When it comes to brewing espresso, there's no doubt that the beans, roast, and grind size are crucial factors. But what about the espresso machine? Is the pressure important for espresso? The short answer is yes, it is.
How many bars your coffee machine produces is an important factor that's often overlooked but can make all the difference in the taste and quality of your shot. So, while you're splurging on those premium beans, don't forget that your machine needs to pull its weight too (pun intended).
But what is the best pressure for an espresso machine?
Generally, around 7–9 bars of pressure is usually considered the sweet spot for an espresso machine. This level of pressure ensures that the coffee grounds are extracted to their fullest potential, resulting in a rich, full-bodied espresso shot. However, keep in mind that the perfect pressure can vary depending on the machine and the coffee beans used.
Espresso-Pressure Dynamics: How Does Pressure Affect Espresso Quality and Taste?
Making espresso is a delicate process that requires precision and attention to detail. One of the most important factors of this behind-the-scenes espresso-making is the pressure of the machine. But what exactly is it, and how does it affect the brewing process?
To put it simply, pressure is the force that's applied to the hot water as it passes through the coffee grounds.
In espresso-making terms, pressure is measured in bars. One bar of pressure is equal to the atmospheric pressure at sea level, which is about 14.5 pounds per square inch (PSI). As we mentioned, around 9 bars is the recommended level for an espresso machine.
So, how does pressure work in the brewing process?
The coffee grounds are compacted into a puck and placed into the portafilter. The portafilter is then locked into the machine, and hot water is pumped through the coffee grounds at high pressure. This pressure forces the hot water through the tiny spaces between the coffee particles, extracting all the needed oils, essences, and flavors from the coffee.
In a nutshell, the pressure is crucial in the espresso-making process, as it ensures that the water flows through the coffee puck at just the right speed. Now that we know what it is, how does pressure affect espresso taste?
How Does High Pressure Affect Espresso?
Well, for starters, high pressure can result in a more intense and concentrated shot of espresso, with a thicker crema and a more robust flavor profile. If you prefer the syrupy texture and like to taste your coffee to its fullest, around 9 bars of pressure is the best.
However, this doesn't mean that the higher you go the better your coffee will taste. While espresso shots extracted at 12 bars or higher will be thicker in texture, they’ll also taste bitter and acidic.
Here are some other examples of how overly high pressure can affect your espresso:
- Over-extraction: Too much pressure forces the water through the coffee grounds too quickly, resulting in over-extraction. This leads to a bitter and unpleasant taste.
- Imbalanced flavor: High pressure can lead to an imbalanced flavor in the espresso, lacking in certain flavors or having an overpowering taste of one particular note.
- Burnt taste: High pressure can cause the temperature of the espresso to increase, resulting in a burnt taste.
- Machine damage: High pressure can put stress on the espresso machine, causing damage to its components, which can be expensive to repair or replace.
What Happens If Espresso Pressure Is Too Low?
While it is true that lower pressure can result in a quicker shot extraction, it can also come at the expense of the texture and taste of your espresso.
Lowering the pressure in the espresso machine to 6 bars can result in watery and thinner espresso shots compared to shots brewed at 9 bars.
Since water passes through the coffee grounds too quickly and with less force, the resulting espresso shot may lack the strength and taste that makes coffee more than just a quick caffeine boost. Adjustments such as grinding the coffee beans finer, increasing the dose, or using a combination of both may not fully compensate for the loss of flavor and texture.
Can You Make Espresso without Pressure?
While pressure is the traditional method used to make espresso, it is possible to make a similar coffee drink without using a machine that generates high pressure. One method is to use a stovetop Moka pot, which uses steam pressure to extract the coffee flavors.
Another method is the French press, which uses a plunger to press the coffee grounds against the water, creating a similar intensity of flavor as espresso.
However, it's worth noting that the texture and crema of the espresso cannot be fully replicated with these alternative methods.
While they can produce a similar intensity of flavor, the crema – that delicious layer of foam on top of a shot of espresso – may be difficult to achieve without the use of high-pressure extraction.
Overall, while pressure is the traditional and preferred method for making espresso, there are alternatives available for those who do not have access to an espresso machine or prefer a different method of brewing.
9-Bar vs. 15-Bar vs. 20-Bar Espresso Machines: A 3-Way Match
Espresso machines come in various types, and one of the factors that differentiate them is the pressure level they produce. The most common pressure levels for espresso machines are 9, 15, and 20 bars. But what does the pressure level actually mean? How many bars is the best espresso machine?
In the next sections, we'll answer these and explore the differences between a 9-bar, 15-bar, and 20-bar espresso machine, and which pressure level might be best for you.
Is 9-Bar Better than 15-Bar Espresso?
The commonly held belief among coffee experts is that 9 bars is the ideal pressure for producing a perfect espresso shot.
So what’s the deal? Why do some manufacturers sell 15-bar espresso machines?
The answer is not straightforward. Machines that advertise 15 or more bars of pressure often feature an internal restricting valve that prevents the machine from brewing at a level higher than 9 bars.
This means that the extra bars of pressure advertised by these machines are not really used in the brewing process.
15-bar coffee machines often lose most of the pressure between the pump and the group head, meaning the pressure is much lower by the time it gets to the brew head. As a result, you're likely brewing at 9 bars by the time your shot of espresso gets pulled.
On the other hand, 9-bar espresso machines usually brew at a lower pressure by the time water reaches the brew head. So a 15-bar espresso machine is generally considered better as it produces coffee at a consistent 9-bar pressure level.
Best 9-Bar Espresso Machine
If you’re looking for an espresso machine that can get you coffee at a steady 9-bar pressure, it doesn't get much better than the Breville Bambino Espresso Machine.
What Does 20-Bar Mean for Espresso Machines?
When you come across an espresso machine that advertises 20 bars of pressure, you might assume it is the best option out there for brewing espresso. However, this is not necessarily the case.
In reality, the highest-pressure espresso machine on the market is not necessarily the best choice for brewing high-quality espresso. Just like with 15-bar machines, a 20-bar espresso machine typically features an internal restricting valve that prevents the machine from brewing at a level higher than 9 bars.
This means that the extra pressure advertised on a 20-bar machine is essentially irrelevant when it comes to making a great shot of espresso.
The only real difference between a 20-bar machine and a 9-bar machine is that the former has the ability to produce higher pressure, which isn't necessary for making a good shot of espresso.
In fact, a 20-bar machine may even be more difficult to use than a 9-bar machine, as it can be harder to control the brewing process and achieve consistent results. This is because the high pressure can cause the coffee to extract too quickly or too slowly, leading to an unbalanced shot.
Best 20-Bar Espresso Machine
But if you're looking for something easy to use that also comes packed with a 20-bar pressure pump, consider the Gevi 20-Bar Compact Espresso Machine.
Is 15 or 20 Bars Better for Espresso?
When it comes to choosing between a 15 and 20-bar espresso machine, it ultimately depends on personal preference and needs. As we discussed earlier, 9 bars is the ideal pressure for brewing espresso, and anything above that is unnecessary for producing quality espresso shots.
While a 15-bar espresso machine may offer a slight advantage over a 9-bar machine in terms of pressure, a 20-bar machine won't necessarily make your espresso taste any better.
In fact, as we mentioned before, a 20-bar espresso machine is likely to use an internal restricting valve that limits the pressure to 9 bars, just like a 15-bar machine.
Although 15 bars of pressure is generally considered better than 20 bars, there’s no shortage of those in the market. So, which option will give you the most bang for your buck? We think it will be a 15-bar machine.
Best 15-Bar Espresso Machine
If you're in the market for a coffee machine that strikes a balance between affordability, ease of use, and great taste at 15 bars, the Delonghi De'Longhi ECP3420 could be the perfect option for you.
What Is the Difference between Pump Espresso and Steam Espresso Machines?
In general, espresso machines can be categorized into two broad categories: pump machines and steam machines. The primary difference between the two is the way they generate pressure to brew espresso.
Pump espresso machines use an electric pump to generate the high pressure required to extract the espresso from the coffee grounds.
The pump forces hot water through the coffee grounds at a pressure of around 9 bars, which is essential for creating the rich and creamy espresso shot. The pump allows for consistent pressure and temperature, which in turn leads to a consistent and high-quality espresso shot.
On the other hand, steam espresso machines use steam pressure to force hot water through the coffee grounds.
The water is heated by a boiler and then pressurized by steam. However, steam pressure is generally much lower than the pressure generated by a pump espresso machine, typically ranging from 1 to 3 bars.
As a result, the espresso produced by a steam espresso machine tends to be weaker and less flavorful than that produced by a pump espresso machine. Some don't even consider coffee made by steam makers to be “real” espresso.
In summary, while both pump and steam espresso machines can produce a shot of espresso, there are significant differences in the quality of the resulting espresso. Pump espresso machines offer consistent pressure and temperature, which leads to a high-quality espresso shot, while steam espresso machines tend to produce weaker and less flavorful espresso.
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about pressure in espresso machines.
What Pressure Does Starbucks Use for Espresso?
Starbucks espresso machines typically use a pressure range of 8-9 bars to brew espresso. This pressure is essential for creating the perfect espresso shot. Although most commercial machines can be adjusted to brew at different pressure levels, Starbucks uses the standard 9 bars to make their coffee.
What Bar Pressure Is Barista Express?
The Breville Barista Express is equipped with a 15-bar pump, which is standard for most high-end home espresso machines. However, it's important to note that the actual brewing pressure used is around 9 bars. This is because some of the pressure is lost as water travels from the pump to the brew head, through the machine's tubing and various components.
What Pressure Is Italian Espresso?
Traditional Italian espresso is made using the moka pot, which uses steam to make espresso. A moka pot only produces 1–2 bars of pressure.
In a Moka pot, hot water is forced through finely-ground coffee using steam pressure generated by boiling water in the lower chamber. The resulting coffee is similar in strength to espresso, but with a different flavor and texture due to the lower-pressure extraction method.
Should I Use 8 or 9-Bar Espresso?
The difference in taste between 8 and 9-bar espresso will likely be minimal, especially for casual espresso drinkers. The 9-bar pressure is considered the standard for producing high-quality espresso, but a slight variation in pressure is unlikely to have a significant impact on the overall taste of the coffee.
In general, most commercial espresso machines are designed to operate at 9 bars of pressure, which is considered the standard for producing high-quality espresso. However, some baristas and coffee enthusiasts prefer to use slightly lower or higher pressures, depending on the specific coffee blend or roast being used.
When it comes to making espresso, pressure is a big deal - it's like the superhero of the brewing process. In fact, pressure is one of the key factors that sets espresso apart from other coffee beverages. It's the reason why espresso is so rich and intense in flavor.
To extract all the flavors and oils from the coffee beans, high pressure is the way to go. The magic number is typically between 7 and 9 bars – this is the sweet spot for optimal coffee extraction. When done right, the result is a velvety, flavorful shot with a perfect layer of crema on top.
However, if you're looking for a cost-effective option that can offer a perfect brew on par with espresso, then you might want to consider using a Moka pot. The Lux Haus Moka pot is a great example of a high-quality and affordable option that can produce espresso-like coffee using 1.5 bars of pressure.
Trust us, once you taste the rich and flavorful coffee that this little device can produce, you'll wonder why you ever bothered with those overpriced coffee shops in the first place. Happy brewing!