How Do Commercial Coffee Machines Work? (Explained!)

I've been experimenting with a lot of coffee machines, and the style that captures my attention is commercial coffee machines.

Like all coffee makers, these machines can produce coffee in much larger volumes and faster speed.

With this fascination, I’ve researched and learned so much about how commercial coffee machines work to understand their power and limitations.

Below, I share everything I know in an easy-to-understand way. Hopefully, you'll be just as intrigued by these machines as I am.

So, what do I mean when I say coffee machines?

While any brewing device that can make coffee is a coffee machine, in this context, a coffee machine refers to a device that can deliver one cup of coffee using pressure, more popularly known as an espresso machine.[1]

An espresso machine is composed of different parts. These parts can dictate whether or not a machine is made for commercial use or not.

  • Water reservoir: A container that holds water
  • Boiler: The component that's responsible for heating water
  • Pump: Responsible for creating pressure and pushing hot water through the coffee ground to extract espresso
  • Portafilter: A metal basket that holds the coffee grounds
  • Group head: The component that holds the portafilter in place

There are also other parts, such as the pressure gauge, drip tray, steam wand, and control panel.

However, the first five components can easily tell you if an espresso machine is made for commercial use. So, how can you tell home espresso machines from commercial ones?

Simple. The difference between the two is very obvious. Home espresso machines have a light and delicate body, a standard capacity boiler and pump, and a lower tolerance threshold for heavy-duty usage.

It also has lower consumption. In other words, it won’t last long if you use it throughout the day, every day.

Commercial coffee machines, on the other hand, are built to last. They have a sturdier body with large-capacity boilers and multi-headed brewing stations. This means that multiple people can use the machine simultaneously.

At the same time, it can produce a more consistent pressure than the home version. However, they consume more power.

Also, commercial versions of espresso machines are stationary. It requires a few people to move the machine.

This isn't the case with home machines. Home espresso machines are portable and easy to move around.

Commercial Coffee Machine In A Cafe

Commercial Espresso Machines

This type of espresso machine is usually found in coffee shops. These are the humongous machines you usually see when you visit a cafe, and they can brew coffee faster than any brewing device.

However, it requires a bit of training to properly work a commercial espresso machine.

I always thought it would be easy to use one, given that the baristas at my local coffee shop brew espresso effortlessly.

However, once I was able to try one, it wasn't an easy process! This gives me a better understanding of what it takes to brew the perfect cup and produce consistent results.

And, of course, a greater appreciation to all baristas out there! Hats off.

Well, enough about my experience. Let’s look at how espresso machines work and other important details you need to learn about this machine.

All Their Parts

Here are the standard parts of a commercial espresso machine:

  • Water reservoir or direct water line connection
  • Boiler (single, double, or multiple boiler systems)
  • Pump (rotary or vibratory)
  • Group head (one or more, depending on the number of groups)
  • Portafilter
  • Pressure gauge
  • Steam wand(s)
  • Hot water dispenser
  • Drip tray
  • Power switch
  • Control panel

On top of those, most modern espresso machines include:

  • Digital display and touchscreen controls
  • Programmable volumetric dosing
  • PID temperature control or digital temperature controls
  • Pre-infusion capabilities
  • Auto-frothing steam wands
  • Integrated shot timers
  • Built-in grinders with automatic dosing
  • Customizable profiles for different coffee beans
  • Energy-saving or eco-friendly features

Many manufacturers add more features to their commercial espresso machines.

If you're looking for a specific feature, you may want to research that first before checking the standard parts, as all espresso machines have the same basic parts.

commercial espresso machine common parts

How Do They Work To Produce Coffee?

A commercial espresso machine is a sophisticated coffee brewing device that produces rich, concentrated espresso by forcing hot, pressurized water through finely-ground coffee.

The process involves several steps and components working in unison to achieve the perfect extraction.

First, the water supply is crucial to the espresso-making process. Commercial machines either have a built-in water reservoir or are connected directly to a water line. The water is drawn into the machine as needed, ensuring a consistent supply for brewing.

Next, the water is heated to the ideal temperature for espresso extraction, typically between 190-204°F (88-96°C). This is done in the machine's boiler, which can be a single boiler, dual boiler, or multiple boiler system (two separate boilers).

This boiler system comes with a temperature probe, ensuring that water reaches the perfect temperature every time.

Advanced machines may also have a heat exchanger system, providing better water temperature stability and control.

Once the water has reached the desired temperature, a pump generates pressure, usually between 9-15 bars, to force the heated water through the finely ground coffee. The pump can be either a rotary pump or vibratory pumps, with rotary pumps often being quieter and more efficient.

Some machines feature a pre-infusion system that wets the coffee grounds with low-pressure water before applying full pressure, promoting an even extraction.

The actual extraction takes place when the heated, pressurized water flows through the group head and into the portafilter, which holds the coffee grounds. The brew lever will also flip into an up position to complete the process.

Barista HQ Trivia: There are two main types of group heads in most espresso machines: the semi-saturated group heads, known for their temperature stability and pre-infusion chamber, and the saturated group heads, which provide even greater temperature stability and are often found in high-end commercial machines.

As the water passes through the coffee, it extracts the flavors, oils, and compounds, creating a concentrated, viscous liquid known as espresso. The espresso then flows into a cup or shot glass, ready for consumption or as a base for other coffee beverages.

In addition to brewing espresso shots, commercial machines usually have a steam wand for frothing and heating milk. The steam wand releases steam from the steam boiler, allowing baristas to create microfoam or steam milk for drinks like cappuccinos and lattes.

Some advanced machines feature auto-frothing wands that provide consistent milk texturing with minimal effort.

Important reminder: There are different types of commercial espresso machines. While they all brew espresso, these espresso machines work differently, depending on the type.

For example, a manual espresso machine works by giving the barista full control over the extraction process. This means that you can control the pressure and the brewing time. This type can make great espresso. However, the barista must be equipped with the right skill to make this espresso machine work.

Another type is the semi-automatic espresso machine. This offers a balance between manual control and automation. Basically, the espresso machine controls temperature and pressure throughout the process while you do the rest.

Lastly, the automatic espresso machine. This is perfect for those who are new at making espresso, as little to no control is required from the barista.

Espresso with Right Water Temperature

Common Issues

Now that you know how an espresso machine works (you’re welcome!), you also need to know the common issues this brewing device faces. Here are the most common ones:

  • Temperature fluctuations: Inconsistent water temperature can lead to under-extraction or over-extraction, affecting the taste of the espresso.
  • Low or inconsistent pressure: Issues with the pump, pressure gauge, or blockages in the water line can cause inadequate or inconsistent pressure during extraction.
  • Clogged group head or portafilter: Coffee grounds, oils, and mineral buildup can clog the group head or portafilter, leading to uneven water distribution and poor extraction.
commercial espresso machine front view

Drip Coffee Makers

Let's now move on to drip coffee makers! Unlike larger machines, drip coffee makers follow a more basic brewing process.

This type of brewing device is also the most commonly used device in households, so most of you are familiar with it.

However, for those who are still new to the coffee world, here are some important details you need to know about a drip coffee maker:


Here are the components you’ll commonly see in a drip coffee maker:

  • Water reservoir
  • Heating element
  • Drip filter basket
  • Coffee filter
  • Showerhead
  • Coffee pot
  • Hot plate or heating coil
  • Control panel

For more modern and expensive drip coffee makers, here are some of the additional parts:

  • Programmable timer
  • Brew strength control
  • Pause and serve feature
  • Built-in grinder
  • Thermal carafe
  • Water filtration system
  • Digital display and touchscreen controls
  • Pre-infusion or bloom feature
  • Auto shut-off
  • Temperature control
Drip Coffee Maker Parts Assembly

How Does It Work?

I’m pretty sure most of us have seen a drip coffee maker live in action, but just in case you want to know the specifics, here is how it works:

A drip coffee maker works by using an electric pump to draw cold water from the reservoir and push it through a resistive heating element, which heats the water as it flows through an aluminum tube.[2]

Once the water reaches the desired coffee brewing temperature, it moves through the hot water tube and is dispersed over the waiting coffee grounds in the metal filter basket. The brewing cycle begins, allowing water to flow through the coffee grounds and extract the flavors.

The brewed coffee then drips into a small cup or an entire pot, known as the drip area, typically positioned on a warming plate to keep the coffee warm.

Some drip coffee makers may feature additional components such as dual boilers, heat exchange systems, and filtration systems for improved temperature control and water quality.

While drip coffee makers don't offer the same level of pressure control or even create pressure as espresso machines, they provide a simple and efficient way to brew coffee for those who prefer a more traditional approach.

I do prefer drip coffee makers for when I’m in the mood for black coffee, but an espresso machine is a better device if you want a more complicated coffee drink.

Adding Water To Drip Coffee Machine

Common Issues

Now that you’re familiar with the inner workings of a drip coffee maker, here are some of the most common issues you’ll face with this brewing device:

  • Inconsistent water heating: The heating element may not heat the water consistently, leading to uneven extraction and affecting the taste of the brewed coffee.
  • Clogged water flow: Debris, mineral buildup, or a malfunctioning one-way valve can restrict water flow through the machine, resulting in an incomplete brewing cycle or weak coffee.
  • Faulty electric pumps: Vibration pumps or other internal components may fail or malfunction, impeding the machine's ability to draw water from the reservoir and initiate the brewing process.
Drip Coffee Water Run Cycle

Keurig Coffee Machines

If you don’t want more control over your coffee machine, the Keurig coffee makers are for you.

This brewing device is a single-cup coffee maker that uses coffee pods, known as K-Cups, to produce a cup of coffee in no time. I used to own this coffee machine, and I can vouch for the convenience it provides.

There are also so many different K-cups to choose from. You can find your favorite Starbucks K-cups and many other brands. 

However, you won’t get as much flexibility and customization as you can with an espresso machine or even a drip coffee maker.

If you’re considering purchasing one, here are some details you need to know about this device.


Here are the things you’ll get in a Keurig coffee machine:

  • Water reservoir
  • Heating element
  • Pump
  • K-Cup holder
  • Needle assembly (puncture needles for K-Cup)
  • Drip tray
  • Brewer lid
  • Control panel
  • Brewing chamber
  • Exit needle
  • Handle
Keurig Coffee Machine Parts Assembly

How Does It Work?

Are you ready to learn the basic process of how a Keurig machine works? Here’s a simple explanation:

When you use a Keurig coffee machine, you'll notice how simple and efficient the brewing process is.

First, the machine takes water from the reservoir and heats it to the perfect temperature. You'll then grab a K-Cup, which is a pre-packaged coffee pod, and place it into the holder inside the brewing chamber.

As you close the brewer lid, needles will puncture the K-Cup, creating an entry point for hot water and an exit for your brewed coffee.

The machine will then force hot water through the inlet needle into the K-Cup, extracting the delicious coffee flavors under pressure.

As the water passes through the coffee grounds, it captures all the lovely flavors and aromas before exiting through the outlet needle and filling your cup with freshly brewed coffee.

Once your coffee is done, all you have to do is remove and discard the used K-Cup, making cleanup a breeze.

Putting K Cup In A Keurig Machine

Common Issues

Even though Keurig coffee makers offer convenience like no other, you'll still experience some issues with them, especially if you don't know how to take care of your Keurig properly.

  • Clogged needles: Over time, coffee grounds and mineral deposits can build up on the puncture needles, causing blockages that can affect the brewing process or prevent the machine from dispensing coffee.
  • Incompatible or faulty K-Cups: Some K-Cups may not be fully compatible with the Keurig machine or could be damaged, leading to poor extraction, leakage, or the machine not recognizing the K-Cup.
  • Weak or watery coffee: If the K-Cup is underfilled, has poor coffee grounds quality, or the machine dispenses too much water or doesn’t heat water, it can result in a weak or watery cup of coffee.
Cleaning A Keurig Coffee Machine

How Do Coffee Maker Heating Elements Work?

Coffee maker heating elements work by converting electrical energy into heat to warm up the water needed for brewing coffee.

In most machines, the heating element is a metal coil, usually made of aluminum or other conductive material, which is wrapped around a water tube.

As electricity flows through the coil, it generates heat due to the coil's electrical resistance. The heat is then transferred to the aluminum water tube, causing the water inside to warm up.

In some machines, the heating element might be directly submerged in the water reservoirs. As the heating element heats the water to its optimal temperature, the machine starts the brewing process, using boiling water to extract flavor from the coffee grounds.

The efficiency and design of the heating element play a crucial role in producing good espresso or coffee, as the consistent water temperature is essential for optimal extraction and flavor.

Testing A Coffee Machine Heating Element

Commercial Coffee Machine Questions

How much does a commercial coffee machine cost?

Commercial coffee machines can cost between $3,000 and $25,000, depending on the brand and manufacturer.

What coffee machine does Starbucks use?

Starbucks uses Mastrena espresso machines, which are specifically designed for the brand.[3]

What type of coffee machines do other cafes use?

This depends on the cafe, but the most popular coffee machines they use are La Marzocco or Nuova Simonelli machines.


Are you as interested in commercial coffee machines as I am?

If you’re planning to buy a commercial coffee machine, you’re now equipped with the necessary information you need to buy the right machine that fits your needs. Happy brewing!



Kim Fernandez

Kim Fernandez

Kim Fernandez is a freelance writer whose love for coffee goes beyond just drinking it--she enjoys writing about it too. When she's not writing, you'll find her sitting in a cafe, reading a book while drinking a freshly brewed cup of joe.

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