Espresso machines come in four different variations when it comes to the water source needed for brewing espresso shots, steaming milk, and for hot water tap for machines that have that. The four variations are:
- Built in water tank or reservoir with no option to direct connect to a water line
- Built in water tank or reservoir with an option to direct connect to a water line, or in other words a machine that is switchable between water sources.
- No built in water tank and can only be directly connected to a plumbed water source or a flojet with an external water tank.
- No water tank, water is added directly to the boiler to refill.
This page is dedicated to machines that have water tanks or where water can be added directly to the boiler. Some of the machines will also be switchable between water tank and direct water line connection. If you are interested in a direct connect only, you can go to our plumbed espresso machine page. Both pages will list the switchable machines.
Refill Position of the Water Tank
Some machines have water tanks that can be removed and refilled from the front, some can be accessed from the side of the machine and others have water tanks that can be accessed from the top of the machine. Most prosumer grade machines have water tanks that are accessed from the top of the machine.
- Front loading machines – There aren’t many machines that you can access the from the front of the machine, even though that is the most convenient way to access the water tank. However, we do sell a a few home machines that have this as an option – the La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi, the La Spaziale Dream T, and the Quick Mill Monza. If you have low cabinets and no space on the side of where your machine will be, these machines may be a good option for you.
- Side loading machines – Quite a few lower priced machines have side loading machines, most of which we don’t sell as our focus is on prosumer grade home machines, but we do have some good prosumer options that do have side loading tanks, including: the La Pavoni Napolitano, Quick Mill Silvano, and the ACS Vesuvius.
- Top loading machines – Most prosumer grade machines have water tanks that have to be refilled from the top of the machine. With some machines, you have to remove the whole cup warming tray to access the water tank, with others, there is a hinged water tank cover through which the tank can be accessed. Rockets and Quick Mills are examples of machines that have hinged tank covers. If you have limited space height wise due to overhead cabinets, that does make the refill process more complicated, but it is still doable. If you are forced to have a machine in such an area, you will either need to pull the machine out every time you have to refill or clean the water reservoir, or you can get something like a beer pong funnel and refill it that way. With the latter option, you will still need to pull the machine out to access the water reservoir for routine cleaning, but at least the effort would be reduced for refiling the tank.
Direct Boiler Fill Espresso Machines
Some machines like La Pavoni lever machines and Elektra lever machines don’t have any water tank, instead you add water direct to the boiler. This makes things a little more complicated when it comes to refilling the tank because you will need to wait for the machine to cool down prior to opening the boiler refill opening. A benefit of having it this way though, is it keeps the design of the machine very simple without the need for solenoid valves, water pumps, and extra tubing that could increase the risk of the machine having an issue long term.
Water Tank & Direct Plumb Switchable Espresso Machines
Espresso machines that are switchable between water tank and direct plumb are ideal if you want to direct the machine at some point but aren’t able to at the moment. As an example, you might be living in a rental where you aren’t allowed to drill a hole in the countertop, but hope to own your own home some day where you would be able to do so. We have quite a few switchable machines. Since switchable machines usually require a rotary vane pump or a magnetic gear pump, or a special pressure set up if they have a vibratory pump, switchable machines cost more than comparable non switchable machines. Our cheapest switchable machine is the Quick Mill Andreja Premium Evo. That being said, it does require an additional kit if you want to direct connect it, which adds to the cost of the machine. Our most popular switchable machines are the Bezzera Mitica PID, ECM Germany Technika Profi IV, Rocket Timer R with PID, Quick Mill Vetrano, Izzo Alex Duetto, and the Rocket R58.
Do Some Machines Have Metal Water Tanks?
From time to time we get requests from customers who are looking for a machine that doesn’t have a plastic water tank, but rather has a metal water tank. We don’t have any machines available with metal water tanks other than the Elektra Micro Casa Semi automatica, but if you are concerned about plastic for health reasons, most water tanks are made from BPA free plastic. If you are still concerned about plastic water tanks, we recommend you look at a direct connect machine where you wouldn’t need to use the water tank, or we recommend getting a direct boiler fill machine like an Elektra lever machine or a La Pavoni lever machine.
How Do You Clean An Espresso Machine Water Tank?
Simple – just remove and wash with dish soap and warm water. We usually recommend washing it like this about once a week, but many people don’t wash it that often.
How Do You Know What Water Level The Espresso Machine Has?
Having enough water in the tank is important for operation so it is important to have a way to determine the water level in the machine. Some machines, like Elektras and La Pavonis have sight glasses that you have to monitor to ensure that the water level in the machine is being properly maintained. Other machines have magnetic floats – when the water level gets low enough the magnetic float comes in connect with a electrical switch the shuts the power off to the heating element. Many machines have an audible or visual alarm notification to alert you that the water level is getting low. Another design is a weight-based switch underneath the water tank. As the weight in the tank goes towards empty the plate the tank is sitting on trips a switch that turns off the heating element and alerts the user that the machine is out of water.
If Your Espresso Machine Runs Out Of Water Will It Get Ruined?
Potentially, yes. If you have a machine that only has a sight glass and you forget to monitor the water level, the heating element in the machine could overheat and ruin the heating element. Many machines do have low water level indicators and hi-limit resets that will trip if the heating element gets too hot that helps prevent potential damage, but it is best to make sure your machine doesn’t run out of water. If you have a hi-limit reset on your machine trip, it is usually a matter of pushing the reset, but that can be a pain as you will often times need to remove several panels of the machine to access the switch.
Can I Use Distilled Water In My Espresso Machine Water Tank?
Distilled water is not recommended as it has zero hardness, which can be corrosive to some machines, such as Elektras, but many machine will also not be able to detect that that is water in the machine since boiler water level probes need a little bit of hardness in the water in order to function correctly. If there isn’t any hardness at all, the water level probes won’t think there is water and the boilers will over fill and it could trip the safety reset on the machine. For best results, use water that is above 0 ppm in hardness and below 50 ppm.
Can I Put An In Tank Softener In My Machine Water Tank?
Yes, you can use something like this in tank softening pouch.
Water Tanks with Silicon Tubes vs Tank Bottom Valves
Some espresso machines have tubes that go into the water tank to pull water from the tank into the machines. Others have valves on the bottom of the tanks. The valve system is ideal since you don’t have to worry about moving tubes out of the way, but with tanks that have valves on the bottom you have to be careful setting them down as that can make the valves open, creating a watery mess.
Why Are There Two Tubes Going Into My Water Tank?
One tube is an over pressure valve exhaust line, the other is an inlet line going to the water pump.
Can You Use An External Pump To Fill The Water Tank?
Yes, some people have rigged up pumps that fill the water tank without needing to remove it. If you have a water tank only machine and you really want to have a direct connected machine but don’t want to spend the money to upgrade it, you may want to look into this an option. There is a great article on this topic on Home Barista. Check it out!
Will Preheating Water and Putting Hot Water In The Reservoir Damage Your Machine?
Your espresso machine has a heating element that heats the water and there is no need to put hot water in the water tank as the machine has the ability to heat the water on it’s own. That being said, some people want to put already boiled water into the tank to speed up the warm up time of the machine. We don’t recommend this either as water pumps, especially vibratory Ulka pumps are not designed to pump hot water and it can damage them. If you don’t want to wait for a machine to warm up, consider getting an espresso machine that you can put on an appliance timer or a machine you can leave on 24/7.
I Got A New Machine and There Is An Off / Bad Taste In the Water, Why?
Make sure you wash your water tank prior to using the machine. There is sometimes residue from the manufacturing process left on the plastic and it’s a good idea to wash this off using dish soap and warm water. Make sure to dry the exterior of the water tank prior to putting it back in the machine to prevent the machine from getting wet internally.
Why Is Water Leaking From The Bottom Of My Machines Water Tank?
If you have an espresso machine that has a valve on the bottom of the tank, make sure that the tank is seated correctly in the machine. Lift up and push back down firmly. If it’s not firmly in place it could leak from around the seal.