How long should you wait before using the espresso machine after turning it on? Should you trust the light that says the machine is ready? Here’s what you want to know.
Espresso machines are ready to brew good espresso 10-25 minutes after turning them on. Heating the water usually only takes about a minute but it’s better to wait until the whole machine is heated up so the brew water doesn’t cool down too much when leaving the boiler.
Let’s get into the details, why it’s better to wait longer before turning on the machine, if some machines are better than others and when it’s best to turn the machine off.
How Long After Turning On An Espresso Machine Can You Use It?
After flipping the switch on an espresso machine it can take anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes before it’s ready to brew. Heating up the water usually takes about a minute but that alone is not enough to brew good espresso.
Of course Plugging in the machine and flipping the switch doesn’t take much time at all. It’s what happens after you flip the switch that’s important.
Some espresso machines have a touchscreen while most don’t. The computers behind the touchscreen might need some time to start up and become responsive but for the vast majority of machines this is pretty quick. Without a touchscreen, this is obviously does not apply. However, the screen start up time is not that important since the part that takes the longest to get up and running is the boiler.
Espresso machines have boilers. You can see it as a kind of built in electric kettle. This boiler keeps the water hot until you use it. But, it also has to heat up the water before you can brew anything. Cold water doesn’t brew good coffee. For domestic machines, the boilers are usually pretty small and it doesn’t take a lot of time to heat. In about a minute the water should be up to temperature. Many machine have a ‘ready’ light that comes on when the water is hot.
However, after the water in the boiler is up to temperature, the rest of the machine isn’t yet. The path from the boiler to the coffee puck is still cold and will cool down the water significantly. A shot of espresso is only about 30 ml of water. All the metal around the ground coffee will cool that down to lukewarm water pretty quickly. Waiting at least 10 minutes and more on bigger machines is to let everything else warm up so the water is still the correct temperature when it hits the coffee grounds.
If all the metal in the group head is cold, the water could cool down to about 60-70 degrees Celsius pretty quickly and that’s just not hot enough to properly brew espresso.
Do Some Espresso Machines Heat Up Faster Than Others?
Every model is a bit different and therefore it will take a different amount of time to be ready for brewing. Generally bigger, better built machines will be a little faster but this is not a guarantee. One difference to be aware of if speed is important is how the espresso machines heats the water.
There are two ways espresso machines heat water;
- Heat exchanger
The boiler works exactly as you would think. Water is pumped from the reservoir to the boiler. Then, the brew water flows directly from the boiler to the brew head. The water from the steam wand flows from that same boiler. Boiler machines on average warm up faster for the first shot. However, they take longer to recover if you pull multiple shots in a row.
With a heat exchanger machine, there is still water that goes from the reservoir to the boiler. However, this water is heated to steam temperature, about 255 degrees Fahrenheit. This is good for the steam wand, but, this is way too hot for brewing espresso. That’s why there is a tube that runs through the boiler from the reservoir to the brew head. That means this water never actually goes in the boiler. It’s heated in the tube which is heated because it runs through the boiler. Heat exchanger models take a bit longer to heat up because they are heated to a higher temperature but they do recover faster for shots in quick succession.
Boiler espresso machines are ready for the first shot faster than heat exchange models However after the first one, the heat exchange model is ready for the next shot faster. Heat exchanger models are also better for making milk drinks since they don’t have to increase the heat in the boiler to produce steam.
When To Turn Off An Espresso Machine?
So now you might wonder, when does it make sense to turn off the espresso machine and when should it be left turned on. The trade off is obviously electricity use and speed.
In general it’s recommended to turn off an espresso machine if it isn’t going to be used in the next 6-8 hours. However, energy consumption isn’t the only consideration for this recommendation.
If the machine is left turned on, it uses electricity but is ready to be used at a moments notice. If you turn it off, you’ll save some energy but you’ll have to wait longer. However, heating water from cold takes more energy than keeping water hot for a short time.
So there is a break even point in time somewhere. Where the energy use of keeping the water hot is the same as heating it from room temperature. It depends on the specific machine how long this time period is. Insulation and build are very important to how quickly the boiler loses heat and therefore how much energy it takes to keep the water up to temperature. The better the insulation, the longer you can keep the machine turned on.
For the average espresso machine, it’s recommended that if the machine isn’t used within the next 6-8 hours, it should be turned off. The boilers of most espresso machines, especially newer ones are pretty well insulated. For older, less well insulated machines, a bit shorter is better.
However, energy use isn’t the only consideration for turning an espresso machine off. Things like; scaling, wear on heating element and thermostat, heat in the kitchen and gasket wear are also things to consider.