So... You have just entered the daunting world of home espresso and you're a little overwhelmed... Don't worry we've all been there.
Let's start with the basics.
There are 3 kinds of espresso machines that you will come across; super-automatic, semi-automatic, and manual.
Super-automatic: An espresso machine that does everything for you! It will grind, tamp, and brew your espresso at the press of a button. Some examples of this type if machine would be Jura S8, Delonghi Dinamica Plus, and Philips 4300.
Semi-automatic: An espresso machine with automatic pump pressure and possibly some programmability. This style of espresso machine allows the flexibilty to experiment with espresso beverages. This espresso machine will come with a portafilter. Some examples of this type machine would be Breville Barista Express Impress, Rancilio Silvia, and Lelit Mara X.
Manual: An espresso machine with a portafilter and a lever to incorporate pressure. An example of this type of machine would be La Pavoni Europiccola.
Now... Here are some more specific terms you may come across;
Tamp/Tamper/Tamping: The act of tamping is to pack finely ground beans together to brew an espresso shot through applying approximately 30 pounds of pressure. A tamper is the tool used to pack the espresso together. Unless you are using a super automatic, then this process is done for you.
Portafilter: A holder for ground espresso that gets attached to your espresso machine to produce espresso.
Pressurized/unpressurized/single wall/dual wall: Pressurized and dual wall are the same thing. They are baskets that are used to help increase the pressure in an espresso shot. Unpressurized and single wall are also the same thing. They are standard baskets used in portafilters that do not affect the pressure level.
Dial-in: Getting the right grind size and dose amount for a good espresso shot. This varies and changes with different beans, when they were roasted, grinders etc. Getting the correct grind size is imperative to getting a good espresso shot. If your grind size is too coarse your espresso will be under extracted, meaning it will likely taste sour, mild, and watery. If your grind size is too fine your espresso will be over extracted, meaning it will taste burnt and bitter, sometimes if your grind size is WAY too fine no water will even be able to make it though and you'll be left with an empty cup.
You're getting it!
Onto heating systems... Heating systems are pretty complex... But it's important to understand which one your machine has.
Thermoblock/thermocoil: This is a very popular heating system in home espresso machines. It is typically fast, and efficient. You will find this heating system in super-automatics and semi-automatic espresso machines. A thermoblock heating system works by heating only the water being using for either espresso, or milk. With this type of heating system you cannot brew and steam at the same time.
Single Boiler Dual Use: A common heating system in semi-automatic espresso machines. This type of heating system heats an internal tank and typically has a 5-15 minute heat up time. It does not allow you to brew and steam at the same time. This type of heating system will usually require a purge after steaming milk, the temperature used to steam milk is higher than the temperature used to pour espresso and you will need to let off that excess heat or steam. Your machine will specify how this process needs to be done.
Heat Exchange: This is a popular heating system among espresso connoisseur's. This allows you to brew and steam at the same time, ensuring your espresso shot doesn't expire, and your milk doesn't go cold. This heating system has a main boiler for your steam and a smaller tank for your espresso running through your main boiler. You'll find this heating system on semi-automatic espresso machines. This heating system does not require a purge, but does have a longer heat up time... Usually around 15-20 minutes.
Dual Boiler: Considered the optimal heating system for espresso machines, this is a very stable way to heat your machine since you have separate boilers for espresso, and milk. This will allow you to brew and steam at the same time, and does not require a purge. This heating system normally has a long heat up time between 5-25 minutes.
You're almost an expert!
Auto milk system: If your machine has an automatic milk system it will either have an automatic wand that will foam and heat your milk to specified temperature and foam level, then you will just need to pour the milk over your espresso, or into your mug. If your machine has a fully automatic milk system it will heat and foam the milk right into your mug! This type of milk system is found on semi and super-automatic espresso machines
Panarello Wand: An auto-style steaming wand that foam the milk usually to one specific amount, and heat until your turn it off. This type of want usually produces nice milk foam, but not used to make latte art. Definitely a great option for a beginner! This type of milk system is found on semi and super-automatic machine.
Manual/Professional Style Wand: This wand gives you the most control over your milk texture, or foam level. You will need to be the barista with this wand, and learn the techniques to properly steam milk. This style of wand will let you achieve foam silky enough for latte art, it just takes a little more work to get there. This type of wand is found on semi-automatic espresso machines, and very very very rarely found on super-automatic espresso machines.
You know your stuff!
The world of espresso and specialty coffee will make a lot more sense now... For an even more in depth look at these terms and a few more check out our video below!