Many coffee lovers adore the taste of espresso. It is strong and full bodied in comparison to filter coffee. These qualities are what many coffee aficionados look for in their cup of Java. Some people just need the espresso for a milky caffeinated beverage such as cappuccino, or latte, or flat white.
No matter the reason, if you want to bring espresso brewing at home, a steam based espresso machine is one of the most popular options. You can get the espresso experience at home.
Let's explore the pros and cons of steam espresso machines, and review the best machines on the market. Read this article before buying an espresso machine.
But Espresso Machines are Pricey!
This is true. Luckily, the coffee industry came up with the steam based espresso machine for domestic use. You can get your hands on one of these bad boys for under $100, and often much cheaper.
These machines will do the job nicely if the priority is price and you’re not too picky. They also allow folks to develop their home brewing and barista skills, which is great. If you are big into your coffee though and your palate is a little bit more refined, a machine like this might not be the best option for you.
There are a couple more advantages of steam espresso machines, and we’ll talk about them in a bit. But there are some disadvantages as well, and for some people, these are a deal breaker.
So many machines, so many choices
Most of us are probably familiar with these espresso machines found in homes. They are sold absolutely everywhere, there are hundreds of brands and varieties and choosing one can be a bit overwhelming.
Today I am going to help you decide if what you need is a steam driven espresso machine, and I will show you a list of the better ones on the market. This will hopefully make the decision a bit easier for you if you are looking into buying one for your home coffee brewing.
What Is a Steam Based Espresso?
In order to talk about steam based espresso, we need to understand what is espresso and how steam based espresso machines compare with pump driven espresso machines.
Espresso is a method of coffee brewing that forces water through finely ground coffee using extremely high pressure. This is traditionally done with a pump. The ideal pressure for an espresso, like the one that you purchase in a coffee shop, is 9 bar pressure.
Steam based espresso, on the other hand, uses steam to create the brewing pressure. The pressure developed with steam is not as powerful as the one created with a pump. Steam based espresso machines are able to reach around 3 bar pressure. This is more than a Moka pot, at around 1 bar, but much less than pump based espresso, (15 bar pressure regulated at 9 bar). Read on to find out why high pressure is important for espresso, and why some coffee lovers don’t care about that pressure.
Steam vs Pump Based Espresso in a Nutshell
- Brewed with 9 bar pressure - the espresso industry standard
- Extraction time is between 25 and 35 seconds
- Much more expensive than steam based espresso
- Pulls one double shot per brew
- Finely ground coffee
- More technique required to extract a good shot of coffee
Steam based espresso
- Up to 3.5 bar pressure
- Can brew up to 20oz of coffee in one go
- A coarser grind needs to be used. The lower pressure can’t handle a finer grind and a fine grind will damage the machine.
- Extraction time varies. Can be anywhere from 5 seconds to a minute.
- Easier to make drinkable coffee. However, this is coffee that is arguably not espresso.
- Some people prefer this coffee to espresso, the taste is a happy medium between French press, espresso and drip.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Steam Based Espresso Makers
The great thing about steam based espresso is that it allows espresso brewing to be available to the masses. There are both pros and cons for buying a steam espresso maker, and at the end of the day it comes down to preference and needs.
Conclusion: What Should You Buy, Steam or Pump Driven?
If you are not necessarily looking for a steam espresso machine, we have a great comparison article comparing the best budget pump espresso machines. These machines are more reliable than your average steam-based machine, and they create real espresso.
If you like your coffee with a bite, or you need larger quantities of coffee, the steam driven coffee machine is a great choice.
In the next section we go deeper into the Pros and Cons of the steam espresso machines.
The great thing about steam based espresso is that it allows espresso brewing to be available to the masses.
A Note on the Brewing Pressure
High pressure is critical for gourmet espresso because it allows us to extract properly at speed. The combination of high pressure and finely ground coffee achieve this.
Coffee that is extracted quickly at a lower pressure is not going to be extracted properly. Such is the case with all steam based espresso machines unfortunately.
The Best Steam Driven Espresso Machines
So, you’ve weighed up the pros and cons and you’ve decided you want a steam based machine for the house. But which one? We have reviewed a few of the popular machines on the market to help. Read on to find the right steam based espresso machine for you!
Capresso Steam PRO - Steam Espresso machine
This steam based machine is in the middle price bracket of these steam based espresso machines. You can pick one up on Amazon for around $60.
Like most of its competitors, it is small, compact and comes with the glass carafe for brewing into. The glass carafe is different to that of other machines, however, because the handle curves down. This is nice for serving and seems more professional.
This unit also varies a little from its competitors at the same price point with the steel details it has. These serve to make the machine look a little more expensive and will look good in your kitchen.
Capresso Steam Pro also allows you to adjust your steam output and potentially be able to develop your steaming technique as a result. It also allows for a quick change over from coffee to steaming which is useful.
The steam based Capresso PRO is not a bad machine at this price point. If you want something that is going to be longer lasting and will produce a professional tasting cup of coffee, maybe have a look at the other steam based espresso options but if you aren’t too fussy about your coffee and you are looking to save on spending give the Capresso PRO a go!
Sowtech Steam Driven Espresso Maker
The next down in the list in terms of price and quality is the steam based espresso machine from Sowtech. This little machine retails at under $80.
At first glance, it looks very similar to some of the cheaper steam based espresso machines. However, when you take a closer look at the features you realise it stands ahead of its competition and is well worth the price tag.
If you are concerned about the price but are still looking for a relatively good cup of coffee from a machine that will last a while, Sowtech is the way to go.
Now we come to the machines that retail for under $50. The best of these is probably the Bella home espresso maker. It is less temperamental and longer lasting than the other machines under $50.
Bella 13683 Espresso Maker
- It comes with the 4 cup carafe and has removable filters etc. for cleaning.
- It heats up fast, really fast. There have even been reviews that this machine gets so hot is can damage the counter top underneath. Getting a safety mat is advised.
- This machine has safety features such as the polarized plug and safety cap. This is good if you have small children.
- The carafe has a snap on top so it doesn’t leak.
- Water tank not removable
- Needs to be washed thoroughly before first use as there is a strong smell of plastic out of the box.
- Life expectancy not too long, prone to malfunctioning. This is normal for a machine under $50 unfortunately.
Krups Xp 1020
Another option for a machine under $50 is the Krups XP 1020. This machine differs in a few ways from the Bella 13683. It was made in response to feedback from industry professionals and customers in mind. For this reason it has some nice features that other machines are missing.
- It has some safety features such as burn out protection and a stay cool handle on the portafilter and carafe.
- The portafilter is metal and better quality than its competitors which are usually made of plastic.
- It is compact but ways a little more than the other comparable machines at around 6 pounds. This is actually a positive as the machines doesn’t move when you lock the portafilter in. The machine is more grounded on the countertop.
Just to mention - a bit of caution is required when using the large dial. It is a little confusing and operates the steam as well as the espresso shots. This means that there can be an inclination to get mixed up and potentially burn yourself.
On a sad note, Krups has discontinued this coffee machine, and I was surprised to discover that they don't sell steam espresso machine at all now. You can check our review page where we have a review of their pump driven espresso makers.
Other Machines Under $50
We perhaps suggest avoiding the Aicook 3.5 bar espresso machine as it is said to be temperamental in reviews. However, say what you will, these machines are cheap and affordable which is a big plus for people on a budget.
Even though Mr. Coffee ECM160 does not have a dedicated section on this page, it's a great option and we have a dedicated review for it. Read it here: Review of the Mr. Coffee 4-cup Steam Espresso Maker
We recommend that you buy the best machine that is in your budget. For us that is the Sowtech machine that is in the middle of the road with regard to price and will provide you with an impressive cup of coffee, considering its affordability.
Steam espresso machines brew more coffee than the pump drive ones. Compare 2 ounces, (pump machines), with about 20 ounces, (steam machines). This is an important feature. The taste is probably the most important factor when you purchase your coffee machine. At least it for me. I love the espresso brewed at high pressure, and for me the 3 bar pressure doesn't brew my kind of coffee. However, for most people is the other way around.
If budget is a bit more flexible, and you want the real thing, pay just a few buck more and get a cheap pump espresso machine.
Now go forth, and brew your own espresso!