Coffee 101: What is a PID Controlled Espresso Machine?

Quick Summary

A PID controlled espresso machine features a mechanism to manage the temperature of the machine. As a consistent temperature is key for making espresso, a PID makes sure the temperature reaches a certain level, after which it keeps the machine at that temperature. Most prosumer and high-end espresso machines come with a built-in PID.

The Importance of a PID Controller in Your Espresso Machine

Best PID Espresso Machine

Best PID Espresso Machine

As you shop around for an espresso machine, you may find that your options are a little overwhelming. There are many parts and features that you might not know what they are and if they are necessary.

A PID controller is likely on your list of “what does this do?” PID stands for “Proportional, Integral, Derivative,” this probably means nothing to you, but in short, a PID controller precisely controls temperature.

In the case of an espresso machine, the PID controller keeps a constant and accurate temperature in the heating mechanism (such as the boiler). Temperature consistency is key to every espresso drink you make. Now we’ll discuss some of the benefits and setbacks of a PID controller:

Pros and Cons of Having a PID

One of the most obvious benefits of having a PID controller in your espresso machine is for temperature consistency and accurately. You don’t need to be a professionally trained barista to know that a great espresso drink relies on a few important factors, the right temperature being one of them. A PID “reads” and adjusts to keep the preset temperature on the machine set (at 205 degrees, for example).

Some other benefits include extending the life of your machine (extreme temperature changes can affect the heating element), reduces scaling, uses less water and energy, and quicker steaming.

There aren’t many downsides to having a PID controller in your espresso machine, but the biggest one would be a faulty controller. A controller that doesn’t work properly would cause major issues in your machine (particularly if you weren’t aware that the temperature was off).

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Various Types of PID

There are two basic types of PID controllers, built-in and visible on the outside. While both serve the same function, to keep the water temperature consistent, one type is not necessarily better than the other.

If you are considering purchasing an older machine that has been refurbished or used, it may or may not have a built-in PID. If this is the case, you can purchase a PID that attaches to your espresso machine. These look like little meter boxes and displays the temperature at all times. It doesn’t take up too much room but makes a huge difference in the taste of your drinks.

New and more expensive espresso machines are likely to have a built-in PID. Many of these controllers display the temperature on a touch screen, which can easily be programmed.

The important thing to remember about both types of controllers is that they are worthless if they don’t work properly. If you decide to add a PID to an espresso machine, it’s a good idea to have a professional espresso machine tech install it and make sure it’s calibrated properly.

If you have a machine with one already built-in, stay on schedule with your regular maintenance visits from your espresso machine technician. Don’t ignore if the temperature seems “off”.

There are kits available to build your own PID controllers, but unless you have an advanced understanding of how the controller works and how it should be installed, save this for the professionals.

Resources

History of the PID
Example a an aftermarket PID
Aftermarket PID kit