Types of Espresso Machines (The Most In-detail Guide)

Wondering what types of espresso machines exist? Here are the 6 categories of espresso machines explained in detail and the devices that compose them.

My name is Leandro and I am the founder of The Coffee Arsenal, a place where you can find in-detail guides about coffee gear.

I have immersed myself in a quest to create the most comprehensive guide about what kinds of espresso machines exist and how to classify them.

After reading hundreds of articles and watching many videos about the subject, I have structured all my knowledge in a short piece of content that will help you understand this topic as quickly as possible.

In this guide, you will find the 6 most common espresso machines categories, what are the differences between them, and in the end, I will help you to decide which kind of device you should buy.

Let’s dig into it!

What Is the Difference Between Espresso Machines?

There are a lot of espresso machines categories. Each machine is useful for a specific purpose and if you learn how to use them correctly you will get incredible quality brewings.

The majority of espresso machines can be organized into a few categories:

  • Espresso machines by water flow
  • Espresso machines by boilers
  • Espresso machines my mechanism
  • Espresso machines by levels of automation
  • Pod espresso machines
  • Stovetop espresso machines

Not all kinds of machines are great to make espresso, for example, stovetop espresso machines don’t reach the levels of pressure to make a classic espresso but they can serve as a base for other espresso drinks.

The major differences between these categories are design, technology, and price. 

Keep reading if you want to know detailed information about these characteristics.

Types of Espresso Machines

As I said before, there are several espresso machines categories, below you will find these categories and the elements inside them.

Types of Espresso Machines by Water Flow

In this category, you will find espresso machines that have a particular water flow system that makes them very efficient and sometimes portable.

Reservoir Espresso Machines

Rocket Appartamento Espresso Machine
Source: Clive Coffee

As the name suggests, these are machines that can hold a limited amount of water inside a recipient, they do not have a connected water supply and you have to refill their tank once the water is over.

They are great if you are traveling, for home, or if you have a small coffee shop. You can find some of them for a very affordable price (+$50) and you can find the high-end ones for more than $1,000.

There are a lot of models to choose from, you can find lever machines, automatic machines, hybrid machines (reservoir + plumbed).


  • Portable
  • They do not require a water supply to work
  • Wide variety of models
  • Easy to install


  • Their tank needs to be refilled regularly

Direct Connect (Plumbed-In) Espresso Machines

Nuova Simonelli Aurelia Wave T3 Espresso Machine
Source: Simonelli USA

These machines are very similar to the reservoir espresso machines, the only difference is that these work with a dedicated water line providing them with unlimited water to work.

The major advantage of these machines is that they have unlimited water, however, the major downside is that you need the help of a professional plumber to install them and they cannot be moved easily.

They require little maintenance because you do not need to clean a water tank, also as they usually work with a water softener, you will not worry about water impurities that can damage your machine.

They are great for mid to big-size coffee shops, homes, and offices.


  • Unlimited water supply
  • Great for large espresso demand
  • Improved water quality
  • Advanced pre-infusion options


  • Requires a water supply
  • Not easy to install and relocate
  • Costly installation

Volumetric Espresso Machines

LUCCA A53 Mini Espresso Machine by La Spaziale
Source: Clive Coffee

Volumetric espresso machines allow the user to pre-program how much water he does want into each shot.

They are great because they prepare consistent shots one after another. Also, they are easy to use and they are automatic, this last feature is extremely handy because it allows the user to do other tasks while the shot is being pulled.

To produce consistent shots, these machines have a “flow meter” that monitors the amount of water being dispensed.

Because of their automation features, they are not very cheap, however, they are great for mid-large size businesses and offices that have a high demand for espresso shots.


  • Every single espresso shot is consistent
  • No experience required
  • Automation feature
  • Great for high demand


  • Limited settings
  • They are usually expensive

Types of Espresso Machines by Boilers

The major differentiator of these machines is the boiler. There are single boiler machines, dual boiler machines, and heat exchange machines.

These models are very reliable and efficient.

Single Boiler Espresso Machines

ECM Casa V Espresso Machine
Source: Clive Coffee

Single boiler espresso machines are very efficient. These machines use a single boiler to heat water that can be used for brewing and for steaming milk and cream.

Since they use a single boiler to operate, they are usually cheaper than other espresso machines because they have fewer components to operate.

They are very handy because they often come equipped with PID technology, which allows the user to control the temperature on which the machine operates. Additionally, they often come with manual steam wands that enable a lot of drinks personalization.


  • They are usually more affordable
  • Compact
  • Includes PID temperature controllers
  • Includes manual steam wand


  • Not optimal for high demand
  • Needs to cooldown between shots

Double Boiler Espresso Machines

Breville Dual Boiler Espresso Machine
Source: Breville

This type of espresso machine is similar to single-boiler espresso machines, however, this type has an additional boiler, which makes them more efficient for higher demand.

They are usually larger than single boiler machines and are usually more expensive because they have a more complex design.

The first boiler is designed for brewing and the second for steaming. The temperature of each boiler can be adjusted independently, allowing the user to adjust the temperature to precisely match the blends of coffee being brewed to produce a better extraction at the end.

In some cases these machines include an on/off switch for each boiler separately, allowing greater control over the machine.


  • They don’t require to cooldown between shots
  • You can control the temperature of each boiler separately
  • Consistent brew temperature
  • In some cases includes an on/off switch for the steam boiler


  • The warm-up time is between 45 to 60 minutes
  • They have more parts which make them more complex to repair
  • More expensive than other similar models
  • Bulky and difficult to move

Heat Exchanging Espresso Machines

Profitec Pro 500 PID Espresso Machine
Source: Whole latte love

This type of espresso machine works by using an internal heat exchanging system that controls the temperature over water. 

This is a single boiler machine that has a low cooldown ratio with the downside that it does not produce very consistent shots.

These machines are great for people who value convenience more than consistency.


  • Short cooldown between shots
  • Affordable
  • The great efficiency of steam production


  • Cannot independently adjust steam/coffee temperature
  • Produces very inconsistent shots
  • Few temperature control settings

Types of Espresso Machines by Mechanism

When we are talking about the types of espresso machines by mechanism, we are talking about their internal structure and parts and how they work together to create espresso shots. 

Below I will talk about lever espresso machines, steam-driven espresso machines, and pump-driven espresso machines.

Lever Espresso Machines

Flair Classic Espresso Maker
Source: Flair espresso

With a level espresso machine, you have absolute control over your espresso shot and you can control brew time and water flow.

It’s kind of weird but some people like lever espresso machines because they love to feel pulling an espresso shot using their whole body. 

With these machines, you can get very consistent and tasty shots if you know what you are doing. Also, these machines maintain really good temperature stability which is essential for a good espresso.

Although these machines are great because of the customization they offer, they have several downsides.

For example, the speed at which you pull your shot can highly impact the final taste, they require between 14 to 20 minutes to warm up and they require manual effort.


  • Allow you to control the whole brewing process
  • They have almost nonexistent complex machinery that needs maintenance


  • Require experience and practice
  • Need manual effort

Steam Driven Espresso Machines

Capresso Steam PRO espresso machine
Source: Capresso

Steam-driven espresso machines are a very affordable way to make espresso at home. They work with steam and basically, they are considered the electric version of the moka pot.

Electric Steam Brewers are not capable of producing a true cup of espresso, because steam only creates 1.5 – 3 bars of pressure which falls short of the 9 bars needed for a good extraction and substantial crema.

Also, these machines often over brew coffee because they do not have a proper temperature regulation, which causes the coffee to taste bitter.

In summary, they are a lot cheaper than other models but you won’t get the best espresso quality from them.


  • Affordable
  • Convenient


  • Requires experience to use properly and safely
  • Do not reach the ideal pressure levels to make the perfect espresso
  • Tend to over brew coffee

Pump Driven Espresso Machines

DeLonghi manual espresso machine ecp3420
Source: DeLonghi

Pump-driven espresso machines are one of the most efficient devices to make a really good espresso shot. 

They offer a lot of temperature control due to their sophisticated thermoregulation design, they let you skip manual effort, and can produce steam for frothed milk after the brewing is done.

There is a wide variety of options to choose from, you can find machines from $200 to +$1,000, which is great because they work well for home baristas, businesses, and offices.

These machines create very consistent shots because of their thermoregulation system and because they use a simple pump that reaches the ideal pressure bars to produce great espresso.


  • Produce very consistent espresso shots
  • Thermoregulation system included
  • Wide models variety


  • Does not offer many customization settings

Types of Espresso Machines by Levels of Automatic Operation

These days, there are sophisticated types of espresso machines that were created to do all the hard work without supervision. With these machines, you can walk your dog while your coffee is being made (Literally).

In the next paragraphs, we will talk about semi-automatic espresso machines, automatic espresso machines, super-automatic espresso machines, and ultra-automatic espresso machines.

Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Rancilio Silvia M Espresso Machine
Source: Whole latte coffee

As the name suggests, these machines are “semi” automatic, with these machines you need to do some work, you still have to grind the coffee beans, load the portafilter with coffee grounds, tamp the coffee grounds and start the machine by pressing a button.

Using these machines you have the possibility of determining when the shot starts and when it stops, and how much coffee to use. In short words, you have full control of the extraction of when it begins and when it ends.

They use a pump to create enough pressure to make espresso shots, so they usually work by using a plumbed-in system.


  • Lots of customization settings
  • Part of the workflow is automated


  • Several models do not have temperature control
  • They require some experience to make them work properly
  • Require some attention

Automatic Espresso Machines

Gaggia Classic Pro Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine
Source: Whole latte coffee

They are very similar to semi-automatic espresso machines, the main difference is that automatic espresso machines shut the water off automatically using a sophisticated internal timer.

With these machines, you still have to grind the coffee beans, tamp the coffee grounds and press the buttons. The rest of the workflow is automated as I said before. 

A major downside of these machines is that you lose a lot of control, as a result, the final flavor of the espresso shot can be a bit different as expected.


  • Part of the workflow is automated


  • Several models do not have temperature control
  • Require some attention

Super-Automatic Espresso Machines

Philips 3200 LatteGo super-automatic espresso machine
Source: Philips

We are getting closer to the top of the automatic espresso machines chain. 

Super-automatic espresso machines automate every task except milk steaming. They grind the coffee, set up the portafilter, and pull the shot. Everything just by pressing a button.

There are several major disadvantages to these machines. The first one is that if you do not like the taste of your shot you cannot do anything because everything is automated. The second one is that you have limited grind size settings, however, they are adequate enough.


  • No experience needed
  • Convenient
  • Consistent
  • You have a lot of coffee options to choose from


  • Almost no customization
  • You have no control over the workflow
  • Some models require professional cleaning
  • Expensive
  • You cannot do anything if you do not like the taste of your shot
  • Don’t allow coffee art

Ultra-Automatic Espresso Machines

Philips Saeco HD8930/47 Royal One Touch
Source: Philips

Finally, the top of the chain, the ultimate coffee automation system, the ultra-automatic espresso machines.

These machines do everything the super-automatic does PLUS they offer milk frothing and steaming. This type of espresso machine does not allow the user to do any kind of task, just press a button and you have a super flavorful coffee.

All you have to do is refill the machine with coffee beans and milk to make it work.

These machines are great because they sometimes remember your favorite length, temperature, and strength of coffee.

The major disadvantage is that they are extremely expensive.


  • The whole workflow is automated
  • Can make special drinks
  • Offers milk frothing and steaming


  • Zero customization
  • Expensive
  • Don’t allow coffee art

Pod Espresso Machines

Pixie Aluminum Nespresso
Source: Nespresso

Pod espresso machines are very convenient and easy to use. They work using a system that allows you to introduce an espresso pod of the flavor you’d like to serve a not-too-strong espresso shot.

You can buy one of these machines for as low as $100, there are more than 200 flavors to choose from and there are a lot of low-cost espresso pod brands which makes these machines a very affordable way to make coffee.

These machines have two major problems. They do not make a very strong espresso shot and they produce a lot of waste because the pods are made of plastic.

If you want a quick and convenient way to make your coffee every morning and you want to dispose of a different flavor every day, you’d like one of these machines.


  • Convenient
  • Easy to use
  • Compact
  • Wide variety of coffee flavors


  • Not environmentally friendly
  • Don’t produce very flavourful coffee
  • More expensive than regular normal coffee

Stovetop Espresso Machines

Bialetti Venus Coffee Maker
Source: The Coffee Company

Stovetop espresso machines are the simplest and most affordable way to make a shot of espresso at home. They require almost no maintenance and they’re very portable, so you can travel with them easily.

All you have to do is to open your stovetop espresso machine, fill it with water, drop some ground coffee inside it, close it, start your stove and in less than 10 minutes you will get your drink.

You should keep in mind that a stovetop espresso machine only reaches a pressure of 2 – 3 bars which is not enough to make “true” espresso. Also, this pressure doesn’t allow these machines to produce crema.

These machines are great because they produce from 1 to 12 cups of coffee at once and it is the cheapest option to make an espresso, you can buy a lifetime stovetop espresso machine for $30 – $100.

If you want to buy an extremely cheap machine that can produce coffee for a lot of people and you don’t mind a heartier and robust flavor with no crema, this machine is for you.


  • Simple to use
  • Affordable
  • Durable
  • Great for producing large volumes of coffee at once


  • Can’t produce crema
  • Can’t produce a “true” espresso
  • Require a stove or fire to work

What Type of Espresso Machine Should I Buy?

This is a decision that should be taken by keeping your needs and lifestyle in mind. 

For example, you shouldn’t buy an espresso machine that takes 25 minutes to warm up if you only have 10 minutes to get your morning coffee routine done.

Disclaimer: Each day are appearing new machines that have characteristics that make them very versatile. You should use this guide as a reference, not as absolute truth. 

Option 1: Convenient Machines

These are machines that are great for people that don’t have much time for making a good espresso. You can use them at home, at the office or for traveling.

  • Pod espresso machines
  • Stovetop espresso machines
  • Automatic espresso machines
  • Reservoir Espresso Machines
  • Single boiler espresso machines

Option 2: Business Machines

These espresso machines are designed to make high volumes of coffee in a short time. They are usually pretty bulky and expensive.

  • Direct connect (plumbed-in) espresso machines
  • Volumetric espresso machines
  • Double boiler espresso machines
  • Heat exchanging espresso machines
  • Pump Driven Espresso Machines
  • Semi-automatic espresso machines
  • Automatic espresso machines
  • Steam-driven espresso machines

Option 3: Portable Machines

These machines are small, affordable, and compact. Great for traveling or to share an espresso shot with friends while camping.

  • Lever espresso machines
  • Pod espresso machines
  • Stovetop espresso machines

The Bottom Line

I hope my research has helped you understand the topic. There are hundreds of espresso machines and every day popular brands like Nespresso try to innovate and create new sophisticated and versatile machines.

Always keep in mind your needs and your lifestyle before buying an espresso machine. The most important thing should be that you enjoy the journey of making a good espresso.

Leandro Santorsola
Leandro Santorsola

Leandro is the founder of The Coffee Arsenal. His favorite relaxation method is to drink a Cafe Latte in the afternoons.