Is induction heating the future of espresso machines?
Imogen Phillips explores the emergence of induction heating for making espresso and whether it will become the dominant technology in the future.
Since the early 1900s, espresso machines have relied on steam power to generate the heat and pressure required for brewing syrupy coffee. Modern espresso machines typically contain dual boilers, using electricity as a power source.
However, in a specialty coffee industry increasingly concerned with the environmental impacts of coffee brewing, there’s a new crusade to slash energy use through the use of new technologies. One such innovation is induction heating, which uses a process called electromagnetic induction to generate “cleaner” heat.
Essentially, the process produces heat by passing an electrical current through an induction coil, generating an electromagnetic field that can heat any conductive material it comes into contact with.
This technology is increasingly being chosen over more traditional methods, and modern coffee brewers like the Heylo Coffee and Milk Modules have effectively flipped espresso machine design on its head.
In addition to its energy-saving potential, induction heating eliminates some of the variables associated with open-flame or heat-exchange systems, allowing for both greater efficiency and consistency, as well as a cleaner set-up, and more room for control for the user.
Some believe that the arrival of induction heating will usher out the use of heat exchange boilers entirely. For coffee businesses, this may be conducive to better profits and better espresso quality.
What are the benefits of induction heating for espresso machines?
Oscar Lucia is an associate professor of electrical engineering and communications at the University of Zaragoza in Spain. He’s also the author of more than 200 scientific papers and 50 international patents directly related to induction heating technology.
One such paper, Induction Heating Technology and Its Applications: Past Developments, Current Technology, and Future Challenges, summarises the main milestones in its development and analyses the potential for its future applications.
From a coffee industry perspective, there are myriad benefits to the induction heating process, ranging from the simple, practical points of control and safety, to serious reductions in emissions, as well as cost-effectiveness.
“The applied power makes induction heating the faster heating method, followed closely only by gas heaters, which are much less efficient and barely applicable to coffee makers,” Professor Lucia asserts in his paper. “For these reasons, induction heating is a promising technology to make faster and more sustainable espresso machines.”
Equally promising is the durability of induction heating components. Given that none of the parts are directly exposed to a flame or other heating element, the rate of aesthetic and mechanical deterioration is significantly minimised. This is clearly an attractive benefit to coffee businesses, where the machinery being used is often as much a visual statement as it is functional technology.
Heylo Coffee has “guilt-free” coffee-making at the core of its ethos. It claims that the brand has not been established to be perfect, but “human-friendly”, committed to reducing its carbon footprint as much as possible.
Furthermore, in the opinion of many coffee professionals, the long-standing Achilles heel of espresso making is consistency. For any barista, a change in weather, ambient temperature, or the failure of boiler systems can lead to poor extraction.
With induction heated systems like those made by Heylo, consistency is virtually guaranteed by the machine reading and adapting in real time to changes.
In fact, induction heating allows to precisely and immediately control all the brewing parameters like water temperature, pressure and flow, giving users the ability to programme parameters, such as water temperature and pressure profiling to perfectly adapt any espresso recipe to the prevailing conditions while maximising barista workflow.
Can this technology come to dominate the industry?
Whether induction heating will turn out to be a perfect solution for all industries remains to be seen, but as far as coffee is concerned, it’s certainly an attractive alternative to traditional, energy-intensive technologies.
Heylo coffee machines are fully modular, as well, enabling businesses to tailor machine setups to their needs. The machines also possess built-in sensors that provide telemetry to the user, and the machine is able to use this data to automatically adapt to changes. For any business, time is money, so the prospect of automatic adjustment is incredibly attractive.
Ultimately, many in specialty coffee will recognise the energy-saving potential of induction heating as its main drawcard. In fact, Heylo claims that its modules can save up to 90% on energy consumption “compared to a traditional machine setup”.
At a time when much of the world is grappling with an energy crisis, and when the effects of climate change are clearer than ever, choosing an induction heating system seems like a wise move for coffee businesses struggling with rising energy costs.
“Induction heating is making faster, more efficient, more reliable, and higher performance appliances,” says Professor Lucia.
At the end of the day, this promises to save businesses money and reduce the impact of espresso brewing on the planet all in one step.
“Advances in power electronics, electromagnetic design, and digital control enable the design of induction heating systems with efficiencies above 95% at a fraction of the cost from one decade ago,” Professor Lucia concludes in his paper. “The future looks brilliant because these technologies continue their advance towards more powerful and cheaper systems that will gradually replace other heating technologies.”