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Barista Training Basics: Parts of an Espresso Machine

If you’re planning to open a coffee shop or are experiencing high employee turnover, it may be necessary to host a few training sessions for your team. A commercial espresso machine is a powerhouse with many different components, which can be intimidating for novice baristas (what’s a “group head,” anyway?). If you’re looking for an easy-to-follow guide to help your baristas get up to speed on the intricacies of the machine, check out our outline for the espresso machine beginner: 


The boiler is responsible for heating and containing the pressurized water from the pump. When you’re searching for the perfect commercial espresso machine, the capacity of the boiler is one of the most important factors to consider. While a product with a bigger boiler can produce more drinks, it also has higher energy requirements. 

Dual Boiler

Many commercial machines are equipped with a dual boiler. As you may have suspected, a dual boiler has two separate boilers. This means that the pump supplies both with water: one for steaming milk, and one for heating the water to brewing temperature. Most machines with a dual boiler also have a proportional integral derivative (PID), which we’ll discuss next. 


A PID is a simple computer that controls the heating element. This part uses an algorithm to maintain the proper brew temperature. Most machines with a PID controller have a display, so you can always tell what temperature you’re working with. The benefit of a PID controller is that this part monitors itself, so your team won’t have to worry about keeping the brew temperature stable. 

Group Head 

The group head is water’s final stop on its way to the cup. Located on the front of the machine, the group head empties water into the portafilter. Commercial machines are typically available with two or three group heads, and the number you choose will depend upon the volume of your café.

Water Pump

The water pump is the heart of any espresso machine. Since the creation of espresso requires pressurized water, a pump is necessary to force the water through the coffee. The earliest espresso machine pumps were operated by pulling a lever (hence the term “pulling” a shot), but modern versions have an electric pump. There are two primary types of pumps: rotary and vibratory. 

Pressure Gauge

Learning how to operate the many parts of a commercial espresso machine can be daunting, but understanding how to read the pressure gauge is a must.  For visibility, the pressure gauge is located at the front of the machine and often has two needles to indicate boiler and pump operating pressure. Monitoring these measurements is an important skill to have, as the pressure gauge readings provide crucial information about the health of the machine and the parameters of the brewing temperature. 

Heat Exchanger 

Not all machines have a heat exchanger, but the presence of this small copper tube is a game-changer for baristas (which is why many commercial machines are equipped with one). The heat exchanger allows heat to be transferred from one body of water to another without the two having to come into contact with each other. Unlike a standard boiler, which pulls water from the boiler for both steaming and brewing, a heat exchanger keeps the process separate. This allows simultaneous brewing and steaming, since your team won’t have to waste time waiting for the temperature to change that a standard boiler requires. 


The portafilter is one of the most prominent features of an espresso machine, and a part that most people who’ve visited coffee shops will recognize. The portafilter locks into the group head and has a basket for holding coffee grounds. Portafilters are available in several configurations, including spouted and bottomless. A spouted portafilter has one or two spouts to accommodate a single or double espresso. Bottomless portafilters are a great option for baristas in training, as they can see the path of the espresso as it comes through the basket. 

Steam Wand

Beverages that contain steamed milk are among the most popular on the menu. For this reason, many commercial espresso machines have a steam wand built in for easy access. 

Drip Tray

Like the name suggests, the drip tray is located at the bottom of the machine and catches any stray runoff during brewing. Within the side panel of the drip tray, you may also find an expansion valve. This part can be adjusted to stabilize the pressure within the coffee boiler. 

A commercial espresso machine is a complicated beast, which is why proper barista training is so critical to the success of your coffee bar. Familiarizing each team member with the major components of the machine will help ensure that they’re adept at operating and maintaining this investment. If you’re still in the process of procuring coffeehouse supplies, we’d love to help. We carry just about everything you’ll need to set up shop, from espresso machines to accessories such as grinders and water filtration. Ready to learn more? Please contact our team with any questions you may have.

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