Espresso Machine vs. Coffee Maker – What’s the Difference?


If you are confused about the difference between an espresso machine vs. a coffee maker, you are not alone.

In fact, before we start with what makes them unique, let’s cut straight to chase to say that the end game is the same, i.e. to make good tasting coffee as part of the morning or daily routine for people around the world.

Mechanism for Extraction – Pump vs. Gravity

Putting the technical mumbo jumbo aside, we are talking about two different brewing methods. To make espresso, nearly boiling water is forced through the ground coffee under high pressure via either a manual piston, steam or a pump. The ideal pressure needs to be 9-bar and most semi-automatic, automatic and super-automatic machines on the market are equipped with a standard 15-bar pump.

A coffee maker penetrates coffee grounds through a filter of sort with heated water and the drip coffee flows out through natural gravity. Comparatively speaking, the pressure is only a fraction of the same in an espresso machine. Some estimate to be about 1-bar.

The extraction time differs greatly as well. Typical extraction time for espresso is about 20 to 30 seconds whereas a pot of dripped coffee takes longer to make.

Grind Size and Consistency Make or Break an Espresso

To make a perfect espresso, several variables have to play in concert with each other harmoniously, one of which is the quality and freshness of coffee beans and grind size.

Ideally the beans should be ground right before brewing. Any type of coffee beans will be fine but many espresso machines are designed for non-oily and non-flavored coffee beans for the integrated grind to work well.

The grind size for espresso is much finer than that for dripped coffee. The size needs to be consistent from particle to particle. To achieve this, a quality burr grinder is a must-have, almost more critical than the espresso machine itself. Comparing to a blade grinder, the burr grinder cuts the beans in much lower RPMs (Revolutions Per Minute) to reduce the heat and friction. As a result, the coffee grounds are more uniformed in size.

A coffee machine is much more forgiving in this regard. It’s quite common for people to use an inexpensive blade grinder and the size is much coarser.

Dosed Amount and the Final Outcome

An espresso takes about 7 grams of ground coffee for 1.5 oz. of water. On the other hand, a tablespoon to 2 for a 6 oz. of water in dripped coffee.

It’s definitely a lot more seductive to describe an espresso such as hazelnut in color, syrupy in texture, aromatic in smell, flavorful in taste with a thick crema on top. Did you see it involved all the senses to make it an “experience” vs. just a daily routine to drink down cup after cup of black and diluted coffee from a regular coffee machine?

Morever, an espresso is the basis to make “infinite” gourmet drinks such as cappuccinos, lattes, macchiatos and Americanos, just to name a few. Some of them will require a frother, either stand-alone or an automatic type to heat up the milk, inject air and mix them all together to create feature-like microfoam and creamy texture.

Long vs. Short Learning Curve

It demands a lot more skills, techniques and experimentation to brew just the right espresso where the freshest coffee beans, grind size, tamping pressure, pre-infusion time, extraction time and pressure are combined with a Goldilocks effect. But to brew a pot of dripped coffee, it’s on an auto-pilot for many households. Grind coffee, add water and set the timer. No complication!

Costly vs. Economical

A high-end espresso machine can set you back hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Plus another investment in a quality burr grinder. You’d also spend more on recurring cleaning supplies and good serveware such as double-walled cups.

For a dripped coffee machine, the cost is substantially less such as buying filters from time to time and regular coffee mug will do the job.

Final Thoughts

What’s the fuss about using an espresso machine then? Great question! I’d say it all boils down to your needs. If you don’t want to be bothered in the early hours of the morning with grinding, tamping and extracting just to get a shot or two espresso, then a dripped coffee maker might be your best bet. You can make many cups at a time and not much cleaning up to do afterwards.

But if you are able to discern a great coffee from an OK coffee, then getting everything right for your espresso is all worth it. If drinking milk-based beverages such as lattes or cappuccinos is your norm, then having an espresso machine at home definitely makes it more assuring (in your capable hands vs. not so well-trained helper in the coffee shop) and less costly than stopping by Starbucks on your way to work. A latte here and an Americano there all add up in the end.

If you are tinkering with the idea of trying your newly-acquired barista skills at home, then be sure to check out many in-depth espresso machine reviews on this site grouped by brand, type and price.

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