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Last month I wrote an article on home coffee grinders. It covered such items as available models, their differences, and prices to name a few. Similarly, I intend this article to cover the different models of espresso/cappuccino machines available to the average American home consumer and what sets them apart.
Before I begin, I would like to thank David Bogie. David has been a "hopeless espresso hound" and net-head for years. He has that one tool that sets apart home espresso and cappuccino drinkers: experience. Experience in grinding, drinking, preparation, cleaning and care. And with that, he compiled the 'net's Home Espresso and Cappuccino Machine FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). I will be borrowing from his experience and mine, while laying down a slightly technical track. I would hope that the info contained
here within will help you make a sound and fruitful decision on your first, next, or last home espresso/cappuccino machine.
What is Espresso, Cappuccino? Espresso has been, for years, misconceived here in the Americas. To be frank, it is nether a degree of roast or a particular blend of beans. It is best described as a process. And rather untouched for many, many decades, this process has been the staple of the Italian beverage known to us as "café espresso." At the turn of the century, the espresso machine was introduced. I will spare you the time-line and the names, but the invention I will not. The first machine used heated water, driven by its counter production of steam to drive the water through the coffee grounds. Experimentation and persistence altered the device to use mechanical advantage with the use of a lever and spring. The lever would draw the heated water into a cylinder where the operator would skillfully draw the water, forcefully, into the bed of grounds. The addition of the spring-loaded lever aided this process. In turn, the lever and spring were replaced by electro-mechanical pumps. In commercial units, such as those found in coffee houses and bars, the pump is of a rotary vane style. But in home use, an electromagnetic pump is used. This device cycles a piston back and forth, thus producing a vacuum and drawing water from a reservoir. A head of pressure is developed as the water is forced from the other end of the vacuum and in turn, dumps the water either through a boiler or a thermo-block. The final product, heated under pressure, is then forced through a bed of grounds. The coffee is a result of the forced contact of the water and grounds. Oils, flavours, and aromas are extracted from the beans and gives what we call "espresso."
Early on, it was found that capturing the steam from the boiling process could be used to froth and heat milk. The then heated milk was served as a topping into espresso to make a "white coffee" or a cappuccino.
A Dip into the Product Catalogue: What's in a machine. Where to shop. What to look for. What to spend. Pros and Cons. First, not all espresso machines are created equal. The first machine you may already be familiar with is the steam-driven machine that retails for about 30$US. This machine uses a small boiling chamber to heat water. Steam created from the heating forces the water into the bed of coffee. The same steam is drawn off, used to heat milk.
Moving up the ladder we get into other type of machine. The pump-driven variety. As explained above, this type uses an electromagnetic pump to force the water. And you might have guessed that these units are more expensive because of that. As you will read in the Pro and Con section, this unit is far superior to its cousin, the steam-driven type.
Some pump machines come in assorted flavours if you will. You might find a machine with a built-in grinder, an automatic doser, a fully automated brewing process, or devices to ease the preparation.