Anyone who is one of the best coffee makers know what a great cup of java tastes like, but knowing how coffee makers work is quite another. There are so many different machines on the market and they all work slightly differently, but here’s how each coffee maker works and what you can use them all for.
Whether you have an espresso machine, a single-serve coffee maker, or a bean-to-cup coffee maker, all coffee makers work in different ways and have different capabilities. Espresso machines are designed to make concentrated shots of coffee, but some of these machines have steam nozzles so you can make milk-based coffee, such as a latte or a cappuccino.
Pod coffee machines (another name for single-use coffee makers) are easier to use, but can still make a variety of drinks, depending on which pods you buy. Bean-to-cup machines are even easier because they take care of every step of the brewing process by grinding the beans, frothing milk and making a fully brewed coffee. There are many different types of coffee makers and here’s how each works.
How do single-serve coffee machines work?
Single-serve coffee machines, often referred to as pod coffee makers, can only serve one coffee at a time, so they’re not ideal if you want to make a lot of coffee for many people at once. Pad machines use capsules packed with concentrated coffee grounds. Coffee pods are the name given to K-Cups, Nespresso pods, and those flat slices of coffee that slide straight into the machine.
Pod coffee machines normally have a water tank at the back that needs to be filled before you can get started. For best results, filtered water is recommended, especially if you live in a hard water area.
The coffee machine then removes the water from the tank so that a heating element can heat the water. From here, the piping hot water will pass through the coffee pod you placed in the machine (normally after piercing a small hole at the top of the capsule), and concentrated coffee will then drip into the cup you placed under the .
Instead of throwing the used coffee capsule in the trash – it’s estimated that some 56 billion single-serve pods end up in landfills every year, learn how to recycle Nespresso pods, along with other brands of coffee capsules to use this type of coffee maker more durable.
How do espresso machines work?
Just like pod machines have a water reservoir, espresso machines also need water to work. Professional espresso machines are normally connected to a water supply, but for home use espresso machines have a water tank. The same idea of using filtered water also applies to any type of coffee machine, and this is not only because it affects the taste, but also because it helps to minimize limescale build-up in the machine’s pipes.
Espresso machines make strong, concentrated coffee shots, but to get the water out of the reservoir and through the ground coffee, they need a powerful pump. The power of these pumps is measured in bars and the industry standard for an espresso machine pump is nine bars, although you can get models with an even higher bar.
Having the power to push water through the ground coffee is all well and good, but this won’t heat up the water and that’s where a boiler comes in. Some espresso machines have only one boiler that heats the water and others have two boilers, so water and milk can be heated at the same time. You can also buy more fancy machines that heat the water and then store it ready for when you want to make another drink.
Different espresso machines offer different levels of control over the temperature of your water. Cheaper machines sometimes don’t even offer the ability to adjust the water temperature, while more expensive models have digital controls that let you adjust the temperature.
In double boiler espresso machines, the water is heated to different temperatures. One boiler heats water so that it is just the right temperature to push through the ground coffee to make a good espresso, the other boiler heats the water so that it is hot enough to create steam that is ready to pass through the steam wand. to go to frothing milk.
Once the boilers have heated the water to the optimum temperature, the water drips through the group cup and through the portafilter, the basket that holds the coffee and sits in a handle that you twist into place.
In our article you can read in detail how to use an espresso machine.
How do bean-to-cup coffee machines work?
Like the espresso machines, coffee bean makers, sometimes referred to as automatic coffee machines, press hot water under pressure through a disk of ground coffee to make a short, intense espresso. However, this whole process is handled by the machine; from grinding the beans and squeezing the ground coffee into a puck, to dispensing the right amount of water – meaning you get a consistent coffee every time with just one or two taps.
There are two types of bean-to-cup coffee machines on the market: those with a manual steam wand and those with the ability to dose perfectly textured milk into the coffee to create barista-style drinks with minimal input from you.
The hands-off machines that take care of texturing milk, along with everything else, typically offer a selection of coffees on a menu screen. You can choose between coffee shop favorites such as intense espresso, frothy cappuccino, silky latte or flat white. Then fill the built-in carafe with milk so the machine can texturize it and dispense the correct amount for the selected coffee. Often the milk carafe is removable, so you can put it in the fridge between coffees and avoid the horror of sour milk in your drink.
Alternatively, those that come with a manual steam wand allow you to select a coffee base for your hot drink; for example a single or double espresso or a longer coffee such as a ristretto and it pours it into a cup. It’s then up to you to fill a pitcher with the correct amount of milk, or a non-dairy alternative, for your desired coffee drink and texturize it before adding it to the cup.
Find out in more detail how coffee bean machines work in our article.
How do filter coffee machines work?
Filter coffee machines are sometimes called drip coffee makers and these machines have a basket into which you place a filter and the ground coffee, a water tank and a carafe into which the brewed coffee is dripped. As with all machines, the coffee maker needs water to get to work.
The water is heated by a heating element and that hot water is then led through a tube into the filter basket. The hot water drips through the top of the coffee grounds and then passes through a filter to end up in the carafe below. The heating element also heats a hot plate under the carafe so you can keep the coffee warm after brewing.
How do French press coffee makers work?
French press coffee makers are manual machines, so they are quite easy to understand. After placing ground coffee in the carafe and adding hot water, the plunger of a coffee maker has a circular filter that extends over the entire diameter of the carafe – after a few minutes this filter is pushed down and the coffee grounds separate of the brewed coffee.