Need a home coffee machine with PID control?

What is PID control?

For starters, I'll introduce you to this barista helper. A PID controller is an electronic component that is in charge of the water temperature in coffee machines. The acronym PID stands for "Ideal Intermediate Temperature Computer" - erm.. so that's just my mnemonic, but it describes its task perfectly. In technical language, PID stands for proportional-integral-derivative control. Which is a bit of a convoluted translation.

Staying with the "technicalese" for a moment, PID control is defined as a feedback mechanism used in a control system. PID works on the principle of ternary control, or the control and calculation of three parameters: proportional, integral, derivative. As a result of deviations from the desired value ,the PID calculates and controls different control actions for a specific task.

The first PID controller in an espresso machine

Although I am introducing the PID system in the context of coffee making, it is only since this millennium that PID has been used in the production of espresso machines. Until then, coffee makers operated in the traditional way of controlling heating using a pressure sensor. However, this style of heating is not completely controllable, at least not easily.

The beginnings of PID in the lever coffee maker are associated with Mr. Schecter, an American tofu maker and espresso enthusiast. He was interested in the idea of taming the fluctuations in water temperature in the machine and thus having control over the preparation of great espresso. And being a tofu maker was essential to the story.

Because getting the temperature right also matters when making this soy product. And that's controlled by none other than the PID system. So Mr. Andy Schecter took the technology from his tofu factory and tried to combine it with his home lever coffee machine, specifically theRancilio Silvia. A Voilà! By February 2001, theworld's first coffee machine with a PID system was in place, inspiring the introduction of this electronic component into mainstream coffee production. Thanks Andy!

The first lever coffee machine with PID control, created at home by DIYer, espresso lover and tofu maker Andy Schecter. Image source: baristahustle.com

How a PID vs. pressure switch coffee maker works

Let's cut to the chase, i.e. the explanation of why to have a home lever coffee maker with PID. It's best to show how each system works and compare their results. So here we go.

Traditional espresso machine heating

How does a coffee maker without a PID know to turn the water heating on or off? The original technology is based on the principle of a mechanical pressure switch. The theory behind such a switch is thatas it heats up, pressure builds up which turns the heating on or off.

It's a fairly simple system. You turn on the machine and it starts heating the water. By the time it's hot enough, there's enough pressurein the coffee maker to push on the pressure switch diaphragm. This switches off the heating on cue. Well, the moment the pressure drops to a certain level (you make your coffee and the coffee maker runs out of cold water), the pressure on the switch is also released and thus the coffee maker's heating is back on until the pressure from the heat again triggers the switch and turns off the heating.

Temperature control of the coffee machine with PID system

It is the PID system that solves the cyclic heating and cooling described above. In the first paragraph of this article, I called it such a "computer" because the PID controller is smart enough to work with the various influences on the temperature in the coffee maker. So it's not about some mechanical on and off switching of the heating system. But a sophisticated gadget constantly recalculating mathematical algorithms to achieve a set ideal temperature for coffee brewing.

Simply put, the PID does not wait for the coffee machine to cool down below a certain level. If you press the hot water button, the PID has already accounted for cooling due to water withdrawal and refilling. It immediately starts to devise and implement steps to maintain a constant temperature. The PID controller also has more options than a traditional heating system. Depending on the calculated action, starts and stops the heating at different intervals thus effectively being able to increase or decrease the heating output to achieve the exact temperature.

Need a home lever coffee maker with PID?

I can only recommend getting a coffee machine with a PID system. Certainly there are some ways to estimate the ideal water temperature in a non-PID coffee maker. The trick is to drain the water until the coffee maker starts to heat up again and then count down the heating time to determine a specific temperature. But it seems to me to be a completely impractical, tedious and above all inaccurate way to have the correct water temperature for espresso.

As opposed to counting seconds while the machine is heating up, using PID controlis a much smarter solution. Especially for those of you, dear coffee lovers, who don't stick to one type of coffee, but want to experience the flavours of coffee from all over the world with your machine. Although grinding and weighing is the most effective factor in creating the right espresso recipe, water temperature definitely has a lot to do with it as well.

Different coffees need different degrees of water temperatureto best develop their flavors in the cup . And you have the best control over the temperature setting thanks to the PID. In coffee machines with a pressure switch, the water temperature can be adjusted by turning the control knob to switch at slightly higher or lower pressure. Again, it's a pretty impractical way to do it, but it works. Whereas witha PID, communicating a specific water temperature is much easier.

Which home coffee maker with PID control to choose?

Finally, I have a little inspiration for you. Which PID-controlled coffee machines should you put on your list of suitable candidates for your new home coffee machine? First of all, take a look at these beauties that will increase your daily coffee intake exponentially just for the sheer joy of brewing.

Nuova Simonelli Mood

When the makers of the world's finest professional coffee machines introduce a new coffee machine for the home, it's always a joy to behold. Well, this year's entry from Nuova Simonelli for home baristas is the Oscar Mood. They have upgraded the much loved Oscar coffee machine into several different moods or colours. How about having an espresso machine at home in a combination of polished stainless steel, a wooden portafilter and a guacamole-coloured shell?

Not just to talk about looks, of course, it has a PID, but also a two-litre boiler, a clear display and a professional steam nozzle with "cool touch" technology. So you definitely won't get burnt with your choice of this coffee machine.

Lelit Glenda

Lelit, another pro coffee maker company, is based in northern Italy. I chose the Glenda coffee makerfrom their range for home baristas. That is, a coffee maker for both coffee enjoyment and price, as doesn't even cost 20 grand. Yet you can enjoy a lot of great espresso, cappuccinos, lattes... just whatever you feel like.

It's simply minimalistic and yet meets all the basic requirements for really good coffee. First the PID, then it's a pro-grade 58mm portafilter, a handy steam nozzle and a simple display for really easy temperature settings.

Rocket Espresso R58

As a third tip for a great home coffee maker, here I rank a representative from theRocket Espressostable . These coffee makers are the joy of home baristas who really enjoy making coffee. From the very first glance, they have a bit of an industrial feel to them, which can mean, first of all, that you will be able to play around with your espresso.

In addition to the PID, the Rocket R58 has two boilers under the hood. A rotary pump, the ability to connect directly to water, and the legendary E61 head. Plus a communication panel with a large display.

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