The Pump: The Heart of Your Espresso Machine

The Pump: The Heart of Your Espresso Machine

To give water the strength to push through a tightly packed bed of finely ground coffee, machines need pressure: 9 bars of pressure to be exact, which roughly translates to 130 psi. Some of the first espresso machines used pistons attached to large levers. Baristas would have to manually pull these levers to force the water to pass through the coffee (hence the term pull an espresso). Most modern espresso machines have ditched manual labor for electric pumps. In home espresso, there are two categories of electric pump: the vibratory pump and the rotary vane pump. A vibratory pump, or vibe pump, is a small electromagnetic workhorse. A piston attached to a magnet is set inside a metal coil. Electrical current runs through the coil causing the magnet to rapidly move the piston back and forth, pushing water through the machine. Your average vibe pump clocks in at sixty pushes per second.

vib pump

Unlike a vibratory pump, a rotary pump is mechanical. It is also a complex mechanism. A motor spins a disc that is offset inside a large, round chamber. The spinning disc is segmented into sections by vanes. As the disc spins, the vanes press against the wall of the outer chamber, diminishing the size of the section, creating pressure. Water enters in during the large phase and is pushed out as the section shrinks.

pump

There are relative advantages to either pump. Vibratory pumps are smaller, inexpensive and tend to be easier to replace. Rotary pumps are quieter, offer more consistent pressure, and generally have longer lifespans. It’s important to note both pumps produce excellent espresso.

Vibratory Pump
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to replace, small
Cons: A little louder, shorter lifespan (~5-6 years)
LUCCA A53, Profitec Pro 300
Rotary Pump
Pros: Long lifespan, quieter operation
Cons: Larger device
LUCCA M58

To learn more about the inner workings of your machine, check out How Do Espresso Machines Work on our blog. 

7 comments

  • The tricky part is knowing when to replace your pump when there isn’t a pressure indicator.

    Dustin on

  • @Bert: While the E61 group head does have a mechanism that helps to ramp up pressure at the start of the shot the effect isn’t quite the same as true pre-infusion and so the benefits are far less noticeable. Most rotary pump E61 machines don’t have any way of allowing for pre-infusion when run on their internal reservoir. There is one exception to that rule in the form of the Lelit Bianca, which we’ve just started selling.

    It’ll be visible on our website shortly but in the meantime, I’ll have one of our coffee experts get int touch with you to talk about it! We’ve all been using it quite a bit lately and we’re pretty big far and it seems like it might be a perfect fit for you.

    Charles with Clive Coffee on

  • Hi,

    Currently I have a vibration pump machine with a heat exchanger and an electrically heated brew Group. I am considering an upgrade to a rotary pump machine with an E61 group because of a) the noise factor and b) the preinfusion feature of the E61. However I have no means of plumbing the machine in so I have to run it from its reservoir, i.e. without the possibility of line-pressure preinfusion. Since a rotary pump builds pressure much faster than a vibe pump, do I still have some benefit of low pressure preinfusion with such a machine run from its reservoir tank? Thanks.

    Bert on

  • Ollie: Hi there, I'm not sure I entirely understand your question. If you'd like to elaborate a bit in an email to supportclivecoffee.com or using our chat service, we’d be glad to help!

    Charles with Clive Coffee on

  • Hi!

    What is the reason for luck of water in system?
    Thanks in advance,
    Ollie

    Ollie on

  • @Paul: It’s entirely possible for some vibratory pumps to last that long but it’s relatively unlikely, which makes you one of the lucky ones. Rotary pumps are built with stronger materials and operate on simple mechanical principles, so they’re just designed to last. Hopefully, you’ll get some responses from long-time rotary pump machine owners!

    Charles with Clive Coffee on

  • I am a little skeptical… The vibration pump on my Pasquini Livia 90 lists the date of manufacture — March 2003. So does anyone have a rotary pump with 15 years of longevity? I do about 4-6 double shots per day ( and have for all those 15 years). Do people with 15 years of experience with rotary pumps want to chime in? (I like the “quieter” part, and really want to go with that option. But since I am thinking of replacing the Livia, I would like to hear from those with decades of use of rotational pumps)

    Paul on

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published