Pump Driven Vs Steam Driven Espresso Machine - Which Is Best For You

Pump Driven Vs Steam Driven Espresso Machine – Which Is Best For You?

When it comes to buying a home espresso machine the old Pump Driven Vs Steam Driven Espresso Machine debate arises. Both pump driven, and steam driven espresso machines have their advantages and disadvantages, their pros and cons of which I’ll fairly detail in this article.

It is not my style or prerogative to tell you directly which one you should try, which one to spend your hard earned money on. we all have different likes, dislikes and budgets.

This article is entirely based on my own opinion, experience and love for coffee.

Pull up a chair and tune in as we dial in and talk about Steam and pump driven Espresso machines.

What Is A Pump Driven Espresso Machine?

A pump driven espresso machine is a coffee machine that predominantly brews shots of espresso by using hot water and pressure created by a manual pump or an electric pump to create the 9 bars of pressure to create the shots of espresso with a good, thick crema on top.

The electronic pump can be a solenoid driven vibratory pump or a rotary pump. Manual pumps also come in two main varieties, pump action where pressure is created by pumping a lever, the other is a spring based lever that is pulled to brew an excellent espresso.

Electric pump driven espresso machines can be a semi-automatic machine where some, but not all of the work required to make a cup of espresso is performed by the machine to fully automatic where a great deal of the work required is done by the espresso machine.

The new, more modern super automatic espresso machines do literally everything.

An electric pump powered espresso machine are the types of espresso machines that you will see at a coffee shop.

What Is A Pump Driven Espresso Machine?
A manual pump espresso machine

Read: How espresso machines work

What Is A Steam Driven Espresso Machine?

Steam espresso machines are not as popular as the pump versions and are the original espresso machines. They work by boiling water and using the steam pressure to get the pressure needed to produce the shot of espresso.

They, produce an inconsistent pressure and can’t quite create the pressure that modern espresso lovers are used to as they can only achieve 1 bar to 1.5 bars of pressure.

This is not to say you should discard them altogether. In the Pump Vs. Steam espresso machine, you need to think about which type of coffee drinks you will be making more of.

A typical common low cost Moka Pot won’t get you that espresso shot that you are used to  But, it more than good enough for your milk based espresso drinks.

What Is A Steam Driven Espresso Machine
A moka pot

Read: Types of espresso machines

How Do They Work?

Let’s talk about how the two different types of coffee machines work. Starting with the steam espresso machines.

Steam Powered Espresso Machine

It is very straight forward how steam powered espresso machines function to make an espresso. The larger type, a classic espresso machine of the late 1800s and up until the late 1950s had a boiler with a powerful heating element that heater the water to produce a steam pressure inside of the sealed water chamber. As the water heated up inside the chamber and turned into steam it is forced over the coffee grounds.

The more powerful of this type of machine produced 3 bars of steam pressure (more commonly as little as 1.5 bars) and produced a weak and overtly bitter espresso.

The inconsistent pressure made it a difficulty for baristas of the day to produce high quality cups of espresso every single time. Now, in more modern times the Moka pot is the most common type of steam machine that you will see which come in both stovetop and electric countertop pressure units.

A moka pot or steam powered espresso machine don’t have the ability for you to froth your milk to make great lattes for an excellent milk based espresso beverage.

To make great milk based espresso based beverages, you will need to buy some kind of milk frother.

Pump Driven Espresso Machine

Without getting too much into the complex engineering details, this type of espresso machine works by having a boiler that heats the water and an electric pump that maintains the 9 bars of pressure required to make a true espresso that a bonafide coffee lover will enjoy.

There are various types of boiler, from single to double to heat exchange and different types of pump including manual, rotary and vibratory machine.

The advantage of pump espresso machines is the ability of them to maintain pressure and greater consistency, literally perfect shots every single time.

What Is The Difference Between Steam And Pump Espresso Machines?

The difference, better put the main differences, is the way in which the espressos are produced and the quality of the end product.

The functionality of both is well explained above. What is clear, and as clear as the day is long, is that pump driven espresso machines make far better espresso and far more consistently.

Both semi-automatic and fully-automatic machines get the job done perfectly well, as do super-automatic versions. The difference between them is the level of control that you have over the variables. Semi-automatics leave you to deal with the grind size, brew time, tamp and amount of grounds used.

Fully automatic machines will do everything, you simply add coffee beans and that is it.

Super automatics will even forth the milk for you with nothing for you to do but press a button.

A manual pump machine give you full control where you need to control everything manually. They are worth the effort and are slightly less expensive. To the plus side produce a much better espresso. The downside is the time taken to learn how to use a manual machine and how long they take to brew a single espresso.

There is a certain level of experience that is required to first understand the brewing process and then produce a shot using a manual pump espresso machine. They are certainly eye candy for your home and coffee shop.

What Is The Difference Between Steam And Pump Espresso Machines
A home espresso machine.

The Advantages Of Steam Espresso Machines

Steam espresso machines are less expensive and thus easier on the wallet than pump driven espresso machines. They are also more durable and robust.

A Moka pot will last you a lifetime and can cost you around the same as you spend during an evening out. The cost is around the same as a high quality French press or decent drip coffee machine.

They are easy to use and require very little skill to use. Being fair an honest you can and will get good quality shots form them, just they will be without a thick long lasting crema. You can most certainly use the coffee produced to make a great latte, cortado, flat white and other milk based coffee drinks.

The Advantages Of Pump Driven Espresso Machines

The clear advantage of pump espresso machines, regardless of being a manual or automatic one is the ability for you to make a authentic espresso with a high level of consistency, literally every single time thanks to the consistency in pressure and easily able to reach the 9 bars (130 PSI) of pressure that modern espresso shots need.

With a dual boiler pump driven machine you can steam your milk while you are brewing your flavorful espresso shot and make a wide range of the milk based coffee drinks.

The Advantages Of Pump Driven Espresso Machines
An advantage is making great coffee

The Cons Of Steam Driven Espresso Machines

Steam driven espresso machines have their drawbacks when you compare them to pump espresso machines these are:

  • 1. Insufficient pressure does not create rich thick crema on top. 
  • 2. Overheating causes your shots to be excessively bitter.
  • 3. It can take time for the pressure to build up. 

The Cons Of Pump Driven Espresso Machines

Nothing is perfect and there, quite frankly ever will do. There are some drawbacks to a pump driven espresso machine, namely:

  • 1. You need to conduct regular maintenance. 
  • 2. Mold can build up in unseen places like the inner pipes. 
  • 3. They are (generally) not portable. 
  • 4. You can’t take them for a weekend camping! 

Which Makes The Best Shot Of Espresso?

Being fair, there is no reason not to have both as you can pick up a moka pot for US$30 or so. By far, head and shoulders a pump based machine makes the best espresso. It is not even close.

Of the various types of pump driven espresso machines significantly better quality shots of espresso will be produced with a manual pump machine.

A manual lever based machine will take you about half a dozen shots or so to get used to and a little understanding of how coffee is brewed and what goes into brewing a great espresso from pre-infusion, and the right about of pressure and speed in which to pull down on the spring lever.

Pump Driven Vs Steam Powered Espresso Machine – Which is Cheaper?

Steam powered, rather steam driven espresso machines like the beloved stovetop espresso maker seen in all Italian homes, the moka pot is much cheaper, so much cheaper and will cost you, well the price of an evening meal for two.

Pump driven machines are considerably more expensive and have a short learning curve. The cheapest pump machine is the manual pump machine but only slightly cheaper with the price difference being not at all that great.

In the case of automatic machines you are paying for convenience and not quality as the better quality at a slightly lower cost, and not by much are manual lever machines.

How Long Will My Espresso Machine Last?

A good quality pump driven espresso machine will last you at least 10 years and possibly even more if you maintain them well and take good care of them.

You can start by an easy effortless preventative technique of using filtered water or adding a pre-water filter to your machine. A further step is to clean your machine regularly to prevent mineral deposit building up and, above all to keep the pipes clean.

These two steps ensure that you are getting top quality coffee every single shot.

A steam machine like a moka pot will last you a life time.

Are All Espresso Machines Automatic?

No,

Not all espresso machines are automatic but most of them are. The vast majority are semi-automatic or fully automatic. On the rare occasion there are manual ones in which you have full control of the extraction, flow and all of the settings (namely heat) to help you make a perfect espresso.

Final Thoughts, Frappé-Ing It All Up, Pump Vs Steam Espresso Machine

It is not just a question of Pump Vs Steam espresso machines when it comes to getting you hands on the best or most suitable coffee machine for brewing espresso shots. You need to consider what type of pump machine (manual Vs electric) and what kind of pump if you are deciding on a an electric pump, be it a vibratory or rotor based pump.

It is complicated, I know, I get it. You need to have a good thought about what drinks you will be making and the level of quality and convenience as your are trading a little quality for convenience when you decide to go for a manual one.

Coffee is love, it's more than love — it's a passion of mine. I've had the luck to have travelled and enjoyed the most exotic of coffee's and unique flavors, brewing methods and techniques of making the perfect coffee from Thai hill tribe coffee to Indonesian volcanic coffee, Malaysian coffee that comes in a tea bag and the array of flavors in Vietnam, from Vanilla to Orange to Coconut to Avocado to even salt coffee and the famous egg coffee. The best part of my coffee adventures is getting to mix with the locals over a nice brew and learning how they make it! I'm cited and referenced on Google Scholar for the topic of coffee.

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