Steam vs pump espresso machine? - what am I missing : LUSENET : Coffee Related Buy/Sell/Trade : One Thread

I have a DeLonghi steam espresso machine which is still operating quite well so it is difficult to justify upgrading to a pump machine. I have found several Briel pump machines for sale between $150-200 at which claim a flow shut off setting at short or tall cups as well as an "anti-dripping" reverse flow valve. I am roasting using a Hearthware roaster and feel I now have that process under relative control (versus my oven-roasting fiasco!). The problem is that I don't know what I am missing because I haven't had the opportunity to test pump and steam on the same roast. Does anyone have informaton about the difference in espresso quality when using the same roast on pump and steam as well as experience with the Briel versus other brands such as Gaggia?

-- F. Geiser (, November 26, 1998


Go for the pump type. Steam machines will only deliver about 2+ atmospheres. According to the books, you need 9 to 15 atmospheres of pressure to make "honest espresso". These statistics came from Kenneth Davids book "Espresso - Ultimate coffee. Also, I started with a steam machine myself. Believe me, a good pump type machine will make a world of difference in the qyality of your espresso as compared to the steam machine. You'll never regret buying a good pumptype rig. -- Steve

-- Steven Dover (, December 05, 1998.

Another weakness of steam machines is that the water going through the coffee is too hot. If memory serves, brewing temperature should be around 190-200 fahrenheit ... but even if I've got the temperature wrong, for sure it should be well under boiling temperature. The flavor of the coffee is definitely affected negatively by the too-hot water. Most home pump machines prevent this by using two thermostats, one for brewing mode and another for steam mode.

-- Michal Young (, December 20, 1998.

People are always saying that the steam machines send boiling water through the coffee. I actually measured the temperature of the coffee as it was pouring out of the spout. Guess what? You folks are wrong. The water comes up through the coffee at about 200 degrees... This is the same principle that works with Turkish coffee and vacum pots. The water starts rising long before it gets to boiling. Not to say that if you put the flame up high enough and leave the pot on long enough, it won't boil. But who would do that?

-- Nick Angelo (, January 04, 2001.

I agree with Nick. Most people say that you don't get a thick and creamy coffee crema from a steam unit. This is true to an extent, since by the time the brewing process has finished, so much water has gone through the shot of coffee which then dilutes what you have collected. Try this- do a short extraction with a steam unit i.e use the full amount of water. What you get is a rich creamy coffee crema and the espresso is as excellent as any pump unit I've used. Remember, the 'old' commercial espresso units originally designed in Italy, used steam to drive the water. Only later designs used an electric pump.

-- gor (, July 10, 2001.

There is an in-between machine that is being neglected: lever machines. These come in the spring lever and manual lever variety. Capable of excellent espresso.


-- John (, September 26, 2002.

We have had a variety of steam machines and moved on to pump machines. I always felt the espresso in the steam machines was fine, but because they had a small water reservoir, you could often only get one good shot of espresso, then you had to let it cool down before removing the basket and making another cup. With the pump machines, you can make a number of cups for a small group with little hassle.

-- Heidi Alford (, January 14, 2003.

There are other problems with steam machines: for one thing, the portafilter is usually narrower in diameter than the portafilers for pump machines, and apparently there is an optimal pressure-to- portafilter-width that only pump machines can deliver. Also, with pump machines, one can tweak how much one tamps down the espresso in the portafilter, along with the fineness of grind, so as to produce just the right pressure for extracting the most crema. (Of course, one should be using a burr grinder, esp. with a pump machine.) A steam machine can't do this as well, because it only delivers a fraction of the atmospheres of pressure, and even then, the water tends to be too hot to result in the perfect espresso. I've used a steam machine for 5 years, and am (finally) graduating up to a good pump machine now.

-- Matt (, May 05, 2004.

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