Coffee and Espresso Product Guide

Coffee and Espresso

As explorers came into contact with primitive civilizations, they found many brewed beverages from roots and herbs for medicinal and spiritual qualities. The use of coffee originated in Ethiopia when a goat herder observed that when his goats ate certain berries, they got excited. As he experimented with the berries, he noted that it increased a state of happiness. Around 1,000 years ago, the Arabs roasted coffee beans and boiled to make a beverage called qawah. It wasn't till the 17th century that coffee entered Europe and it's believed that the first coffeehouse opened in Italy around 1650. European use is purported to have originated in the 16th century as Jesuit missionaries brought the beverage to Portugal.

Whether iced or hot, coffee ranks as one of the most popular beverages around the world. Hundreds of billions of cups are consumed each year. While brewing tea leaves has been considered fairly simple, preparing delicious coffee at home has taken some time to develop. It wasn't till the late 19th century that the first espresso machine was invented. Melitta Bentz developed the first drip coffeemaker around 1910 and Nestle's developed instant coffee in the 1930s. Coffeemakers have become one of the most popular kitchen appliances since the 1940s.


Though coffee percolators were prevalent in many homes through the 1960s, the electric drip-style coffeemaker became dominant in the 1970s and has nearly made the percolator obsolete. Drip Coffeemakers are relatively simple. Water is heated in a reservoir and as it reaches boiling temperatures, passes through ground coffee beans that are placed in a paper or gold filter. Most of these coffeemakers have a glass carafe while other models come with a thermal carafe that keeps coffee warmer for a longer period of time. It's one of the quickest methods used to make delicious coffee. Drip Coffeemakers are available in different sizes. The two most popular models are 4-cup capacity and up to 10-cup capacity.

There have been several conveniences added to certain models of coffeemakers:

  • Programmable Clock

    Apart from displaying the time, you can set-up the machine at night and, like an alarm, it will automatically brew a pot of coffee at your chosen time. Your coffee will be hot, fresh and waiting for you.

  • Cup Selector

    You can choose how many cups of coffee you want to brew. This feature is especially useful for people who have 10-cup capacity coffeemakers that only want to brew 1 to 3 cups. It's a great way to get optimal flavor while conserving coffee.

  • Temperature Adjustment

    Beneath the carafe, there's a heat plate. Setting the temperature control allows you to adjust how warm you want the coffee to remain, after it has been brewed. Some models may actually allow you to pre-heat the carafe as the coffee brews. This means that your coffee is served piping hot - the way most serious coffee drinkers prefer.

  • Pause-and-Serve

    Sometimes, as you brew a pot of coffee, you may want a cup or two in the middle of the brewing process. This feature allows you to pause the brewing process. It will resume as soon the carafe is replaced.

  • Water Filter

    Not a common feature, some machines have an integrated filter to remove impurities from water before brewing. This is especially useful in areas where water is hard (filled with metals and other elements).

What is Espresso?

Espresso is a small demitasse cup of strong coffee produced on a machine specifically designed for that purpose. Unlike drip coffeemakers, where water drips through the coffee in a filter, an espresso machine forces hot water at a very high temperature and pressure getting the most flavor from the finely ground coffee beans. The Italian word espresso translated is express. Each cup of espresso is made individually and then quickly served to the customer, hence the name. Among the Italians and the Spanish, espresso is coffee. The coffee we drink in the United States is considered American Coffee. Although traditionalists may use stovetop espresso makers, there are many electric models available that emulate the espresso machines found in many of the world's finest cafes.

Steam vs Pump

There are two types of electric espresso makers. One creates brewing pressure through the use steam and the other uses a special pump. If you enjoy espresso, forget about steam and go for a model that uses a pump. Steam only generates 3 bars of pressure at a temperature that's considered too hot for quality espresso brewing. Pump driven machines use the same method found in professional cafe espresso makers. A typical pump delivers up to 14 to 19 bars of pressure. A bar equals about 15 pounds per square inch of pressure. About 10 bars are considered ideal but many afficionados may prefer higher pressures to accommodate varying tastes and coffee types. Most home machines use a reciprocating pump while professional models use a rotary pump. The differences are irrelevant for home espresso needs. The pump removes the correct amount of water from the water tank into the boiler where it is quickly heated and forced through the coffee beans.

What does Priming mean?

In order for the pump to move the water efficiently, all the air needs to be removed. Most home machines are self-priming so you needn't worry about this, most of the time. Occasionally, if your water tank has an insufficient water supply, an air bubble may interfere with the priming process. This is why many espresso makers seem to have large water tanks but, if you make lots of espresso, you should keep this tank adequately filled.

What about Frothing?

A frothing device isn't essential for making espresso. It is used to steam milk for cappuccino and other beverages. Cappuccino is essentially espresso with steamed milk. When water is heated in the boiler of the espresso maker, steam is produced. When steam is released and directed to the frothing device, the milk at the end of the frother is steamed quickly to a light, rich, tasty froth.

NOTE: Please read manufacturer's instructions about proper use of the frothing device. Improper use may cause hot steam or milk spraying out of the cup, and injury may result.

What are Coffee Pods?

Most espresso machines use finely ground coffee that's inserted into a filter basket. Some also use pods. These pods are pre-measured amounts of coffee. Pods are available from several coffee manufacturers and some feel that using pods is simpler and cleaner than working with ground coffee.

Are these Espresso Machines automatic?

Typically, espresso makers priced at under $500 are semi-automatic. This means that you control the brewing process by turning it on and off. Higher priced models have added automatic features that allow you to merely press whether you want 1 or 2 cups and the machine automatically takes it from there. Highest priced models may even have a built-in grinder so it grinds and places the coffee in the filter automatically. It then dumps the used coffee automatically in an internal waste box.

Does it matter whether an espresso maker is made with a plastic or metal housing?

In a sense, when it comes to Electric Espresso Makers, you get what you pay for. All pump-driven machines can deliver a tasty cup of espresso. You need to consider how often you'll use it, how easy it is to clean, and how easy and reliable it is to use.

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