Sample Lesson 4: Introduction to Espresso Machine

There are three major types of commercial espresso machines, and many variables within each type that make them unique. For these lessons, we will operate each espresso machine as a semi-automatic, thus turning on and off the water flow manually.

Manual Espresso Machines are operated by a lever which controls the flow of water through manual pressure thru the portafilter. These are often piston driven instead of having an electric pump.

 Semi-automatic espresso machines are controlled by a simple on and off button or switch, which engages the pump and water to flow thru the grouphead.  The barista is responsible for turning off the flow of water at the end of the extraction.

Automatic espresso machines while similar to a semi automatic machine, these can be identified by the various, programmable buttons that calibrate the amount of water that is dispersed thru the espresso grounds, thus shutting off automatically.

Super Automatic Espresso Machines come in a few variations. Some have built-in milk dispensers while others require baristas to pour and portion as well as steam milk when ordered. Regardless, a super auto machine will grind and extract espresso internally with the push of a button.

The Heart of Your Retail Operation

Getting down to it, the espresso machine is the centerpiece of many cafes, the true heart of the operation. This lesson will cover the basic elements associated with the operation of a commercial espresso machine

The Group Head

The group head is where the Portafilters rest inside the machine. The group head is made up of a several components, and each components plays a critical role in beverage quality.


Dispersion Screen, Filter Screen or Group Screen

Dispersion screens, filter screens, and group screens help water flow evenly across the total surface of the coffee. The screen also helps prevent coffee from backflowing into the Group Head.


The Grouphead Screw

The grouphead screw holds the Dispersion screen in the Grouphead. In some examples the screw also disperses water.



The Group Gasket

The group gasket is the black rubber like seal around the outside of the Dispersion screen.

The Portafilter

The portafilter, short for Portable Filter, is the handle for the coffee brewing basket and what holds the basket in place. The portafilter should always remain in the grouphead to retain heat and be gently locked into place. The portafilter will come with several options including; spouts (single, double) or bottomless, as well as different baskets; single, double, triple or blind.


Brewing Button (Actuator)

Every espresso machine has a brewing button or lever to activate the water flow to the grouphead.




A manometer is a gauge that reads pressure in the boiler(s). A dual manometer has two needles on the same gauge face and reads pressure for two locations.

Steam wand

The steam wand is the component of the espresso machine that is used to heat and texture milk. The steam wand is normally located on the end or the espresso machine and usually on both sides.


Steam Knob/Lever

The steam is controlled by a knob or a lever.


Drip Tray

The drip tray is located below the group heads, the drip tray catches rinse water and excess espresso. The drip tray is connected to the drain, however, no milk should be dumped in the drip tray.

Digital Screen/Display

Many modern espresso machines include a display. The display may also serve as a pressure gauge. The time of day, espresso shot timers, temperature and other information  such as menus and settings might also be available from the screen


On Off Switch 

Espresso machines often feature a 3 way on and off switch. Position one is off.  Position two is used to fill the boiler, or used by a technician during diagnostics. Position three is the full on position. In some cases espresso machines have two separate switches.