to cut down your intake of caffeine, you probably will want to stay away from white coffee.

Difference Between A Flat-White Coffee and White Coffee

There are many people who confuse an espresso beverage called a flat-white espresso between actual white coffee. These two beverages are completely different from each other. If you order a flat-white espresso beverage, it won’t contain any white coffee in it.

White coffee is a coffee that is brewed with white coffee beans. Some people prefer to consume white coffee with cream/milk or other additions.

A flat-white coffee, on the other hand, is a standard espresso beverage that is created using regular (brown) espresso in combination with a lot of steamed milk and the addition of some microfoam on top.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About White Coffee

Is white coffee Keto-friendly?

Yes, white coffee is a great beverage to drink if you are on a Keto diet. The Keto diet allows you to either consume it without additions, or with the addition of heavy cream or other milk/creamer additions.

Is white coffee white?

Although white coffee is certainly not as dark as your standard shot of espresso or even a cup of drip or percolator coffee, it most definitely is much lighter and normally has a light brown or beige color to it.

Can I drink white coffee if I am doing intermittent fasting?

Yes, you can drink white coffee without additions during a fast, but make sure you don’t add milk, cream, or sugar, as these types of additions will turn it into more of a food beverage, which you likely will be avoiding during a fast.  

Is white coffee good for you?

White coffee is generally healthy for most people because of the chlorogenic acid present in white roasted coffee beans, which is thought to assist with regulation of glucose/blood sugar levels, cardiovascular health, prevention of atherosclerosis, weight loss, and its function as an anti-inflammatory.

If for some reason you have a health condition that requires you to avoid caffeine intake, however, you probably would be best to avoid white coffee, as it is thought to contain much more caffeine than darker coffee and espresso. 

Single or Double Espresso Machine Boiler – Which Is Best?

Which to Buy? Espresso machine single boiler or double boiler?

If you are new to the world of espresso machines, then you have probably asked the question that this article is about — whether you should get one with a single (one) boiler, or one with double (two) boilers (also called dual boilers by some people).

Single or Double Espresso Machine Boiler – Which Is Best? That Is Today’s BIG Question!

This whole thing about boilers is, for most people just starting out, one of the most confusing things to get a good grasp on.

The main reason for this is because when one starts talking about the internal workings of a home espresso machine, it sounds very “techy” and intimidating. It really doesn’t have to be that way.

This “whole boilers thing” really is actually quite a simple thing to learn, even though it sounds very confusing when you first start looking for an espresso machine and see the jargon involved in the whole thing, which definitely includes a lot of talk about single and double boilers.

Important: Throughout this writing we will refer to “frothing,” foaming,” and “steaming” of milk.Frothing, foaming, and steaming all mean exactly the same thing when you are talking about making milk into that rich, creamy foam that you see in beverages such as cappuccinos. They are basically just two different interchangeable words that are meant to say “the heating of milk with steam to create froth for espresso beverages.”

What exactly is a boiler in a home espresso machine..?

The boiler (or boilers, in the case of double boilers – which will be explained later in this writing) is a sealed metal container inside an espresso machine that holds the water poured into the water reservoir on the outside of the machine.

The water poured into the water reservoir goes into the boiler(s), where it is heated to the temperature needed to be able to make espresso, as well as the needed temperature to produce steam in the milk frothing process.

Definition of Double Boiler Espresso Machines

Double boiler espresso makers, as the name implies, have in them two separate boilers (also called “dual boilers”). It is basically agreed by most, if not all, people that machines with double boilers provide the home barista with the best end result.

Machines that have double boilers normally also come equipped with each of the two boilers having its own individual control (heating thermostat), allowing one to heat water to a hotter temperature than the other.

The water that is heated to go through the ground coffee and extract the flavor from the coffee needs to be less hot than the water that is used for steaming milk.

If a machine with double boilers is used, both boilers can heat water simultaneously, with each boiler adjusted to the temperature needed for its particular function, whether it be steaming the milk or running through ground espresso beans to extract the espresso flavor.

Having a machine with double boilers not only ensures better results, due to using the correct water temperature for each needed function, double boilers also get rid of waiting between brews and steaming sessions.

With a single boiler, the water must be heated to the right temperature for extracting through the ground coffee. After that, there is a waiting period while the water heats up to a hotter temperature, which is necessary to achieve correctly steamed/frothed milk. This results in wait time, which a lot of people prefer not to have to do, particularly in today’s busy world of go, go go. This is the reason that so many people much prefer a machine that has double boilers over a machine that has just one.

There are other systems available with some espresso makers; however, the majority of them you will see have either one or two boilers as part of their water-heating system. Therefore, the subject of boilers is the only one that will be discussed in this page, at least for now.

For machines that have double boilers, below are definitions of the two different boilers, and what each boiler’s specific function is.

  • Dedicated Brew Boiler – The boiler that heats the water for the coffee grounds: One of the two boilers is there simply to heat the water that seeps through the ground coffee and extracts the espresso down below into a waiting espresso cup or mug. This boiler heats water to a less hot temperature than the other boiler.
  • Dedicated Steam Boiler – The boiler that heats water to be used with the milk-frothing wand: The other boiler of the two heats another, separate batch of water simply for steam (used for frothing milk with a milk steaming wand). This boiler heats the water to a hotter temperature than the other one.

Having two separate boilers prevents the water that is run through the grounds from being too hot and possibly scalding (burning) the ground coffee, while at the same time allowing the water that will be used for frothing the milk to reach an optimum (higher/hotter) temperature to allow for great steaming of milk.

Most espresso machines with double boilers have separate controls that are easily accessible, and many times digital, to allow the user to set each boiler to the optimal temperature for the function of that particular boiler.

How An Espresso Machine With Double Boilers Works

Below is a diagram that will help break down the basics of a machine with double boilers: 

Single or Double Espresso Machine Boiler - Which Is Best?On the diagram above, note that although the thermostats we show appear to be located on the actual boilers themselves (which they are in a sense), most espresso machines have external controls on the outside of the machine, along with the other controls, that allow for setting your preferred temperatures for brewing and steaming.

Boiler Materials

Boilers for espresso machines are made of metal, due to the heat conductivity properties of metal.

The types of metals primarily used for espresso machine boilers include copper, brass, aluminum, and stainless steel.

  • Copper is one very common metal used or boilers, due to its excellent capability to for holding heat, which results in a more stable water temperature. There are a good number of people who feel copper is their only choice when it comes to a boiler for an espresso maker. Most, if not all, traditional Italian espresso machines utilize copper boilers.
  • Stainless steel is another material somewhat commonly used, although not as commonly as copper, due to the higher cost. Stainless steel also reportedly does not retain/hold heat as well as copper. A significant number of people feel stainless steel is more safe health-wise than copper.
  • Brass is yet another type of metal used in the manufacture of boilers for espresso makers.

Most people who have used a number of different espresso machines have a preference for one type of metal boiler over the others.

Summary – Single or Double Espresso Machine Boiler – Which Is Best?

Double Boilers Summary

Most, if not all people who have used one or more home espresso machines agree that amachine with a double boiler is by far the best.

Although there are not a TON of reasons for this being the case, and rather just a couple of reasons, the couple of reasons for considering a machine with double boilers over one that has just a single boiler are very clearly obvious, once they are pointed out. They are as follows:

  • No one likes to wait! A machine with double boilers allows you to pull an espresso shot while at the same time having “other” water that is sufficiently hot enough to produce steam for making milk froth, which allows for simultaneously steaming your milk at the same time your espresso is brewing.

A single-boiler espresso machine will require you to wait in between the time you have brewed up your espresso and the time when you will have milk froth ready to add to it. This wait time will be due to having to wait for the single boiler to heat up to the optimum temperature for steaming milk, which requires the water to be at a higher temperature than the espresso brewing step requires.

  • Much more accurate water heating capability. Machines with double boilers are able to more accurately heat the water for both extracting flavor from grounds and that used for steaming milk into a rich, creamy froth. Lots of machines available nowadays come with digitally-controlled thermostats for the dual boilers in them, allowing you to heat each boiler to the perfect temperature according to what the water in that boiler will be used for.

Single Boilers Summary

There is truly just one reason we were able to ascertain for choosing a machine with a single boiler over one that has double boilers – cost.

Machines with single boilers usually cost much less than those with dual boilers.

We were not able to determine any other reason for choosing a machine with a single boiler over one that has double boilers.

Milk Frothing for Espresso – The Basics and Beyond

Either you have FINALLY gotten your own home espresso machine and want to do the fancy home “barista thing” for yourself, your family, and of course, all of your guests, or…

…maybe you are simply here because you are still considering buying an espresso machine for your home but want to know what the milk frothing part of it is all about.

In either case, you probably have some questions about frothing milk for espresso beverages. This information will help you to learn how to make light and fluffy frothed milk for any occasion.

The Learning Curve

Once you have learned how to froth milk, it’s like riding a bike and you will know how to do it always.

Frothing (also called “steaming”) milk to add to espresso beverages is somewhat complicated at first and requires some experimenting.

The process involves introducing high-pressure hot steam into milk, which results in foamed milk with a top layer of very tiny bubbles.

When frothed properly, milk is transformed from its normal “runny liquid” form to what is called “microfoam” which, while still being a “pourable” liquid, is also a rich, creamy foam that is very sweet to taste when compared to the taste of milk that has not been frothed.

Froth it too long

You end up with a tasteless thick foam very similar to what we would compare to drinking cardboard.

Froth it not long enough…

You end up pouring your milk into your espresso beverage much like the same thing you did when you used a standard drip coffee maker with milk or creamer.

Your first attempts at frothing milk may end up being milk with many large bubbles. 

Milk that has been correctly frothed will have many tiny “micro-bubbles.”

You Don’t Want Large Bubbles…

Large bubbles in the frothed milk will result in the milk in the frothing jug floating to the bottom of the espresso, just like if unfrothed milk had been poured into the espresso beverage, until you take a spoon and swoosh it around.

…You Also Don’t Want Thick “Meringue-Like” Froth

You might think that what you want to end up with is a very thick foam, close to the consistency of whipped egg whites/meringue.

This consistency is not the one you want. This is called over-frothing and will end up with not only a taste that will very closely resemble cardboard, it will also have the appearance of not something you are looking to end up with when it is poured onto/into your espresso (if it is even pourable at that point).

In summary, milk that is over-frothed will not only be without flavor, it also will be very difficult to pour and get an attractive presentation to your espresso.

Now on to the perfect milk froth

Milk that is frothed correctly has a very “smooth” appearance to it.

Not only does it have the right consistency to “float” on top of the espresso to some extent, it also sweetens the taste of the milk, much improving it from the “flat” taste of the milk before it was frothed.

A good frothing pitcher will help

There are many different things you could use to froth milk in. However, if you can afford an extra $20, you can get a great quality stainless-steel frothing pitcher made specifically for frothing milk for espresso drinks. There are a few that even cost up to $50; however, for $20  you will be able to have a pitcher that is of great quality and will last for many, many years. Below are some reasons that a stainless-steel frothing pitcher is the best choice.

  • Stainless steel is the preferred material for a milk frothing pitcher, primarily because of the good heat conductivity ability of stainless steel.
  • The shape of the container you are frothing in also is very important. Most, if not all, frothing pitchers have a diameter that starts larger at the bottom and gradually tapers to a smaller circumference at the top. This is very important to allow the milk flow to whirlpool the way it needs to in order to turn into froth.
  • In addition, most frothing pitchers have a spout, which makes pouring the completed froth into the espresso much easier.

What type of milk is best for getting the perfect froth, you ask?

There are quite a few different choices of milk available for you to choose from for steaming. Some are great and make frothing much easier, and some not so great. So before we get to the steps for frothing milk, let’s take a couple of minutes to review the good, the bad, and the downright UGLY regarding which types of milk you should consider for that perfect froth, and which types you should stay away from.

Generally, the rule of thumb when it comes to successfully steaming milk to a rich, creamy flavorful and light froth is to keep in mind the amount of fat the milk you are using has.

The lower the fat content, the easier it is to develop a froth (also great for your diet 😉 ). However, the milks with lower fat content, although easier to successfully froth, also provide much less flavor than the milks with higher fat content.

However, on the other hand, it is also important to note that if you raise the bar on the fat content to above 5%, the fat content then DOES allow for great frothing capability. In other words, nonfat, skim, and 2% milk work great, then 4% does not work good, but when you get to the dairy products that have higher fat content, the ones with 5% and higher, which include half-and-half and whipping cream, again these provide for great frothing, although you likely will want to stay away from the latter other than for very special occasions.

Here is a rundown of different milk options to consider.

  • The types of milk that likely first come to mind are the “normal” milks we buy in the grocery store – these would include nonfat and skim milk, as well as 1%, 2%, and 4% (4% is what we call whole milk).
  • Then there are half-and-half and whipping cream
  • Some other types of milk to consider include soy milk, almond milk, , organic, and lactose-free milk.
  • Then we also have almond milk, rice milk, and coconut milk.
  • Finally, there is milk (cream), which has fat content higher than 5%. This would include half-and-half which has a fat content of 10.5% to 18%, medium cream which contains 25% fat, and whipping cream which contains 30% to 36% fat content.

Here is a table that will help guide you through which milks work great for steaming, which don’t work so good, and some additional comments we thought were appropriate for each type of milk.

Type of Milk Easy to Froth? Additional Comments
Nonfat Very easy to froth. Although, as stated, nonfat milk is very easy to froth, the froth produced will have significant lack of flavor due to the lack of fats within this type of milk.
Skim/Low Fat (1%) Very easy to froth. Like nonfat milk, the froth produced by low fat 1% milk, although simple to achieve, will have a lack of flavor.
Reduced Fat (2%) Also very easy to froth. With reduced fat (2%) milk, your finished froth will have more flavor to it than skim or nonfat milk.
Whole Milk (4%) More difficult to froth than reduced-fat milks, although with some practice this can be achieved. Because of the significantly higher fat content in whole (4%) milk, the “sweet” flavor of the froth produced is a definite improvement over those milks with less fat content. Although more difficult to froth, you definitely will taste the difference from milks with lower fat content.

Additionally, when you go to a Starbucks or other local coffee house that serves espressos, unless you specify which type of milk you want, the barista will generally make it with whole milk. Practice with frothing enables professional baristas to successfully and easily froth 4% milk.

Half and Half Because of its significantly high fat content, half-and-half is also very easy to froth. Half-and-half will provide you with extremely flavorful and sweet froth, although don’t forget to keep that fat content in mind as it pertains to dietary concerns.
Whipping Cream Also very easy to froth, due to the high fat content. You likely would want to keep the option of using whipping cream under your hat year-round, except maybe for those once-a-year, very special occasions.
Goat’s and Sheep’s Milk Easy to froth. Because goat’s and sheep’s milk contains protein very similar to that which cow’s milk has, you will find that you can get a great froth with these milks also.
Soy Milk Can be frothed, but will quickly “unfroth.” Great choice if you prefer soy in your diet as a dairy-free alternative; however, soy milk will need to very quickly be added to already-brewed espresso as soon as it has been frothed. Soy milk is much naturally sweeter than cow’s milk, which will result in much sweeter froth.
Almond Milk Very easy to froth. Almond milk foams up wonderfully, and results in a long-lasting, very delicate froth that has a nutty flavor to it.

Some people have commented that almond milk has a strange “background” flavor to it, something similar to being sweet and bitter all rolled into one.

Rice Milk Very easy to froth. Rice milk will froth up pretty similar to fat-free (nonfat) milk, in other words very easily, resulting in a very “puffy” foam that “holds up” (keeps it texture for some time). However, like nonfat cow’s milk, rice milk also does not provide much in the way of flavorfullness. Also like cow’s milk, rice milk is very low in fat, for those of you looking for healthy dietary options.

Note that with rice milk, you will not get a “creamy” foam like you will with some of the bovine (cow) milks used, but instead a “foamy” type of froth.

Rice milk is a good consideration if you

Coconut Milk Fairly easy to froth. Coconut milk froths up deliciously into what could be described as a foam that has a faint flavor of coconut enmeshed into it.

Basic step-by-step instructions for frothing (steaming) milk for espresso beverages

First off…be prepared that you most likely won’t be successful your first try, and probably not even for at least several, if not more, tries after that one.  😐

Step 1: Fill your chosen milk frothing pitcher or jug about half full. The reason you do not fill it more full than halfway is not only for the obvious reason of preventing it from overflowing, but also to save yourself from wasting milk.

Step 2: “Stretch” the milk. Doing a “milk stretch” simply involves turning the steam of your frothing wand on while the nozzle (end) of the steaming wand is just slightly under the top surface of the milk.

If you have done this correctly, you will  hear a type of “hissing” sound. This will gently introduce air into the milk. You should only perform this step for a few (about 5) seconds, just enough to inject a small amount of air into the milk. If you are doing this step correctly, you will see the milk spinning in a motion similar to what a whirlpool looks like.

Step 3: Slightly move the frothing wand down into the milk another TINY amount, about one-half to 1 cm and tilt your frothing container (pitcher) just slightly. You will continue to see your milk spinning in a whirlpool type of motion, but you will no longer hear any type of “hissing” sound. It is very important that you tilt your frothing pitcher/container slightly during this step, in order to complete what is called the “polishing” process. This is probably the most difficult step to learn. You will need some practice to find that perfect “spot,” which can only be described as a spot slightly off-center of the frothing pitcher and the place you will keep the steaming wand at for the remainder of the frothing process.

It is during this polishing process that the milk will continue to whirlpool and become heated, as well as further frothed.

One great thing to have on hand at this point is a thermometer —

  • For latte art, you will want the milk to reach a temperature of about 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • For frothed milk that you do not plan on doing latte art with, raise the temperature somewhat higher (hotter) to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The maximum heat your milk should reach is 155 degrees Fahrenheit. Any hotter than that will result in loss of flavor, followed shortly thereafter by scalded milk.

Step 4: “The Thump.” Once your milk has reached the appropriate heat and froth level, you will need to give the milk container one solid “thump” on the counter. This will get rid of any of the larger bubbles present in the milk. It doesn’t need to be a bump that makes milk fly everywhere, just a single good, solid bump. This likely will also take some practice before you have “the thump” down. The milk at this point should have the appearance of something similar to wet paint in a can.

Step 5: Pouring. If the milk has been frothed correctly, the froth will sit at the top of the milk, and thus will pour first out of the frothing container into the espresso. The correct way to pour the frothed milk into the espresso is to rest the spout of the frothing container on the lip of the cup and then pour at a steady pace.


Here are diagrams of the above first steps. Hopefully these (our feeble attempts at drawing what we have explained above) may also help.

infographic of milk frothing steps

Basic Milk Frothing Steps

Other important factors that will help you to get that desired froth

In addition to the type of milk you decide to steam, there are also a few other factors to take into consideration, to make steaming milk successfully much more likely to happen. These other factors include the following:

  • Milk temperature – The temperature of the milk is one of the key factors to getting a good froth. Always make sure the milk you are frothing is as cold as possible. A cold frothing pitcher when you start out will also go a long way toward a great end result.
  • Purging your milk frothing wand – Purging any residual water and condensation out of your steam wand should be done before each frothing session.
  • Cleaning your steam wand after each use – This is kind of along the same line as the suggestion above it. Keeping your frothing wand clean will definitely give you better results.

Common milk frothing mistakes to avoid

  • Not purging the frothing wand – Not purging the excess water in your frothing wand prior to frothing will result in the milk you are trying to froth being watered down. This is a very common mistake that many people make and is very easily avoided by simply lowering the steaming wand into an empty glass measuring cup or other type of cup and running the steam function for a few seconds.
  • Steam wand tip too low (immersed too deeply into the milk) – Not only will immersing the wand to deep into the milk not give you the results you are looking for, it also is the culprit responsible for that infamous “screeching” noise that you may have heard during your prior attempts. Having the tip of the frothing wand just below the top surface of the milk is the proper way to steam milk.
  • Steam wand tip to high – This will result in huge bubbles, as well as milk being sprayed everywhere.
  • Not allowing the milk to “roll” (whirlpool) – Part of whipping up great froth is allowing the milk to move in a whirlpool fashion while at the same time allowing the steaming wand to inject air into the whirlpooling milk. Simply settling down and relaxing will allow you to find that “sweet spot” you need to find to be able to whirlpool the milk while at the same time injecting air into the milk.
  • Over-heating – More is not always better, particularly in the case of frothing milk when it comes to the temperature of the milk. The optimal temperature for finished froth milk is approximately 140 degrees Fahrenheit for small beverages and 155 degrees Fahrenheit for larger ones. When milk reaches a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit it loses flavor. Bring it up even higher to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and you will likely end up with scalded milk.
  • Clogged air-intake valve – There likely is an air-intake valve located somewhere on your frothing wand. An air-intake valve is a very small hole that literally sucks in air for ejection into the milk you are frothing, most likely located somewhere near the top of your frothing wand, most definitely up much higher than the tip of the wand that is immersed. If the air-intake valve becomes clogged, no air will be able to be gathered inside the frothing wand, and thus, no air will be injected into the milk.

How Does A Manual / Lever Espresso Machine Work?

There are some absolutely gorgeous manual home espresso machines available!

If you are here, you have likely been wondering exactly how a manual espresso machine works.

Keep in mind that before you can even consider to begin using one of them correctly and getting good results, you most likely will require some basic info. on how to use one.

The information on this page has been provided solely as an instructional guide — no links to anything to buy, we promise!

Manual home espresso machines (more commonly called “lever” espresso machines) not only look gorgeous, they also produce absolutely optimal espresso shots when compared to any other espresso maker you can find, including today’s super-automatics and semi-automatics.

Read on below for some helpful information regarding what many call the very best espresso machines available.

How Does A Manual / Lever Espresso Machine Work?

In a nutshell, the actual parts of one of these machines are really quite simple when it comes to the machine itself.

Comparing a manual espresso machine to one of today’s super-automatics, or even semi-automatics for that matter, is about the same as comparing a Model A Ford “back in the day” to most of today’s automobiles, which have many bells and whistles.

Because lever espresso makers have many less components that can, for whatever reason, just “stop working,” you can pretty much count on a lever espresso maker lasting much longer than a more automated one.

One main component on semi-auto and super-auto espresso machines that tends to quit working is the water pump. A manual espresso machine, on the other hand, has no “pump” per se (other than your hand/arm, which pumps the water into the portafilter, where it runs through the ground coffee and is extracted into the waiting espresso cup below).

The main components of a lever espresso machine basically include the four things listed below.

  • A water reservoir where fresh water is poured, which is then heated inside the water reservoir.
  • Heating element – There is normally a heating element contained within the water reservoir, which heats the water.
  • Portafilter into which you pour the coffee grounds.(If you are unsure what we mean by a portafilter, this page has some very helpful information about that.)
  • A large lever on the outside of the machine that is brought down by the user of the machine after the water has been heated and the coffee grounds have been added to the machine and tamped (compressed). Bringing the lever down results in the water being forced into and through the grounds, which causes espresso to be extracted and dispensed into a cup waiting below a spout.
  • Pressure gauge monitors how much PSI (pounds per square inch) of pressure are in the boiler. Not all manual espresso machines have a pressure gauge, so this component is not an absolutely necessary one.

Why Do People Find Them So Difficult To Use?

These machines, in and of themselves, are not difficult to use. There are very few operational components that come with these machines, as well as very few things that need to be learned when it comes to the actual operation of one of these machines.

The primary two reasons people find these machines difficult to use when first starting out are:

  • Learning the correct grind coarseness – One of the main reasons people usually find these machines so difficult to use, at least at first, is due to the grind of the coffee being too coarse (not ground enough) or too fine (ground too much). This does take some experimentation, and some coffee will be wasted in the learning process. A good coffee bean grinder that has numerous settings for different grinds will most definitely help with learning this step.
  • Learning how to correctly tamp (compress) the ground coffee – Tamp the grounds too tightly and no espresso can be extracted. Tamp them not enough and the espresso is extracted too quickly, resulting in weak espresso that has no “crema” on top.

Both of the above skills also need to be learned with semi-automatic espresso makers, although because semi-autos are more automated than lever espresso machines, they do not require as much of a learning curve.

To break down the subject of the correct grind of coffee even more, keep in mind that even different coffees will bring different results when it comes to grinding and grind coarseness.

  • Not grinding the coffee finely enough will result in the espresso being dispensed too quickly and pouring into the cup too fast, with not very much “crema” on top.
  • On the other hand, grinding the coffee too finely will result in the water not being able to go through the grounds, and thus, NO espresso.
  • The best tip we can offer you, regarding the correct grind, is the good old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” with a different setting on a good grinder.
  • Trying several different grind settings with your chosen coffee bean, while keeping in mind the above information, should result in your getting the hang of it with not too many attempts.

Although most people find it very difficult to learn these couple of skills, those who finally do figure them out do feel that it was worth the extra effort they put into it. These incredible pieces of what we truly consider beautiful art are capable of making the very, very best espresso that can be made…period…enough said!

You will, however, at first learn very quickly how finicky and persnickety these contraptions can actually be, again mainly due to not having the coffee grounds “just so.”

If you are considering buying a lever espresso maker and have never made espresso before, just know that learning to use one of these gadgets and getting that amazing result you are likely looking for can seem to be a big ball of frustration and disappointment, at least the first few times you attempt to use one.

In summary, just know that it is completely possible to learn how to use them, if you have a little patience and are willing to waste a few batches of coffee grounds in the learning process.

What Is Your Personality? Is a Manual Lever Espresso Machine Something For You To Consider?

  • If you are the type of person who likes to fiddle with and learn how to use something that brings with it a completely new concept that you have never encountered before, and you would absolutely love to make the best espresso that can be made, a lever espresso maker could be just the thing for you. Manual machines have the capability of producing the ultimate espresso, of much better quality than ANY, even the most high-priced, semi-auto or super-auto machine can. If you are an espresso fanatic who truly wants to be able to make the ultimate espresso at home, and you also have some patience for learning how to use one, then you likely should give one of these manual machines a whirl!
  • On the other hand, however, if you are someone who definitely just wants brewed espresso with no bother, fuss, or muss, and virtually no need to acquire the needed skills that goes with one of these machines, such as learning about the correct grind of coffee needed or the correct tamp (compression) of the ground coffee, you definitely would be better off getting a super-automatic, or at least semi-automatic home espresso machine.

Once you have learned the few needed steps, you will take this knowledge with you always, kind of like riding a bicycle.

On the other hand, keep in mind that even when you have learned the needed skills and have been able to successfully brew espresso with one of these machines with a particular type of coffee, you may find that making a change to a different coffee from the coffee you are currently using, or perhaps trying out a new grinder, will require you to again learn the correct grind and tamp for that particular coffee.

How the lever on manual espresso machines works

The sole purpose of the lever on manual espresso machines is to push the hot water down towards and through the ground coffee into the waiting cup below.

The large lever on the outside and the front of the espresso machine, when pulled up, creates a vacuum effect, literally sucking the already heated water into the portafilter, where it runs through the tamped grounds, after which the extracted espresso is dispensed into a waiting cup below.

There Are Two Different Classifications of Manual Espresso Machines…

These two different classifications include spring piston lever machines (also referred to sometimes as spring-assisted lever machines) and direct lever machines.

These machines are somewhat identical, with the primary difference between the two involving the group head of each. One has a spring inside the group head, and one does not.  Thus, the group head on direct lever manual machines is much smaller, about half the size, than the group head on the spring piston lever ones, due to not needing extra room for the spring that is contained in spring piston lever machines.

Spring Piston Lever Machine – easier to learn to use, and somewhat easier to use than a direct lever machine – this type of manual espresso maker has inside its group head a spring that provides needed pressure for pushing the water to and then through the grounds in the portafilter (the portafilter is the small metal container that holds the ground coffee). After the water is pushed by the spring down to the grounds in the portafilter, the water runs through the grounds, resulting in extraction of  the brewed espresso down through the dispensing spout into a waiting cup below the spout.

Direct Lever Machine – this type of manual espresso machine basically requires you to do all of the pumping of the water through the coffee grounds yourself, rather than having a spring to assist you in this task. With a direct lever machine, you are providing the force needed to push the water through the ground coffee with the strength of your arm/hand. There is not a lot of strength required to complete this, but there is more required than if you use one that has a spring-assisted device in it.

Although both of these machines are very simple as far as components involved, a direct lever machine is even more simple mechanically than a spring piston one. However, because you are doing more of the actual work yourself, getting consistent results will be more difficult to master than they will be with a spring piston machine.

Pros and Cons of Each Type of Manual Espresso Machine

Pros of a spring piston lever machine:
  • Machines with spring piston levers do not require as much skill to be learned, although there is still a learning curve involved with using them. However, they are easier to learn to use than direct lever piston machines. If you are considering using your first manual/lever espresso machine, a spring piston lever one would definitely be the way to go.
  • More consistent pressure is achieved with spring piston lever machines. As well as being easier to use and perhaps not requiring quite as much training, you will find that spring piston lever machines do provide more consistent results in your brewed espresso than a direct lever machine. This is because the spring in the machine will be able to provide more consistency regarding pressure applied than you can with an arm, as is the case with direct lever machines.
  • Higher bar-pump pressure than a direct lever machine. Machines with a spring piston lever are normally calibrated to approximately 9 bars of pump pressure, which is equal to the standard pump pressure needed to produce great espresso.

Cons of a spring piston lever machine:

  • More costly than direct lever machines. You will find that some spring piston lever machines can cost almost double the price of direct lever machines.
  • Very little ability to adjust the speed of the shots, and less control over the espresso end product. Because spring lever machines, although still very manual, are more automated than direct lever machines, you do have less control over the compensation allowed for different grind coarseness, and the machine will be more of a part in determining how your espresso ends up than that of a direct lever machine.
Pros of a direct lever machine:
  • Much less costly – you will likely find, when researching direct lever vs. spring piston lever machines, that the machines with spring piston levers can run you close to double the price of a direct lever machine.
  • More control of the brewing process and end result – with a direct lever machine, you completely control the amount of pressure put on the lever. This total control cannot be achieved with a machine that has a spring-assisted device.
Cons of a direct lever machine:
  • Much more difficult to learn, although definitely “learnable.” For a first manual espresso machine user, a spring-assisted machine would be a better choice than a direct lever machine.

Water Tank (Reservoir) Info. Regarding These Machines

The water tank (where you pour the water in) for manual machines is normally toward the back of the machine and is usually accessed from the top by lifting up a lid on the top.

Water reservoirs for the most popular manual espresso machines usually hold either 20 ounces or 38 ounces of water.

A water reservoir on a manual espresso machine that is only 20 ounces will only allow you to pull maybe two or three shots of espresso, after which you will need to wait for the machine to cool down somewhat, additional water will need to be added, and then heated.

Espresso Coffee Jargon and Terminology Explained

Feel like you have fallen into a vortex lately, in your attempts to figure this, that, and the other thing out about espresso machines?

Trying to get a grip on what some of the things associated with making espresso, such as maybe what a portafilter is, a dual boiler, or even an Americano beverage, definitely gets rather confusing for most people new to the world of espresso.

Below is a complete compilation of all these weird words put together all in one happy place!


We have added images, when legally possible, to assist you in fully understanding what the heck we are talking about!

If you have been searching for an espresso machine and have been seeing all kinds of strange words that you have never seen before, this page is devoted to just simply defining and unraveling the mystery of all of these words. Therefore, below is a complete listing of all the espresso coffee jargon and terminology explained, all in one convenient place.

You will likely find that some of the things you thought were so important when choosing an espresso machine are actually not so important after all, while other things that you felt might not be important turn out to be much more important than you had thought.

The world is full of different jargon for different things that people are involved in.

Computer geeks like to talk about things like RAM and CPU…
Website making fanatics speak of things such as SEO and Analytics…
Doctors like to use big words, such as lumbosacral, spondylolisthesis, radiculopathy, and whatnot…
…and on and on and on.

There is also a very individualized, and somewhat expansive, line of jargon devoted completely to the world of java/espresso. Even deciding on what type of espresso beverage to purchase can become somewhat dizzifying at times, if you are not familiar with the terminology involved.


Espresso Coffee Jargon and Terminology Explained

This espresso glossary is definitely a work in progress. Feel free to check back from time to time, as this list will be added to on a daily basis until every single thing we can come up with has been included.


In a nutshell, the definition of an Americano is a shot of espresso diluted with hot water. You probably at this point are thinking to yourself, “Well, isn’t that just normal coffee?”

However, the resulting beverage, when hot water is added to dilute an espresso, is not identical to that of coffee. Espresso has a different flavor than, say, drip-made coffee. Therefore, when you combine some hot water with an espresso, the resulting beverage takes on a more espresso-like flavor, even though it has about the same strength as “normal American coffee.”

Most espresso connoisseurs agree that an Americano has a different (and much better) flavor.

Automatic (or Auto) Espresso Machine

Refers to a type of espresso machine that requires the user of the machine to grind whole coffee beans with a grinder, dose (place) the ground coffee into the place where the ground coffee goes (called a portafilter), and tamp (compress) the coffee grounds into the portafilter.

Doesn’t sound so automatic, right? Well, the automatic part comes into play after the above has been done by the user, and includes the brew volume, which is pre-set by the user via a setting on the machine so that the required pressure is automatically set.If comparing an automatic espresso machine to a “super-automatic” espresso machine. With espresso machines that are not classified as automatic (in other words, manual/lever espresso machines), the brew volume is manually controlled by the person using the machine, with a lever.

Note that the user of a super-auto machine in most cases is not required to grind, dose, or tamp the coffee, as a super-auto machine normally will do all of these things for you, whether it be via a built-in grinder or with the use of pre-packaged E.S.E. pods.


A barista is the person who brews espresso in a shop such as Starbucks.

Bar-Pump Pressure

Most espresso machines have some level of bar-pump pressure associated with them. A 9-bar pump pressure is the standard minimum for successful espresso brewing, and is equal to approximately 130 pounds of pressure per square inch.

Although most home espresso machines available in today’s marketplace have either 15 or 19 bars of pump pressure, these numbers are not truly necessary to brewing great espresso.

Manual (lever) espresso machines normally never provide 15 or 19 bars of pressure, and are able to brew top-notch espresso even better than that which the semi-auto and super-auto machines brew up.

Bean Hopper

Also just called a hopper, a bean hopper for an espresso machine is simply a container attached to the espresso machine in which whole coffee beans are stored, and then subsequently dispensed from the bean hopper down towards and into a built-in grinder, where they are then ground and dispensed into a portafilter prior to brewing an espresso shot.


The boiler of an espresso machine is the component of the espresso machine that heats the water for brewing espresso and steaming milk.

Most espresso machine boilers are located inside a housing/casing box that covers the exterior of the machine, with the exception of a majority of manual/lever machines such as this one, which normally have the boiler exposed as part of the outside of the machine.

Boilers can be found made of brass, copper, aluminum, or stainless steel, depending on which machine you choose. Most manufacturers provide information regarding the material the boiler is made out of for any given machine.

The majority of people who have used a number of different espresso machines feel strongly about their preferred boiler material. These opinions vary among different people, and there is not one single recommendation that can be made regarding which would be the best boiler.

For example, some people feel that stainless steel is much more preferable than aluminum, while others feel that aluminum is much more preferable than stainless steel. People who prefer stainless steel boilers over aluminum ones, for instance, feel that stainless steel is more “safe” than aluminum.

If choosing an espresso machine for yourself, you will need to make the call as to what you consider to be your top choice as far as boiler material is concerned. There are top-rated machines that include boilers made of all of the above materials.

Brew Group  

In a nutshell, the brew group is an assembly of components that, when put together, cause the circulation of the water inside the machine and move it down through the ground coffee contained in the portafilter. while at the same time maintaining the temperature of the water that is heated in the boiler, after which it is transferred into the brew group via a pump. The brew group then drizzles/showers hot water that has been pressurized through a component of the brew group called a diffusion plate, after which the water moves to and through the ground coffee in the portafilter and into a waiting cup (or cups) below.

Brew group parts include the grouphead (the part of the brew group containing the mechanism that locks the portafilter in place just prior to brewing), as well as the portafilter itself, and the filter basket.

Properly brewing espresso requires all components of the brew group to be heated, prior to the actual brewing process. This takes place as a result of the hot water heated in the boiler going through the brew group components. Part of the brew group’s responsibility is to maintain that perfect water temperature of around 200 degrees after it has been heat to that temperature in the boiler and then transferred to the brew group.

A lot of super-automatic home espresso machines have what is called a “removable brew group,” which allows for easy removal and cleaning.

Brew (or Brewing) Temperature  

One component of successfully brewing the perfect cup of espresso is to ensure that the brewing temperature of the water is correct.

Different people have varied opinions as to what the actual “perfect” brew temperature should be utilized. Overall, however, most people “in the know” agree that a great shot of espresso is one that is brewed with water that has been heated to a temperature between 190 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit.


The term brew-ready simply refers to water that has been heated in the boiler of an espresso machine and has reached a hot enough temperature that is ready for it to be used to brew espresso(s).

Brew Time  

Brew time is the amount of time that passes between when the pump is first activated (via a switch) to the time when the pump is no longer needed and is switched off.

Another way to define brew time would be to explain it as being the amount of time that passes while the ground coffee is in actual contact with the water being extracted through the grounds.

A brew time that is either too short or too long will result in suboptimal flavor (either too weak or too strong).

Correctly brewed espresso normally has a brew time of approximately 25 to 30 seconds from start to finish.If the flavor of your brewed espresso is not top-notch, one key factor to consider should be the amount of brew time that it took to finish a shot from the time the water started being pumped to the end.

Burr Grinder  

A burr grinder is comprised of two disk-type components — one of the disks is stationary (stays in one place without moving), while the other rotates in a circle and grinds whole coffee beans into coffee grounds, prior to the espresso brewing process.

Some home espresso machines have built-in grinders, normally “conical” burr grinders.

There are also many different coffee bean grinders available. If you are serious about making good espresso, you will likely need to consider purchasing a very good quality grinder that has a high number of different grind settings, and one which is at least in the medium price range.

Caffe Latte  

A caffe latte (or just simply latte) is a combination of a shot (or two or even more) of espresso combined with milk that has been steamed.

Lattes are a very popular “thing” to order, particularly with flavored syrups added, such as hazelnut.

Caffe Mocha

A caffe mocha (just called a mocha by most) is just simply an espresso that has been flavored with chocolate, normally chocolate syrup. Whipped cream is another great option that many people choose to have their mochas topped with.


A cappuccino is a beverage that is made up of ingredients including a third of it being espresso, a third of it frothed milk, and a third of it steamed milk.

Very popular toppings for a cappuccino include powdered chocolate and/or cinnamon.

Coffee Bed

Also referred to as “coffee pack,” the term coffee bed simply refers to ground coffee that has been tamped into a portafilter with basket just prior to brewing espresso.

Coffee Pack

This is the description meaning the tamped amount (volume) of ground coffee in a portafilter basket just prior to brewing the espresso.
Commercial Espresso Machine   This is the name for an espresso machine that is used professionally to make espressos, such as the ones at Starbucks. Machines that are commercial grade have the ability to continuously brew up shots of espresso, one right after the other, for the entire day if needed, without wait time in between shots.

Consumer Espresso Machine (meaning home espresso machine for the average consumer  

The term consumer espresso machine represents a standard home espresso machine, the type that “consumers” would normally consider buying.

Consumer (home) espresso machines are normally much smaller and much less expensive than professional “commercial” espresso machines.

Control Panel  

Just like most any piece of equipment that requires controls to operate, such as the picture to your left of a standard kitchen microwave, the control panel of an espresso machine is normally located on the front of the machine and can consist of dials, buttons, and/or LED displays.

The control panel allows the home barista to switch the machine on and off, as well as allowing for many other possible settings, depending on the machine and the espresso beverage desired.


Crema is a creamy, brownish top layer of foam that is a MUST for good espresso. To your left is a great image of crema.

Although you may have thought that crema is the frothed milk that is added to a shot of espresso, this is incorrect.

The presence of crema (or the lack of) can either make or break a shot of espresso. A “good” shot of espresso ALWAYS has a top layer of crema.

Cup Warming Tray

Also called a “cup tray” or a “cup warmer,” a cup warming tray is an integrated part of some espresso machine that heats espresso cups to a warm temperature prior to dispensing espresso into them.

The cup warming tray of an espresso machine is normally located on the top of the machine, such as the one in the picture to your left. The warming process takes place as a result of the heat from the inside of the espresso machine traveling upward toward the cups. Also makes a very handy place to store espresso cups when the machine is not in use. Many people will only consider a home espresso machine with a cup warming tray, as it is considered very beneficial to warm espresso cups prior to serving espresso into them.


A demitasse espresso cup is the traditional cup used for serving espresso. Demitasse (meaning small cup) cups normally hold just up to 3 ounces of beverage. The most popular and preferred ones are made of porcelain, although you can find demitasse cups made of glass, ceramic, or stainless steel.

One important factor to note is the thickness of the demitasse cups you are considering, and keep in mind that the thicker the porcelain (or your choice of material), the better heat retention you will get. Due to the small amount of beverage these cups are able to hold, heat retention is very important.

Dispersion Screen

The dispersion screen is a must for ALL espresso machines, and is basically part of the brew group that is responsible for evenly “showering” hot water into the portafilter holding the ground coffee and the filter basket so that all coffee in the portafilter is evenly moistened all at the same time.


This term refers to the amount of ground coffee beans that are used for a shot of espresso. Normally, a single 1.5-ounce shot of espresso utilizes 7 grams of ground coffee.
Doser   This word prefers to a mechanism found with burr grinders, particularly burr grinders used with espresso machines, which supplies the correct amount of ground coffee to be brewed into an espresso beverage.


Also referred to as a “double shot,” meaning an espresso beverage that has between 2-1/2 and 3 ounces of espresso beverage, as opposed to a “single” shot, which normally has 1 to 1-1/2 ounces of espresso beverage.

Drip Tray

The drip tray of an espresso machine does just what it sounds like – a tray that catches drips that are bound to occur when espresso is made. The drip tray of an espresso machine is located directly underneath where the espresso is dispensed from the machine into waiting cups.

It is normally a screened area or an area with holes that the cup sits upon, as in the image to the left, which allows drips to be caught into a place for later disposal. Most drip trays are constructed of either plastic or metal, and most are easily removable for a quick dump and rinse.

E61 Group  

Also called an E61 brew group, this is the essential part of espresso machines. When an espresso machine is in use, the brew group first is heated via means of circulating hot water that enters it from the boiler, which greatly helps with ensuring water temperature stability at the correct temperature needed to brew espresso. The brew group also controls pre-infusion.

We find it very difficult to explain, in simple terms, what EXACTLY the brew group does. The most simple, basic explanation we could come up with, so that almost anyone reading this can understand it (us included) is to say that the brew group is introduced with water that has been pre-heated to the needed temperature in a boiler inside the machine, where the brew group maintains that needed water temperature.

After that, the pre-infusion occurs within the brew group. Pre-infusion (moistening the coffee grounds for a set period of time) is the process by which the heated water is run down through the brew group to what is called the “dispersion screen,” where the pre-infusion then takes place.

After pre-infusion, the brew process takes place where the water is run through the grounds, the flavor is extracted, and the brewed espresso is dispensed through the portafilter and out of the brew group into espresso cups below the brew group. Hope this helps!


Espresso is defined as a strong coffee that is produced by forcing steam through coffee grounds with either a manual (lever) machine, or a machine with a pump.

Espresso is normally comprised of approximately 7 grams of coffee beans that have been finely ground through which water/steam extracts approximately 1.0 to 1.5 ounces of beverage at an ideal temperature of between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit.


Extraction is the process of forcing hot water/steam, once it has been heated in the machine’s boiler, down through the coffee grounds, causing espresso flavor, oils, lipids, etc., to be “extracted” from the mixture of steam/water and the ground coffee beans, which results in espresso.

Extraction Time

Extraction time (also called brew time, and you can refer to Brew Time above), pertains to how much time has passed from the time the pump is first activated until the time that the pump is switched off.

Another way to explain extraction time is to explain it as being the amount of time that passes while the coffee grounds are in contact with the steam/water while it is being extracted through the grounds.

If you are using a machine, keep in mind that the necessary extraction/brew time needs to be approximately 25-30 seconds from start to finish. If it is a longer amount of time than 30 seconds, or shorter than 25 seconds, your end result (the espresso) will not have that desired espresso flavor you are likely attempting to achieve.

Filter Basket

Also called a “portafilter basket,” this is a small round, metal insert that is placed inside a portafilter and holds the ground coffee. If you look closely at the image on the left, you might (or might not, as the picture is pretty small) see that there are many tiny holes in the bottom of the basket. This allows for the extracted espresso beverage to seep down towards the spout, where the espresso is dispensed into a cup.

A good majority of espresso machines have two portafilter baskets — one for single shots and one for double shots. Other machines come with only one basket that is interchangeable and allows for making either a single or double shot with the same basket.


Foam (which is also referred to by many as “froth”) represents the steamed/whipped milk that is added to many espresso beverages. Another term that means the same thing is “froth” or “milk froth.”

Foam/froth is made as a result of steaming milk with a steaming wand (sometimes called a frothing wand) of an espresso machine. The wand used to make milk “foam” not only injects steam into the milk, it also has holes so that air can be introduced into the milk at the same time that steam is.

You will note in the image to the left that the barista is adding frothed milk to an already brewed espresso by pouring the frothed milk, not by spooning or any other method. Never should milk foam/froth be spooned out in “clumps” or be able to be shaped (kind of like meringue); rather, it should be definitely pourable if it has been done correct.


Refers to the white milk froth that is the end result when milk is “frothed” (also called foamed or steamed) with the milk-frothing (steaming) wand of an espresso machine.

See “Foam” directly above this entry for additional details regarding froth.

Frothing Pitcher

Also called milk warmers or steaming pitchers, frothing pitchers are small pitchers usually constructed of high-quality stainless steel, used for steaming/frothing milk in.

Frothing pitchers are available in different sizes, starting at approximately 12 ounces.

Frothing Tip

This terminology refers to the tip of a frothing/steaming wand, which normally has tiny holes in it, allowing the air that is carried through the wand to escape through the tiny holes and inject into the milk that is being frothed.

The holes on these wands vary, and are usually either pointing straight down or angled to one side. The entire purpose of these holes is to allow injection of air into milk during the frothing process.


Another term for “brew group.”

The brew group is basically a component in an espresso machine where the water heated in the boiler is pumped into. The brew group maintains the hot temperature of the water while at the same time controlling the pre-infusion (moistening of the grounds prior to brewing), then followed by the actual brewing process.

Heat-Up Time

Simply means the amount of heating time that an espresso machine takes to heat water to the appropriate temperature after the machine has been switched on.

How quick the heat-up time for a particular espresso machine is, is largely dependent on the site of the boiler in the machine.

With the smaller espresso machines, such as those made by Nespresso, which are normally single-serve machines and require very little water to make a single espresso, heat-up time can be as quick at one or two minutes.

Machines with larger boilers (some machines have boilers that hold up to 80 ounces of water), on the other hand, can take upwards of half an hour before they are brew-ready.

However, a larger boiler in a machine, although requiring more time to heat up, normally also is accompanied by better water temperature stability and a quicker “recovery time,” which means less waiting between shots if you are brewing up a few at a time.


Also called a “bean hopper,” this refers to a container built in to an espresso machine that holds the whole coffee beans. The whole beans are normally dispensed from the bean hopper directly down toward the grinder, where they are then ground by a built-in grinder.

Most bean hoppers can be sealed tightly, which helps to preserve the freshness of the coffee beans inside.

Bean hoppers are normally filled by lifting a lid located at the top, pouring in the beans, and then simply storing them in there until the machine is used.


The housing or “casing” consists of both the outside “shell” (cover) of the machine and the structure inside the shell that supports the shell.

Espresso machine housing is generally made of either heat-safe, somewhat heavy-duty plastic, or of different types of metal which could include aluminum, stainless steel, brass, or iron, depending on the machine.

Due to today’s advanced technology, many of the housings you see on espresso machines can APPEAR to be metal when they are, in fact, actually plastic that has been manufacture to present with the appearance of metal.


A knockbox (or knock box) is a metal box-like container that has a bar affixed across the top of it, for “knocking” the spent grounds puck in the portafilter on after an espresso shot has been brewed.


A latte is an espresso beverage with the same meaning as a “caffe latte.”

A latte (caffe latte) is a beverage consisting of a combination of espresso shot(s), steamed milk, milk foam, and sometimes flavored syrup.


In the world of espresso machines, the term “lever” normally refers to what can also be called a “manual” espresso machine.

A lever/manual espresso machine is one which has no pump inside, and the pumping of the water is instead done by the barista who is making the espresso, by means of lowering a large lever on the outside of the machine.


Lungo, the Italian term for “long,” means “long” extraction of coffee flavor with the same amount of coffee (7 grams) and much more water (50 mL for a lungo as opposed to 25 mL for a standard espresso).

So, in other words, for a lungo, the same amount of ground coffee is used with about twice as much water as normal.


The word manual in the world of espresso machines refers to a particular classification of espresso machines that require the barista (user of the machine) to “manually” do the pumping of the water heated in the machine via a lever, as opposed to an electric water pump inside the machine pumping the water where it needs to go after it is heated.


A mocha is identical to what we describe as a “Caffe Mocha” above in this chart.

A mocha is basically an incredibly scrumptious beverage that is a combo of espresso and chocolate syrup. Whipped cream topping is another great consideration when making a mocha!

Moka Pot

Also called a “stovetop espresso maker,” Moka pots are normally used on a standard electric or gas stove to make coffee that is stronger than normal coffee (although there are electric ones that plug into an outlet rather than being used on the stove).

Although many people call them stovetop espresso makers, they basically are just a way to make coffee that is stronger than espresso, and we don’t feel they are truly an espresso maker.

Over-Extraction or Over-Extracted

Refers to espresso that has had the ground coffee exposed to hot water for a period of time longer than what should have occurred.

Over-extraction of espresso (or even coffee, for that matter) usually results in espresso or coffee that has a burnt and/or bitter flavor to it.

You likely wouldn’t really want to consume over-extracted espresso any more than you would want to eat that piece of toast over there! Bluck!


In the world of espresso, a piston is the component through which hot water is forced at a high pressure into and through ground coffee awaiting in the portafilter.

Plumbed In

This is the terminology used which means, simply, an espresso maker that has a water line attached to the main water line in your residence, or to other supplies available in a house, such as a water bottle.

This is similar to your sink faucets, bath tub, and shower, which are also all “plumbed in.” Most commercial espresso machines, such as the ones you see at Starbucks, are plumbed in, although there are some home machines that can be plumbed in also.

Pod Portafilter

Also see “Portafilter” below. A portafilter is a container that holds ground coffee prior to and during the espresso brewing process.

A “pod portafilter” is simply a modified portafilter or portafilter adaptor that allows for using today’s popular easy serve espresso (E.S.E.) pods. These images to your right are coffee capsules/pods with which a pod portafilter would be used.


A portafilter (or porta-filter) (also sometimes called a “groupo) is a small, bowl-like container with a handle into which finely ground coffee is placed and then compressed (tamped), after which the portafilter is inserted into a place below the brew group. Hot water is then introduced into and through the grounds, flavor is extracted from the ground coffee, and the extracted espresso then leaves the portafilter out of spouts pointing downward out of the bottom of the portafilter, and the espresso is dispensed into the cup(s) waiting below.

Portafilters can be found made of chrome-plated copper or brass, as well as aluminum, steel, other metals, and yes, sometimes even heat-safe plastics.

Portafilter “Sneeze”

A portafilter sneeze is the result of someone removing from the machine the portafilter too soon after brewing a shot of espresso, which can sometimes have an end result of instantly releasing brewhead pressure, which ultimately results in wet, hot ground coffee spraying, which will most likely cause burns.

This generally occurs with manual pump/piston machines that do not have a system for releasing the water pressure that builds up in the machine. For these types of machines, it is best to wait at least one-half to one minute after brewing before removing the portafilter, in order to allow the pressure to decrease.


The term pre-infusion refers to the process during which ground coffee that has been tamped into the portafilter is “showered” for about one to two seconds with heated water in the machine, prior to the actual brewing process, followed by a one- to two-second pause after the grounds have been pre-infused, after which the actual brewing process of running the heated water through the grounds begins.

Super-auto and some of the available automatic espresso makers which complete the pre-infusion via the pump inside the machine, which pumps water to the coffee grounds for one to two seconds. The pump then stops for another second or two, and then starts pumping again at which point the brewing of espresso continues.

Pressurized Filter

Some of the espresso machines available nowadays have the option of a pressurized filter (portafilter), which basically moves all espresso after it has been extracted down to a waiting cup through a tiny single hole, which results in additional “crema” being produced than there would have been without the use of the pressurized portafilter, due to the jet action caused by having just a single hole for the extracted espresso to shoot through.


Also referred to as a “dry puck” or a “spent puck,” this is simply a tightly packed puck-shaped bed of grounds after the espresso brewing process has been completed.


This is a word that describes the actual brewing of a shot of espresso, which originated from espresso’s early beginnings and always required the barista to “pull” on a lever of an espresso machine. Although there are still quite a few espresso machines that require the barista to pull on a lever (for those brave enough to attempt to use a manual/lever espresso machine), a good majority of espresso machines nowadays don’t require the barista to “pull” a shot.


All home espresso machines, except for manual/lever machines, have a pump. The primary function of the pump is to pump water with the correct pressure required for properly brewing a good shot of espresso, which is 135 pounds per square inch (PSI).

There are basically two different types of pumps that can perform this function, including vibratory pumps and rotary pumps.

Recovery Time

This term simply means how much wait time is needed between brewing espresso shots, if one is brewing more than one at a time. “Recovery” refers to how long the water takes to “recover” to the needed hot temperature.

A faster recovery time is enjoyed when the espresso machine one is using has a larger boiler, a more powerful heating element, or a heat exchanger system.


The word ristretto means a “short” (or restricted) shot of espresso utilizing the normal amount of ground coffee that would be used for a double shot (14 grams), although the end result is approximately only 1-1/2 ounces of espresso, making for a very much more flavorful, stronger, and richer espresso beverage.

Brewing a quality ristretto requires much practice, and those who have the ability to make a perfect ristretto, without stalling the espresso machine, are few and far between.

Rotary Pump

Also called volumetric pumps, rotary pumps are the primary type of pump used in commercial espresso machines, and are the more powerful of the pumps used for espresso machines.

Rotary pumps require the machine they are used in to be plumbed in with their own pressurized water line. Therefore, stand-alone home espresso machines that have water poured into them by the home barista do not have a rotary pump.


Also referred to as semi-auto espresso machine, this classification refers to machines on which the espresso shot pressure is controlled automatically by the machine. The brewing temperature is also controlled automatically by the machine. On the other hand, brew-time length on a semi-auto machine is controlled manually by the person brewing the espresso.


A shot for the purposes of this espresso machine glossary is simply a cup of brewed espresso, comprised of 1 to 1.25 ounces of water brewed with 7 grams of finely ground coffee.


The term “single” refers to a “single shot” of espresso, which generally includes a combination of 7 grams of ground coffee brewed with 1 to 1.25 ounces of water.

Spent Puck

Also referred to as “puck,” a spent puck is the end result after an espresso has been brewed, basically coffee grounds that are tightly packed and puck-shaped, normally easily removable from the portafilter in one piece and ready for disposal.

In addition, there are tons of other great uses for spent pucks, other than just throwing them away. Although we haven’t yet covered the different uses for spent pucks and coffee grounds in an article, it’s on our “radar” and will be written soon.

Spout or Spouts

This is the part of the machine, actually part of the portafilter, through which the brewed espresso is dispensed into waiting cups below. Most standard portafilters come with two spouts, which allows for brewing either two single shots or one double shot, although there are portafilters available that have just one spout.

Stall or Stalling

Stalling is something that happens when the coffee beans being used have been ground too finely and/or tamped (compressed) too tightly in the portafilter. These factors cause the espresso machine pump to be unable to produce sufficient pressure to force the water through the ground coffee, which results in a machine “stall.”

Stalling occurs most frequently when a barista is attempting to brew a ristretto, which is an extremely strong espresso beverage that uses approximately the same amount of water as a single shot of espresso in combination with about twice the amount of ground coffee (14 grams of coffee is used for a ristretto vs. 7 grams of coffee for a standard single espresso shot.

Steam Knob

Most of the espresso machines that have a steaming/milk frothing capability have what is called a steam knob, which controls the steam valve opening and closing.

Turning the steam knob allows for increasing or decreasing the amount of pressure built up by steam, thus allowing control of how much steam is used to froth/steam milk.

Steam (or Steaming) Wand

A steam wand (also called a frothing wand or steaming wand) is a metal wand that is on the outside of the machine used for frothing/steaming/foaming milk to be added to espresso beverages. These metal wands are sometimes also covered with a plastic cover, which many people dislike due to milk becoming dried and stuck on the plastic much more so than on the metal. Some steam wands can also be used to heat water.

Super Automatic (or Super Auto)

A classification of espresso machine that basically does everything for the barista, to include grinding, dosing, tamping, brewing, and ejecting the spent puck of ground coffee after the brewing process has finished.

Some super-auto espresso machines also feature an automatic frothing capability via a milk container that is attached to the machine, leaving no need for the person brewing the espresso to froth the milk manually with a wand.

In a nutshell, super-automatic home espresso machines basically do all of the work for you, requiring you to just add water and milk to the appropriate places, place the cups where the espresso will be dispensed, and then push some buttons or turn some dials.


The term tamp refers to the compression of finely ground coffee into a portafilter with a necessary espresso machine accessory called a “tamper” (see entry right below this one for the description of a tamper).

Different grinds of coffee, as well as different machines, require different types of tamping, primarily referring to how much tamping/compression of the grounds needs to take place to successfully brew a good espresso beverage.

For example, manual/lever espresso machines require more of a compacted tamp, while machines such as steam-driven ones utilize a more lightly tamped/compressed bed of ground coffee.


A tamper is the necessary accessory that one must have with manual and semi-automatic espresso machines. A tamper is used to “tamp” (compress) loose coffee grounds in a portafilter just prior to beginning the espresso brewing process.

Although the preferable tampers are made of metal, you can find ones made of plastic — usually the plastic tampers are the ones that come with a machine when it is purchased.

Tampers always come in millimeter sizes, with the most common being 58mm, 57mm, 53 mm, and 49mm. The millimeters refer to the diameter across the part that does the tamping. When considering the purchase of a tamper, it is necessary to absolutely, positively know what size you need to obtain for any particular espresso machine. If the tamper acquired is too large (for example, a tamper that is 58 mm for a portafilter/basket that has a 53 mm diameter), then tamping will not be able to be completed due to the tamper not fitting into the portafilter. Therefore, it is very important to know what size portafilter/basket you are working with before buying a tamper.

Temperature Stability

Stability of temperature refers to the capability of an espresso machine to keep a steady, even water temperature as the water travels throughout the machine, from the boiler to the grouphead during the brewing process. Higher-end home machines, as well as commercial machines, definitely provide greater temperature stability.

The better the temperature stability is, the greater chance of success one will have, particularly when brewing many shots of espresso in a row, one after the other.

Thermoblock (or Thermocoil) – these two terms mean the same thing

You will find a pretty large number of home espresso machines in which the water-heating system is called a Thermoblock. Another term meaning the same thing as Thermoblock is Thermocoil.

This type of heating system heats the water for brewing espresso via metal coils through which water passes through and is progressively heated to a high temperature until adequate temperature has been achieved. You can compare a Thermoblock heating system in an espresso machine to that of the radiator in an automobile or one of those old-time home radiator heaters, where water runs through several different chambers during the heating process. The image to your left is MOST DEFINITELY NOT a Thermoblock system you will ever find in any espresso machine — the image to the left is, instead, simply a photo of a home radiator heater in our attempt to give you a sense of what we are trying to convey.

Under-Extracted or Under-Extraction

A term that simply refers to an espresso beverage that results when insufficient exposure of the water to the ground coffee, which results in espresso that is weak rather than strong.

Vibratory Pump

Also called a vibration pump, this is a type of pump commonly found in espresso machines that have water tanks/reservoirs into which water is poured by the home barista, although there are a few plumbed-in machines that also utilize this type of pump.

A vibratory pump, when compared to its counterpart, the rotary pump, is a smaller pump that won’t handle brewing hundreds of espresso beverages needed, such as those used in Starbucks. Vibratory pumps can typically handle up to about 40 brews per day. They are also much less costly to replace than rotary pumps.

Volumetric Pump

This is just another name for a rotary pump. Volumetric pumps, like rotary pumps, are primarily found in commercial espresso machines. Volumetric/rotary pumps are able to handle many more brews per day than their counterparts, the vibratory pumps.

Water Filter

A large majority of espresso machines feature some kind of water filtration system, which filters out impurities, chlorine, etc., in the water being used, resulting in more pure, and better-tasting espresso.

There are very advanced water filter systems in some machines, such as filters that use charcoal.

There are also some very “simple” and unsophisticated water-filtering systems in some machines. These ones are simply made up of a metal filter screen mesh type component.

Water Reservoir (or Water Tank)

All espresso machines that are not hooked to plumbed-in systems have a water reservoir/water tank, the sole purpose of which is to hold water that has been poured in by the person brewing up the espresso, prior to starting the espresso brewing process.

The water in the reservoir is used for the extraction of coffee from ground beans, as well as to provide steam for frothing milk on those machines that have frothing/steaming capability.

Water Softener

Some higher-end espresso makers have a water-softening feature, which is basically a type of filtering system that softens water. Softening of water helps greatly in assisting build-up of limescale in other areas of the machine, which greatly reduces the frequency of needed machine descaling.

Difference Between Coffee Roasts – Best Choice

Virtually anyone and everyone who consumes espresso or coffee, whether it be iced or piping hot, has a preference when it comes to light roast versus dark roast versus a roast that is somewhat in between light and dark.

Those people in particular who buy and then grind their own whole espresso beans at home can, even more than those who don’t, appreciate the differences between roasts.

This article has been put together to assist you if you are searching for some specific information regarding the differences between dark, medium, and light roast.

Read on for a rundown of just exactly what these differences are.

Factors that determine the end result of the coffee beans grown

Roasting is the primary baseline factor that determines how your coffee will taste, in other words, the key factor for giving you a good, overall idea of what type of flavor you can expect.

Other factors that can result in varied flavors and strengths of coffee include the location (country) in which the beans were grown and harvested, how long the beans sat both before being roasted and after, how they were processed, how they were ground, and how they were brewed.

What makes some coffee beans light while others are darker?

Prior to being roasted, coffee beans, at the time they are harvested (picked), are very green in color, have a smell similar to green grass, and have little to no flavor whatsoever.

The roasting of coffee beans is the key factor in turning these little green nuggets into one of the most beloved beverages of all time (espresso or coffee). The roasting process not only transforms the green coffee beans into varied shades of brown, it also is the process by which the beans gain that wonderful taste and smell that so many of us know so well.

The lightness or darkness of a coffee bean is determined primarily by the length of time it has been roasted.

During roasting, coffee beans take in (absorb) heat, which causes their color to darken. Then as the temperature in the bean during roasting increases, oils are extracted from inside the beans to the outside of the beans. Dark roast beans, you may have noticed, have a much oilier appearance than do medium or light roast beans. This is because there was more oil extracted from the inside of the beans to the outside.

What causes different coffee beans to taste different from each other?

There are some key factors that come into play in determining what flavor each coffee bean will provide.

  • One of these factors is how light or dark the roast is.
  • Another is the region/country where the coffee is grown.
  • Other factors that can affect the flavor of the coffee include the age of the coffee, the method that was used for processing, the coarseness of the grind, and the method used for brewing the coffee. For example, finely ground coffee used in a drip coffee machine or percolator most definitely has a different flavor than the same finely ground coffee that has been brewed in an espresso maker. This is because the brewing process between these two is so different.

What are the differences in caffeine levels when it comes to light versus dark roast beans?

Most people tend to think that dark roasted coffee beans are more caffeinated than their counterparts, the lighter roasts.

However, note that just the opposite is true…

…Coffee beans that are lighter in color are lighter because they have been roasted (exposed to heat) for a shorter period of time than dark roasted beans, resulting in them retaining a higher level of caffeine than dark-roasted beans.

Comparison of light, medium, and dark roast coffee beans

Light-Roast Coffee Beans

Lighter in color than medium or dark-roast coffee beans, light-roasted beans have virtually no oil on the surface of them. This is because they have been roasted for a less amount of time than darker roasts, and have not had a chance to darken as much.

Additionally, lighter roasts have a more pronounced acidic flavor, and the flavor of the beans is kept much closer to the original flavor they started out with at the time of harvest.

Light-roast coffee beans tend to work much better than dark roasts when they are ground in a coffee grinder, whether it be a grinder contained within an espresso machine or a separate grinder that sits on your counter top. Darker roasts, which have more external oils, tend to “muck up” the burrs of the grinder much more than the lighter roasts.

Some of the lighter roast names that you may have heard before include Light CityCinnamon RoastNew England Roastand Half City.

Medium-Roast Coffee Beans

Coffee beans that have been roasted to a medium-brown color have more “body,” balanced flavor, and aroma than do the lighter roasts.

Similar to the light roasts, medium roasts also do not have a collection of oil on the surface of the beans.

With medium roasts, there is less caffeine than the light roasts but still more caffeine than the darker roasts.

Some examples of names of roasts that fall within the light-roast category include American RoastCity RoastBreakfast Roast, and Regular Roast.

Dark-Roast Coffee Beans

Coffees that are dark roasted are a very dark brown color, to the point of sometimes almost being black. Also you will note with dark roasts is that most of the time they have a coating of oil on the outside of the bean, which can also normally be seen floating on the top of the coffee in a cup which has been brewed using dark-roast beans.

Dark roasts have significantly less caffeine than the lighter roasts. This is due to amount of roasting being greater than lighter roasts, which causes much of the caffeine in the beans to be roasted out.

The choice as to whether to consume light, medium, or dark roast coffees is ultimately yours…most people who consume coffee or espresso have already determined which they prefer. What it boils down to when making this particular choice is your preference regarding flavor, aroma, and possibly the amount of caffeine you want to consume.

Unroasted (also called Green) Coffee Beans

Coffee beans that have not been roasted whatsoever are generally referred to as “green” coffee beans.

Although green coffee beans do not make good coffee and, if brewed like you would brew coffee have basically no coffee aroma but do have a very bitter taste, there has been growing scientific evidence that consuming ground green coffee beans causes substantial weight loss in an incredibly short amount of time.

In the image at the top of this section, the green, unroasted coffee beans are the ones on the outside of the picture on each side.

Best Ways to Recycle Used Coffee Grounds

If you are a daily maker and consumer of espresso or coffee at home and are currently dumping those spent grounds into the garbage every day, STOP the dumping part of it! (Or at least stop the dumping into the garbage or down your disposal part of it.) Here is a complete list of the best ways to recycle used coffee grounds

There are many, many different ways to use those leftover coffee grounds. Some of them may appeal to you, and some likely will not matter as much as others.

Here is a list of the many different uses for coffee grounds. Pick and choose the ones that would most benefit your busy lifestyle! If you can think of others, please add them in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

In addition, note that most coffee shops (most Starbucks included) have a plethora of used coffee grounds on a daily basis, and will be more than happy to provide you with used grounds if you don’t make a lot of coffee at home.

Great for using on your hair

We must first note that this idea is not recommended for use on blonde hair, as coffee does have staining/darkening properties. Works great on brunette or black hair.

Used coffee grounds are wonderful for removing built-up residue that ends up being on your hair from the use of today’s shampoos and conditioners.Will give your hair a lift and natural shine.

Just prior to shampooing, grab yourself a handful of spent coffee grounds and give them a good massage into your hair. Follow with your normal shampooing and conditioning.

Helps get rid of cellulitis

That bothersome cellulitis that so many people end up getting is really a shorts-stopper!

No, you most likely won’t end up with what is pictured to your left, but you definitely can improve the current cellulitis on your legs with the help of used coffee grounds.

There are numerous recipes online for getting rid of cellulite. However, note that simply mixing used coffee grounds and some warm water also works great, without any other ingredients. Simply using this scrub on areas with cellulite for 10 minutes per day, 2 times per week will start to show results in 4 weeks, or even less, after regular use.

Great for growing mushrooms

Not only do you love coffee — mushrooms also absolutely love coffee!

If you like to grow mushrooms for cooking, try giving them a boost with the simple addition of some used grounds into your mushroom growing medium.

Works great as a meat rub

Coffee grounds make a great ingredient to include in your favorite meat rubs recipes!

Making used coffee grounds a part of your next meat rub results in a somewhat smoky meat flavor.

Give it a try!

Need a pin cushion refill?

Spent coffee grounds make a great pin cushion filler!

Make a homemade pin cushion and fill it with used dry coffee grounds.

Works well for deodorizing a room, and will also prevent rust from forming on your pins.

Make sure the used grounds are entirely dry prior to using them for this purpose.

Lengthen the life of your cut flowers

Mix some soil and used coffee grounds together, moisten well (very well) with some water, and you will increase the length of time that your flowers will stay fresh.

Also has the added bonus of making a great room deodorizer!

Make up some cleaning tablets for your kitchen garbage disposal

Here is a great recipe for making some garbage disposal cleaning tablets, to keep your garbage disposal in tip-top shape, and smelling great at the same time.

The basic ingredients for this recipe include dry used coffee grounds, Epsom salts, baking soda, vinegar, and vanilla extract (optional). Click on the link at the beginning of this paragraph for details of this recipe.

Great for ridding your sidewalk of slippery ice

Used coffee grounds not only provide great traction for those icy walkways, they also contain a high amount of acid-like components, which helps to melt snow and ice more quickly.

One important note before you try this tip – those of you with white or light-colored carpet may wish not to try this suggestion, at least on walkways near entryways, because, as we all know, coffee does stain, and coffee grounds tracked in on light-colored carpeting is not suggested.

Make a homemade candle

A great craft for children! Simply grab a paper coffee cup (the hot/cold kind are preferable), a couple of tablespoons of used coffee grounds, some wax, and a candle wick.

This craft project is also great for someone who absolutely loves the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Detailed instructions can be found here!

Image courtesy of

Great for adding color to craft items

There are many different craft items that can be changed to a beautiful golden color by using spent coffee grounds that have been re-moistened. These would include things such as feathers and cloth, or even Easter eggs.

You can even mix some spent coffee grounds with some water and use the result for a great nontoxic paint.

The longer you let the grounds sit in water, the darker color of “dye” you will get.

Starting a garden?

Used grounds make a great nitrogen booster for those seedlings you are planting. You can either add a small amount of used grounds into the soil you are planting the seedlings in, or you can add some grounds to your watering can.

Carrots and radishes in particular will benefit greatly from some grounds added to the soil at seed planting time. Use this method and you are almost guaranteed to end up with better, and bigger, produce, not to mention the additional advantage of warding off some types of pests during the growing process.

Spent grounds are great for those of you who like to grow carrots and/or radishes. If you mix carrot and/or radish seeds with spent coffee grounds prior to planting those seeds, it will detract the pests that like these types of veggies, resulting in a greatly increased harvest of these vegetables.

Are cockroaches a problem?

Then make your own roach trap — simply fill a jar, can, or other container with one to two inches of moist coffee grounds.

After that, line the remaining top of the container you have used with extra-sticky double-sided tape.

The scent of the coffee will attract the roaches and they will become stuck on the tape.


Great exfoliating hand cleaner

Utilizing a scoop of used coffee grounds works great for cleaning, exfoliating, and deodorizing your hands. The coarseness of the grounds works great as an exfoliant to remove loose skin. The properties of used coffee grounds also help to get rid of strong odors that are emitted from foods such as onion, garlic, and fish.

Definitely remember this tip when you are camping.

Get control of those fireplace ashes and associated dust!

Simply sprinkling damp used coffee grounds on your fireplace ashes just prior to cleaning them will reduce the amount of flying dust when sweeping up the ashes.

Great for repelling some insects and other pests

If slugs, snails, or ants are your problem, note that used coffee grounds placed around your favorite flower or vegetable garden will create a protective border, and will repel these unwanted pests.

In addition, if it is a cat who keeps intruding in your flower or vegetable garden, ground coffee, in addition to orange peels or rosemary oil, will help to deter that pesky cat.

Make your own antique paper

Need some antique-looking paper for that upcoming special event?

No problem!

Simply mix together some used coffee grounds and water in something such as a 13 x 9 x 2 baking pan, add your white or light colored paper of choice (white works best for this), let sit for one to two minutes, remove, allow time dry, and then brush off the grounds.

Hide scratches in furniture

Get yourself some wet brewed coffee grounds and go to work hiding those annoying scratches on your wood furniture.

You will find that this works great the majority of the time, to make scratches less conspicuous.

However, first check the result you will get on an inconspicuous area of the furniture, prior to using this method on the actual scratches.

Make certain flowers have more vivid colors

Working some used ground coffee into the soil of your hydrangeas, azaleas, camellias, roses, rhododendrons, and other plants that benefit from added acid will work wonders for the brilliance in the color of your flowers from these bushes. This works best if you mix your coffee grounds with some brown leaves, dry straw, or grass clippings.

Used coffee grounds increases the acid level of the soil which, in turn, assists the shrubs in absorbing more nitrogen, potassium, and magnesium, resulting in a healthier plant that will produce much more dazzling, vibrant-colored flowers.

Great scouring agent for pots and pans

Out of those green “scrubbie” things that we all love to use for scouring pots and pans?

Spent coffee grounds make a great scouring agent if you don’t have a “green scrubbie thingy” available. After getting the grime off with the coffee grounds and your sponge or rag, be sure to give a good, thorough rinse. Not recommended for non-stick pans, however.

Great refrigerator deodorizer

Use coffee grounds to clean the fridge

Out of baking soda?

Note that used coffee grounds also make a wonderful deodorizer for your refrigerator.

Simply put a bowl of dry spent grounds into your fridge or freezer.

This will neutralize those horrible odors that spoiled or stale food has left behind.

Works great for compost

The use of coffee grounds in your compost pile does wonders for the condition of your compost.Used coffee grounds added to your compost provide the bacteria in the compost with the “energy” that the bacteria requires to successfully transform organic matter to compost.

Be sure, however, to limit the amount of grounds you add to your compost, as adding too much will throw off the ratio of “green” to “brown.”

Use coffee grounds in compost

Attract more earth worms, which is great for gardening!

Although, yes, worms are somewhat GROSS and don’t really make very good companions, they are absolutely great for your gardens!

Note that this won’t work for raised gardens, or those in greenhouses. Spent coffee grounds are infamous for attracting worms.

You definitely do want a plethora of worms in your garden, and one way to attract more is to add to your gardens those used coffee grounds that you have been just throwing away.

Remove dark circles from underneath your eyes.

Don’t just wake YOURSELF up in the morning! Wake your face up also!

Applying used coffee grounds works great by helping to reduce under-eye puffiness, as well as to tighten skin.

Not only does it work great for removing those dark circles and puffiness under your eyes, it also works great as a facial and body exfoliator. Go here for a great coffee ground facial recipe.

Great flea repellent for your dog.

The addition of some used coffee grounds to the normal shampoo you use for your pooch makes a great natural flea repellant.

If you have been wanting an alternative to the chemicals you are currently using on your dog to rid him or her of fleas, used coffee grounds are definitely an alternative you should give a try!

What the Heck is a Portafilter? Portafilter Facts Explained.

All espresso machines, whether they are manual, semi-automatic, super-automatic, or commercial/professional, have what is called a portafilter.

A portafilter is, by itself, a quite simple, but necessary component that is part of every espresso machine.

The portafilter is considered by many people, professional baristas included, to be THE most important factor to successfully brewing espresso.

More accurately, however, learning how to correctly prepare what goes into the portafilter, which are the ground espresso/coffee beans, as well as how the ground coffee is compressed (tamped) after it is put into the portafilter, is actually the most important part of brewing up great espresso.

All espresso machines, whether they are manual, semi-automatic, super-automatic, or commercial/professional, have what is called a portafilter.

A portafilter is, by itself, a quite simple, but necessary component that is part of every espresso machine.

The portafilter is considered by many people, professional baristas included, to be THE most important factor to successfully brewing espresso.

More accurately, however, learning how to correctly prepare what goes into the portafilter, which are the ground espresso/coffee beans, as well as how the ground coffee is compressed (tamped) after it is put into the portafilter, is actually the most important part of brewing up great espresso.

Definition of a Portafilter

In a nutshell, the portafilter (also sometimes spelled porta-filter) is the component of the espresso maker that holds the ground espresso beans (coffee grounds) prior to and during the brewing process.

The portafilter is the component of the espresso machine where hot water is run through the grounds and the espresso flavor is extracted from the grounds, at which point the extracted espresso continues on its journey down to the bottom of the portafilter, through a hole and/or chute at the bottom, into the waiting espresso cup below.

The portafilter itself is comprised of only a few parts, most of them non-mechanical in nature, including a handle (such as the black one in this photo), which allows the person who is brewing the espresso to easily hold the portafilter unit.

Another important part of the portafilter is the filter basket. This fits inside the exterior of the portafilter. It is normally made of metal and has tiny holes all over the bottom of it which act as a screen and allow the water with the extracted espresso flavor to run through, down towards the bottom and out a hole or chute into the cup sitting below the portafilter.

A good comparison that might help you understand exactly what the portafilter and filter basket are is to think about the basket on a standard drip coffee maker that holds the paper filter. The basket that holds the paper filter would be comparable to the portafilter on an espresso machine, and the metal filter basket withsmall holes on an espresso machine would be equal to the paper filters used in a standard drip coffee maker.

Portafilter Components

The portafilter does not work entirely alone; rather, it is comprised of just a few other necessary components, including:

The filter basket (pictured here — a separate metal,or sometimes plastic,“basket”) containing tiny holes in which the ground coffee is placed, which is attached inside the portafilter. The coffee in the portafilter’s filter basket is then tamped (compressed) by the person making the espresso (or…if the person making the espresso is lucky enough, tamped/compressed by another person J), and the entire portafilter unit, including the basket with coffee grounds, is affixed to the machine.

The water is then extracted through the ground coffee in the portafilter/basket — similar to a standard drip coffee maker.

The tension spring — Holds the filter basket in place inside the portafilter during the brewing process.

The spout — A hole with a chute located at the bottom of the portafilter, through which the brewed espresso is extracted into a waiting cup or mug below it.

How to Use a Portafilter

Learning to use a portafilter correctly, namely what goes into the portafilter (coffee grounds), is a very important part of brewing espresso. Although the word itself sounds very complicated, it is not difficult to correctly use one after you have learned a couple of basics.

Basic Steps for Portafilter Use

The basic steps for using a portafilter are as follows:

The (correctly) ground coffee is placed into the portafilter and filter basket. (The grinding part of this step is one of the two that will need to be learned with practice.)

Correctly using a portafilter is probably the most important part of brewing up a good espresso beverage, and there are two basics you will need to learn which WILL definitely take some practice to learn…no way around it. If you are truly interested in learning to make great, over-the-top espresso at home for yourself, your family, and/or your guests, you will need to learn how to correctly accomplish the two things below.

One step is done prior to adding the ground coffee into the portafilter, while the other is done after adding the coffee grounds to the portafilter, but prior to starting the espresso brewing process. The two “things” include the following:

Learning how to grind your coffee beans to the correct consistency — in other words, not grinding the beans enough or grinding them too finely — incorrect consistency of ground coffee placed into the portafilter results in sub-optimal espresso. This is a skill that can only be learned with practice, although a good grinder that is at least mid-range in price can also go a long way toward helping you to learn this skill much more quickly. Coffee that is too coarse or too finely results in espresso that is not of optimum quality.

Learning how to tamp (compress/pack) the ground coffee in the portafilter correctly – Ground coffee that is too loosely compressed or too tightly packed into the portafilter will result in sub-optimal espresso. This second factor also can only be learned with practice.

The coffee grounds are then compressed (tamped) to just the right compression with a tamper. (This is the other step that will take some practice to master.)

After tamping the grounds, the portafilter unit is then affixed into the “brew group” of the machine.

The machine is then switched on and a pump in the brew group pumps hot water into contact with the grounds, where the flavor is then extracted from the grounds.

The water with the extracted coffee flavor then dispenses out of a spout located on the bottom of the portafilter, into the waiting cup below.

As mentioned above, there are different types of espresso machine portafilters made. The type of portafilter on any particular machine is determined mostly by the classification of that particular machine. Below is a rundown of information regarding each type of portafilter, and in what type of machine(s) you can expect to see each type of portafilter.

What Kinds of Portafilters Are There?

There are different kinds of portafilters available, including non-pressurized portafilters, pressurized portafilters, and pod portafilters. In addition, you can also find portafilter adaptors, for using with today’s popular E.S.E. (easy serve espresso) pods/capsules.

Non-pressurized portafilters are the type of portafilter offered with many of today’s semi-automatic home espresso machines. A non-pressurized portafilter is also the type commonly used by professional baristas at Starbucks and other commercial coffee stands.

Whether the machine you have in mind has, or does not have, a pressurized portafilter is definitely something to keep in mind when you are searching for a home espresso machine, particularly if you either have no interest in training time and just want to have your espresso made, in which case you would want to consider a pressurized portafilter, or whether you are more of a hands-on person who wants to take the time to learn the two key elements needed for using a non-pressurized (commercial) type of portafilter, in which case you would want to consider a non-pressurized one.

Whether to get a machine with a pressurized or non-pressurized portafilter should be something you decide upon before purchasing a machine, based basically on the self-training you want to put yourself through. After you have decided upon either a pressurized or non-pressurized portafilter, you should then search for a machine that has available what you have decided upon.

Details about the differences in portafilters are provided below.

Non-Pressurized Portafilters

Non-pressurized portafilters, which are typically what you will get with a semi-automatic home espresso machine, normally measure 49 or 53 mm in diameter.

Using a non-pressurized portafilter commands the person using the machine to have acquired some knowledge of the correct coarseness of the coffee beans ground. These portafilters also require some knowledge of tamping (compressing) the grounds to the correct level, in order to achieve optimum results.

Commercial portafilters are also non-pressurized and are the ones commonly used by professional baristas at Starbucks or other coffee stands. Commercial portafilters are the largest and of the best quality, measuring 58 mm in diameter. They also are much more durable/resilent and made of much stronger/thicker metal than the portafilters of home espresso machines. The quality of the metal used to make these commercial portafilters ensures much better heat stability and consistency — definitely one of the major factors involved with achieving a superior end result.

Baristas who use a non-pressurized, commercial type of portafilter are trained regarding both the correct consistency of ground coffee to work best with the hands-on method, as well as the correct compression (tamping) required for the ground coffee.

Summary about non-pressurized portafilters

If you are a hands-on type of person who wants to have complete control of your finished espresso beverages, your best bet would be to consider an espresso machine that does have a non-pressurized portafilter, and then spend some time learning how to grind and tamp the grounds so they make the perfect espresso.

If you are someone who is willing to endure a self-training period, possibly involved with some online research, and want optimum results with complete control, keep in mind that most semi-automatic home espresso machine portafilters are non-pressurized, meaning the tamping (compressing) of the grounds is done by the person brewing the espresso.

Pressurized Portafilters

Pressurized portafilters come standard with most, if not all, of today’s super-automatic home espresso machines.

Rather than requiring the home barista to have (or acquire) knowledge regarding tamping, a pressurized portafilter does the tamping work for you.

In addition, there are some semi-automatic espresso machines offered that have the option of choosing pressurized portafilters. This would be something to keep in mind in your search for the home espresso machine that is right for you.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that although you can achieve “acceptable” end results with a pressurized portafilter, most, if not all, of the ability to have complete control of the flavor of the brewed espresso is lost, and you will have to live with the settings the machine offers. For most people, the settings offered on these machines are very acceptable and you likely will be pleased with your choice.

Summary of pressurized portafilters

If you are someone who “just wants” your espresso without a lot of fuss and muss, and really don’t care about learning the hows and whys but instead just want to make espresso at home, out of the box with a machine that offers a much more simple push-button type of operation, somewhat as easy to use and similar to using a standard coffee maker, then a machine with a pressurized portafilter is probably what you are looking for.

If you have the patience to endure some self-training and experimentation with different grind levels, as well as tamping of those grind levels and drinking lots of espresso in the process, then a non-pressurized portafilter will likely do you good in the long run (although not such a long run, it truly does not take a ton of practice, although it may seem like it does in the beginning).

Pod Portafilters

Pod portafilters are available with some of today’s semi-automatic home espresso machines.

Normally with a semi-auto machine, the home barista is required to correctly tamp the ground coffee into the portafilter prior to the brewing process beginning.

With a pod portafilter, however, the grounds used are contained within what is called a “pod.” An espresso pod is basically a single shot of espresso packaged into coffee filter paper that is sealed. Many people prefer to use pods over messing around with a coffee bean grinder and/or using a tamper to compress the ground coffee into the portafilter, and for them, using a pod portafilter means simply popping a pod into the portafilter and beginning the brewing process.

One drawback that many home baristas find with using pods and pod portafilters is that using these limits the brewed espresso strength. If you are someone who prefers to have complete control over the strength of your espresso, a pod portafilter likely would not be your best choice.

What you will need to keep in mind when searching for a home espresso machine, if you are interested in getting one that has pod capability, is to make sure that the machine you are considering is compatible with easy serve espresso (E.S.E.) pods. Normally manufacturers will boast this as a high selling point, so you should have no trouble identifying whether or not a particular machine is pod-compatible.

Portafilter Adaptors

Also available to the home barista is what is called a portafilter adaptor.

An adaptor allows someone to purchase the machine he or she wants, and then supplement the portafilter that comes with that particular machine with a portafilter adaptor. These adaptors allow for much flexibility, in that on a day-to-day basis you can choose to either simply pop in a pod, with the use of an adaptor, or on those special weekend mornings when you have more time, to utilize the grinding and tamping process, allowing for more control of the end product, although being more time consuming.

Before you decide on a machine, some research should be done to see if there is an adaptor that will work with the particular machine you are considering. This would have been impossible to list here on this page, due to the numerous variety of home espresso machines available in today’s market.

Important Things To Keep in Mind When Choosing A Portafilter

It cannot be stressed enough that the very single utmost important part of using an espresso machine portafilter is both the grind consistency of the coffee used, and how compact the grounds have been tamped. You have basically two options to consider…

a non-pressurized portafilter, which comes standard with most of today’s semi-auto home espresso machines, will require some practice before you will learn how to get optimum results. This is due to needing to use the correct grind coarseness of the coffee used, as well as how much the coffee grounds are tamped (compressed/packed) into the portafilter…

…or, you can opt for a pressurized portafilter, which is available with most super-auto home espresso machines. A pressurized portafilter basically does all of the tamping for you. Combine a pressurized portafilter with a machine that has a built-in grinder, and all the work, other than turning a dial or two, or pushing a button or two, is done for you.

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